Friday, December 26, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus, part 3: Pessimo clarifications on the East Asian Model

Some quick responses to Optimo regarding my position on the East Asian Model:

First, one of my arguments against the East Asian Model involves its claim that law and development should focus on promoting economic reform before focusing on promoting political reform.  I counters by arguing that a regime's political evolution simply probably lies beyond the reach of developmental programs.  If the polity is not ready to reform, there's nothing law and development can do about it; and when it is ready to reform, no developmental officer is going to say "not yet, you're not finished with your economic development."  So as a developmental model, sequencing is really a moot point.

Optimo interpreted my argument as being strongly normative -- as arguing that law and development should not engage in efforts to promote political development.  In fact, I did not intend it to be a normative argument.  I meant to advanced it as a simply empirical claim that law and development cannot control for (i.e., promote or retard) political evolution, as advanced by the East Asian Model.  They can try, but they will fail.  Not because they should fail, but simply because that is the way our social universe is put together.

On the other hand, there may be reasons why law and development may sometimes normatively choose to promote political reform even if it knows it is going to fail.  Where and if this is ever the case, my argument would be moot. 

Note, along these lines, that Optimo writes:
However, the normative challenge posed by Pessimo is hard to reconcile with the views of one of the most respected thinkers in the development world today, Amartya Sen. In his book Development as Freedom, Sen argues that democratic regimes are conducive to development in a multitude of ways that ultimately enhance human capabilities. One of the most interesting claims developed by Sen in this regard is the idea that democracies avert famines.
In fact, Sen poses no challenge at all to my argument as I see it.  I will readily admit that democracy may well at least sometimes catalyze development (although I find his demonstration of how democracies prevent famine problematic).  My point is that regardless of such catalytic effects, law and development cannot strategically promote democracy.  I don't think Sen ever addresses how we in the real world might go about strategically promoting 'democratic' reforms of the kind that are likely to catalyze development.

But in any event, even if he does, Sen actually supports my larger argument that the East Asian Model's particular use of sequencing does not provide a meaningful model for development.  As noted, that model argues that economic reform should occur before political reform.  Like me, Sen is actually arguing against such sequencing, albeit from a normative rather than from an empirical position): it's just that Sen is saying that we should not engage in this this kind of sequencing, while I am saying that we simply can not engage in sequencing, period.   

Finally, Optimo defends the East Asian Model's advocacy of gradualism as simply an expression of the tried-and-true developmental formula that Charles Lindblom famously termed 'the science of muddling through.'  In fact, I see the East Asian Model's notion of gradualism in a very different light.  As advanced by the East Asian Model, gradualism is offered as an alternative to the rapid, big-bang approach that 'Western' advisers, most famously Jeffrey Sachs, pushed on the former Soviet bloc nations in the 1990s.  In this sense, it is clear referring to a strategy for capitalist transformation -- for transiting from a command economy to a liberal market economy.  As I note, there are very few developing countries left in the world that still operate a command economy, and for this reason gradualism is really a moot point insofar as a universalizable developmental model is concerned.

Along these lines, I would argue that 'the science of muddling through' is a different kettle of fish.  To say that we are 'muddling through' is not to say that we are being gradualist, it is not to say that we need to avoid moving 'too fast' in promoting development.  Again, my argument is that it simply makes no sense to say that Brazil or Thailand or Romania needs to adopt a gradualist approach to development -- 'gradualist' in what sense? What does 'gradualism' look like in the context of these countries?  I would argue that it doesn't look like anything -- to say that Brazil should adopt a 'gradualist' approach to development is like saying that Optimo's son should adopt a 'gradualist' approach to high school. 
As per Lindbolm, I believe that muddling through has always been our approach to the to development of national economies that are already capitalist.  Even as a positivist developmental strategy, there is nothing distinctly East Asian or Chinese about it.  And again, as with experimentalism, it actually offers very little in the way of a developmental model.  How do you model 'muddling through'?  To muddle is to muddle.  Is Brazil not developing because it is not muddling enough?  Or is it just not muddling the right way?  What distinguishes good muddling from not so good muddling?  It can't be failure, because frequent failure is the distinguishing feature of muddling. 

Finally, as it turns out, the fat guy on my roof was not Santa.  It was my next door neighbor.  She thought getting some horses on my roof this time of year would be a pretty neat practical joke.  She was right.  And after she came to after being hit by a baseball bat, we shared some eggnog and discussed Judith Butler.  So while it is indeed sad that Pessimo is innately pessimistic about Santa, at least he is not pessimistic about a neighbor who somehow managed to get a couple of Shetland Ponies onto his roof on Xmas eve, and who then shared some eggnog and discussed Judith Butler with him even after he knocked her upside the head with a vintage George Brett Louisville Slugger.

Which would you rather believe in?

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