Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- Pessimo: One final thought about Ramo's first theorem


So I'm watching the sunrise this morning, worrying about which gender I should choose (and knowing that whichever I choose, it will certainly be the wrong one), when it finally 'dawned' on me (get it?) what it is about Ramo's first 'theorem' that makes it so problematic for me.  To recap, that theorem says that:
"Rather than the “old-physics” argument that developing countries must start development with trailing-edge technology (copper wires), it insists that on the necessity of bleeding-edge innovation (fiber optic) to create change that moves faster than the problems change creates."
The problem with this, of course, is that the ability to deploy cutting-edge technology (like fiber optics) is a key indicia of development.  What Ramo ultimately seems to be saying is 'the key to development is to be developed.'  It's a circular argument.

I raise this point because I will argue that we are going to see exactly this kind of circular argument again when we look at the East Asian Model and New Development Economics.  And I'm beginning to wonder if such arguments might be a too common theme in the development agenda -- a theme that started off with 'the key to development is to act like you're developed' (see, e.g., Ramo, New Institutional Economics, the World Bank's Doing Business Reports), and when that didn't work, has since morphed into 'the key to development is to do whatever helps you to become developed.'  This latter tautology is often framed in metaphorical terms of 'experimentation'.  But as we shall see, at least in the case of China, this is a hollow metaphor:  As I shall argue a bit later, China has never engaged in anything that an meaningfully be called 'experimentation': its 'experimentation' is better analogized to a 'random walk'.   But a random-walk theory of development doesn't leave much for a developmental 'theory' to do.  Hence, the resort to circular arguments -- they are useful for making something that is not really a theory look like a theory.

* * *

Post script:  Following Optimo's response, I now realize that this is not nearly as strong or as global a critique as I thought it was.  Never mind.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- Optimo on Pessimo's idea of development, innovation and his own gender

Shortly after my post last week, Pessimo posted a series of clarifications on this blog that demand a reply before I turn to his remarks on the other two theorems of Ramo.

First, on the concept of development, Pessimo clarifies that he is deterministic only regarding a country’s “capacity to produce and capture material wealth”. In other words he is skeptical of a country’s capacity to move from what the World Bank would classify as low-income to middle-income. But he is not so deterministic about the possibility of a country promoting general improvements in life quality, or simply by alleviating the brutality of material poverty. 

This clarification seems to be very much in line with some of the new poverty indicators in the development field. An example is the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) with the UNDP Human Development Report Office. As I describe in my book with Michael Trebilcock:

“The MPI examines a range of deprivations by using ten indicators at the household level (such as child mortality, years of schooling, and access to water, sanitation and electricity) to measure the same three critical dimensions of poverty as the HDI: education, health and living standard. This multidimensional approach to poverty reveals not only how many people are poor but also the nature and intensity of their poverty, which is relevant for policy design. The percentage of people living in poverty according to the MPI is higher than the percentage of people living on less than US$2 a day in 43 countries and lower than those living on less than US$1.25 a day in 25 countries. For example, in Ethiopia, 90 per cent of the population are MPI poor compared to 39 per cent classified as living in extreme poverty; 10 on the other hand, in Tanzania, 89 per cent of people live in extreme income poverty but only 65 per cent are MPI poor. This index captures access to key services such as sanitation and water in a more direct fashion, so the picture of deprivation seems to be a more accurate one: in some countries, services are available for free, while in others they are out of reach even for working people with an income. Additionally, for the same reasons, the MPI can reveal the persistence of acute poverty in countries with strong economic growth, such as India.”

I fully agree with Pessimo that reducing the concept of development to economic growth, especially as measured by GDP per capita is simplistic and may not fully capture the reality of poverty in many countries. What the MPI shows is that even the concept of living on less than a dollar a day, which is current definition of poverty, may be too simplistic. This is not to say, however, that economic growth or wealth should be completely dismissed from the concept of development. To explain why not, I would like to share with you an excerpt of my forthcoming book with Michael Trebilcock, entitled "Advanced Introduction to Law and Development":

“GDP per capita reflects a particular concept of development, centered around economic wealth, and it is also associated with policies designed to promote economic growth. There has been much resistance to such conception of development and growth policies, as we discuss in the next section. Even if one embrace such criticisms, however, economic growth should still be regarded as relevant in a development context, if the data is accurate. To illustrate this point, it is useful to differentiate economic growth from two related concepts: poverty and inequality. 

To understand the relationship between economic growth and poverty, take the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with a GDP per capita of US$272 in 2012.  This is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its enormous mineral wealth. Similarly to other countries, such as the United States and Brazil, in the Congo income is not equally distributed: some people are extremely rich (e.g. the former long time ruler, now deceased, Mobutu), whereas 46.5% of the population lives in poverty.  However, even if internal incomes were somehow equally distributed, the average per capita income would still be US$272. This means that each citizen would live on less than a dollar a day, despite the fact that the country would no longer face inequality problems. This extreme example shows that increasing GDP per capita by promoting economic growth can be an important instrument in eliminating poverty and therefore promoting economic development. Asian countries, especially China, offer illustrative examples of how economic growth can help reduce poverty. It is estimated that more than 500 million people were lifted out of poverty in China in the last three decades, due to high rates of economic growth.

This raises an important policy question: could we eliminate poverty by simply giving poor people money coming from other countries? Many b believe that this type of external redistributive program (known as Official Development Assistance, or Foreign Aid) can help solve the problem of poverty in developing countries. However, as we will discuss in greater detail in chapter 14, there are reasons to be skeptical. One reason is that the amount of aid currently allocated to developing countries is not remotely sufficient to eliminate poverty. For instance, the total amount of Aid sent to developing countries in a year is normally a little above US$ 100 billion. This is the annual expenditure budget of one single Canadian province, Ontario. Today there are around 1 billion people in the world living in absolute poverty, while there are around 13 million people living in Ontario. Thus, it is hard to think aid will solve the problem unless the amount of these transfers was dramatically increased.

The concept of poverty should not be confused with inequality. A country can have high rates of inequality while maintaining low levels of poverty. An illustrative example is the United States. There are cases, however, in which the inequality exists alongside (and may be one of the causes) of extreme poverty. For instance, Brazil has a high rate of inequality.  This means that the GDP per capita indicated earlier is far from representing how the income is distributed among the population. Indeed 6.1 % of the Brazilian population lives in extreme poverty,  with the richest 20% of the population holding around 60% of Brazil’s income compared to only 3% held by the poorest 20%.

While economic growth can help increase GDP per capita, as illustrated by the example of DRC, it may not help reduce poverty, as exemplified historically by the Brazilian case. That country had spectacular rates of economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s (averaging 7.33 percent). However, this economic growth was not distributed to the lower echelons of the population, being largely concentrated in the upper classes. This means that GDP per capita increased during this period, but both inequality and absolute poverty increased as well. Therefore, one may say that there was growth without development. China has recently started to see a rise in economic inequality, which may raise similar concerns.”(footnotes omitted)

A good example of the idea that development should include economic growth but should not be reduced to it, is the concept of development as freedom, as defined by Amartya Sen. Sen does not dismiss the importance of wealth in improving “one’s capacity to live the life they have a reason to value” (i.e. one’s freedom). Instead, according to Sen, freedom cannot be reduced to wealth, and money should not be considered an end in itself. However, wealth is still relevant to alleviate poverty directly or indirectly, as more money allows people (or the states) to do more things than they would otherwise be able to do. This is the reason why the United Nations’ Human Development Index (which is based on Sen’s concept of Development as Freedom) includes income along with health and education in the variables considered to measure a country’s development level. A country can have better health and education than countries at the same income level. However, the correlation between higher levels of income and better indicators in health and education is still valid for most countries. 

Second, Pessimo suggests that the two examples of innovation that I provided in my post (bus rapid transit and mobile banking) may “improved quality of life or the reduction in the more brutal aspects of material impoverishment, but they do not necessarily lead to a country’s increased capacity to generate and retain greater material wealth relative to the rest of the world.” Again, as my first point suggests, I think it is very hard to separate these two concepts. It seems almost intuitive to assume that BRTs and mobile banking have made the lives of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa much easier. At the same time, there has been studies showing that these innovations have also increase efficiency, increased job opportunities and contribute to economic growth (see here for the economic and other benefits of BRT in India, here for economic and other benefits of BRTs in China and here for the economic and other benefits of mobile banking in Africa). I think these examples are a good illustration of my point above, i.e. other dimensions of development are relevant but they are often intrinsically connected with economic growth, turning growth an important element in the development process.

Third, Pessimo raises the issue of whether we can intentionally promote development. And he claims that he is skeptic of “our capacities to promote development through strategic (re)design of institutions of governance (including the legal institutions that are the subject of law and development”. This is a very interesting point and I will address it in my post on the analysis of the second and third theorem of Ramo.

Last but not least, Pessimo raises the question about his sex (or gender), quickly jumping from the conclusion that he is a hermaphrodite, given that his sex (or gender) is undefined. It should not take us by surprise that someone who is so deterministic about a country’s development prospects would be equally deterministic about defining his (or her) sex or gender. So, I would invite Pessimo to take a look at Judith Butler’s book entitled Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. In this book, Butler argues that sex, gender and sexuality are culturally constructed. One of the implications of her argument is that we can take ownership over the existing “regulative discourse” that imposes these categories and intentionally deconstruct and redefine them. I certainly believe we have a lot of agency in the development context, as I will elaborate further in my next post. Butler, in turn, shows that we should also know that we have agency in defining our sex or gender. Thus, while maintaining his or her skepticism about our agency in development (even if for the sake of continuing the debate), I think Pessimo should take advantage of Butler’s work and exercise his or her agency to freely choose “which kind of sex (or gender) Pessimo has a reason to value”.   

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- On Ramo's idea of a 'Beijing Consensus': Pessimo's clarification

Pessimo's clarification:

Optimo’s response to my pessimism regarding Ramo’ particular articulation of the Beijing Consensus deserves some clarifications of my position, and perhaps of the terms of our dialogue.  This include (1) the nature of ‘development’; (2) the nature of what I am calling ‘agglomeration’; and (3) the nature of my developmental ‘determinism’.

With regards to the first clarification.  My relatively deterministic stance toward the possibilities of institutionally-fed development only applies only to one particular conceptualization of development – this is the one that equates ‘development’ with increased relative geographical (national) capacity to produce and capture material wealth (e.g., with moving from what the World Bank calls a “low income’ to a ‘medium income’ country, or from a low- or medium -income country to a ‘high-income’ country).  This is the particular conceptualization that I (and many others) see as principally driving the law-and-development project (and the global ‘development’ agenda writ large).

But, of course, there are other ways of conceptualizing ‘development’ -- such as Sen’s development as freedom, or improvements in general quality of life, or simply development as alleviation of the brutality of material poverty (my preference).  When conceptualized in this terms, I am much less a determinist – probably no more so than most people.

Along these lines, I would hypothesize that the two particular examples of technology-driven development that Optimo cites to – mobile banking in Africa and Brazil’s rapid bus transit system – certainly contribute to ‘development’ in the sense of improved ‘freedom’ or improved quality of life or the reduction in the more brutal aspects of material impoverishment, but they do not necessarily lead to a country’s increased capacity to generate and retain greater material wealth relative to the rest of the world.  To put it another way, I would suspect that mobile banking and rapid bus transit are important innovations with regards to progressive wealth redistribution, but not so much with regards to what we call economic growth.

Similarly (my second clarification), when I talk about agglomeration, I am talking only about a particular form of agglomeration – agglomeration that leads to product competitiveness (i.e., superior competitiveness in design rather than in price) and superior capture of material wealth -- what is often referred to collectively as 'moving up the value chain'.  This is the kind of agglomeration that works to promote 'development' as I have defined it above.  Of course, there are also other dimensions of agglomeration, but for the most part they do not contribute to an increase in a country's capacity to generate and retain material wealth.  Along these lines, China does indeed enjoy significant agglomeration effects in a number of productive technologies – for example in food adulteration and suppression of industrial wages.  But viewed from a purely developmental perspective, the problem with these particular technologies is that they do not contribute to development as I have defined it: their principal effect, like the technologies that Optimo lists in his or her response, lies in their contributions to wealth distribution (clear regressive in the case of labor exploitation; but perhaps somewhat progressive in the case of food adulteration (but which doesn't make it right, obviously)) rather than wealth generation and capture.

Finally, I would like to note that in discussing Taiwan, Optimo provokes a very interesting observation: Ramo’s Beijing Consensus would have been much more persuasive and compelling if he would have called it instead the Taipei Consensus (although this would not have contributed to with what I believe to be one of Ramo’s principal objectives in advancing this model: that of helping Kissinger & Associates curry favor and influence with mainland Chinese leadership).

This leads me to my third clarification, the nature of my developmental determinism.  I am not determinist with regards to a country’s level of development per se.  Certainly, countries can and do ‘develop’ in the sense of increasing their capacity to generate and retain material wealth relative to the rest of the world.  And Taiwan and South Korea are clear examples of this.  My determinism lies more limitedly in our capacities to promote development through strategic (re)design of institutions of governance (including the legal institutions that are the subject of law and development).  Without belaboring the basis for and parameters of this particular determinism, I would argue that the economic development of both Taiwan and South Korea is due simply by their close geographical and  cultural proximity to Japan, together with a perhaps even closer cultural proximity to the United States that emerged during and owing to the Cold War.  It was and is these various dimensions of proximity that catalyze the unique ability of their industrial parks to promote cutting-edge agglomeration.  But another way, I argue that is development that enables institutions (including Asian industrial parks), not the other way around.

Finally, I would like to point out that contrary to Optimo's presumption, I have yet to determine my gender.  This would suggest that I am a hermaphrodite.  And since I am also also a literary fiction, this makes me not simply a ordinary, every-day kind of hermaphrodite, but a speculative hermaphrodite, which I think would make a terrific character-class in World of Warcraft.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- Optimo on Ramo's idea of a 'Beijing Consensus' (First theorem)

Question:  Does the so-called ‘Beijing Consensus’ present a meaningful ‘model’ or blueprint for development?

Optimo: It does, despite the alleged lack of success of the model in China.

In his last post, Pessimo presented, in a very clear fashion, the three theorems that characterize the so-called Beijing Consensus, as defined by Ramo. He then criticized these three theorems by raising two kinds of objections. One is that some of these theorems are wrong or have unrealistic assumptions. The other objection is that China, which was supposed to be an illustrative case for such theorems, has failed to successfully achieve any of the goals set up by the model.

The first type of criticism is far stronger than the second type. The Chinese failure in successfully following or implementing the model may illustrate problems in the model, but it says little about the overall potential of the model to provide meaningful guidance to other countries. Thus, most of my response will be focused on the first type of objection, the one that questions the basic assumptions of the model.

Let’s start with innovation (and given the length of my response I will leave the other two theorems for future posts).

Pessimo is skeptical of the possibility of creating “and sustaining capacity for leading edge innovation is virtually impossible in the developing world”. To support this idea he mentions that many attempts to create industrial parks modeled after “those that have promoted leading-edge innovation in Taiwan and South Korea have been unsuccessful”. If I understand this correctly, there seems to be an inherent contradiction in the argument here: if “innovation is virtually impossible in the developing world”, how can we explain that countries like Taiwan and South Korea managed to successfully create innovative industrial parks? Should they not be classified as developing countries? Assuming they were developing countries at the time these innovations took place, maybe we can start by toning down the criticism and assume that innovation is not “virtually impossible” but perhaps “less likely to happen” in the developing world?

The fact that some developing countries have failed at producing innovation alone is not a reason to disprove the model. The question that need to be answered is why these countries have failed. This is exactly the point in which my disagreement with Pessimo becomes very clear. To explain the failed attempts to set up “ledging-edge” or “bleeding-edge” innovation, Pessimo argues that a series of pre-determined economic factors that are directly associated with the geographical conditions of the country (the so called agglomeration effects) tend to favor developed nations as the locus for such innovation. This would require a country to “be lucky” enough to be in the right place at the right time in order to develop. I do not subscribe to this explanation, let alone to its deterministic tone.

Innovation requires a variety of factors to take place, but one of the most cited studies to explain the capacity of Taiwan and South Korea to produce innovation is the idea of “Embedded Autonomy”, developed by Peter Evans. The argument has two parts. One is that the state has an important role to play in promoting innovation. Thus, while innovation is not determined by geographic factors alone, it is also not determined by the individual assumptions of the rational actor model either. In other words, institutions matter. The second element is the assumption that a particular type of state is required to promote such innovation. According to Evans, the state’s capacity to produce innovation requires a combination of the “autonomy” prescribed by the Weberian bureaucratic model, while at the same time requiring the cooperation of private actors that can only be obtained if the state in “embedded” in society. This “embedded autonomy” is a “contradictory balance” that is hard to find. Moreover, Evans acknowledges that there is more than one way for a state to be embedded in society, as the contrasting examples of Taiwan and South Korea show. Nevertheless, some form of embedded autonomy is a requirement for innovation to take place.

The best example to support Evan’s thesis and challenge the idea of agglomeration effects is Brazil. As Evans shows, Brazil has not developed a fully functional developmental state like Korea and Taiwan. Instead, the country has mostly a dysfunctional bureaucracy, except for a few departments that are often described as “pockets of efficiency”. When a pocket of efficiency manages to have the required “embedded autonomy”, innovation becomes feasible. The automotive sector in the 1960s and 1970s is one example. In contrast, Brazil’s massive failure in producing innovation in information technology illustrates that a country may be able to innovate in some sectors by not in others, depending on the institutions governing each of these sectors.

Evans’ argument was recently by revised by him and by others. While the revisions do not reject the two basic premises of the argument (the importance of the state, and the need for embedded autonomy), Evans’own revisions indicate that the relevant social relations supporting embeddedness are now broader (i.e. it involves a larger set of actors). Others, in turn, have emphasized the importance of focusing on processes, rather than outcomes as exemplified by the most recent literature on industrial policy (e.g. see this piece by Rodrik). Brazil again offers an example of this type of arrangement with the innovations in the agricultural sector promoted by the Brazilian Corporation for Agricultural Research, EMBRAPA.

In addition to disagreeing with Pessimo’s argument that innovation is “almost impossible” in developing countries due to agglomeration effects, I also want to challenge his interpretation of the first theorem of Ramo’s articulation of the Beijing Consensus. Pessimo seems to assume that the innovation needs to take place in the developing world in order to promote development. I am not sure this is what Ramo meant. The question that Ramo asks is what kind of technology should these countries use to “start development”. His answer to this question is that “bleeding-edge innovation” (rather than trailing-edge technology) that can “create change that moves faster than the problems change creates” is more likely to promote development. Where the technology is coming from, however, is not clear -- not in the excerpt in Pessimo’s post, at least.

There is at least one example that may suggest that the technology can come from the developed world and still benefit developing countries. Mobile banking in African nations revolutionized financial transactions in the continent, allowing money transfers from one cellphone to another without the intermediation of a financial institution. This innovation builds upon a bleeding-edge technology (mobile telephony) created in developed countries to bring change to another industry: banking in developing nations.

My point here is that Pessimo’s argument that innovation can only happen in developed countries seems to assume that there is a linear process of innovation, and developing countries are playing catch-up. If we abandon this premise, we can see that there is not a leader and a follower, but there are instead multiple paths. Indeed, mobile banking in Africa is the case in point. This is a particularly important innovation in a region in which levels of literacy are low and the presence of financial institutions outside large urban centers is scarce. So, the innovation is not relevant to developed nations or even to middle-income countries, such as Brazil and Mexico. But it has been quite relevant in the African context.

Another important question is what kind of technological innovations can be classified as bleeding-edge. One response is to say that it needs to be bleeding-edge from a scientific standpoint. But I wonder if we should also include here the fact that adopting bleeding-edge innovation and making not so bleeding-edge modifications on it could generate relevant social changes. So, we do not need to talk about ultra revolutionary scientific ideas, akin to inventing the laser technology. Sometimes, some marginal modification in existing products can generate quite significant results. One example is the slightly modified system for public buses that has shown significant results. The so-called bus-rapid-transit (BRT) requires less investment than subways, and is able to transport a higher number of passengers than a regular bus system. The changes are the payment system outside the buses, dedicated lanes and a faster entry-exit system in the buses (which are at the same level of the boarding platform). As a result, it is a great option for developing countries. Indeed, the system has been widely adopted in Latin America and has already made inroads in China and India. This may not be a “bleeding-edge” or “ledging-edge” innovation from a scientific standpoint, but it has generated “bleeding-edge” innovations in public transportation systems. If we consider the impact it has had in the lives of millions of people, this could be considered the type of technological innovation that may promote development.

The last point I want to make is regarding the idea that technological innovation will promote development as long as it “moves faster than the problems change creates”. Pessimo questions what does that mean. I think it means that dynamic innovation is better than slow moving one (coming from outside or inside). As a particular technology becomes widespread and settled, it creates a series of self-reinforcing mechanisms that make it hard to move away from it, even if there is superior technology available. The cautionary tale of the QWERTY keyboard is probably the most cited example of this problem.
I think this is enough to start the conversation. My comments on the other two theorems will be coming next week.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- Pessimo on Ramo's idea of a 'Beijing Consensus'

Question:  Does Ramo's particular vision of a so-called ‘Beijing Consensus’ present a meaningful ‘model’ or blueprint for development?


No, it does not.

As noted in the introduction, the “Beijing Consensus’ was a term initially coined by Joshua Ramo to describe a development model that in many ways contradicted the principal tenants of the Washington Consensus (hence 'Beijing' Consensus -- get it?).  According to Ramo, the Beijing Consensus consists of “three theorems about how to organize the place of a developing country in the world” (see pages 11-12):

Ramo writes: 
“The first theorem repositions the value of innovation. Rather than the “old-physics” argument that developing countries must start development with trailing-edge technology (copper wires), it insists that on the necessity of bleeding-edge innovation (fiber optic) to create change that moves faster than the problems change creates. In physics terms, it is about using innovation to reduce the friction losses of reform.”

This is just silly -- a buzzword salad.  What does it mean to "create change that moves faster than the  problems change creates?" What kind of problems do copper wires cause that immediate transition to fiber optics outruns?  Maybe Ramo means what the rest of the world calls 'leap-frog' technologies.  But leap frog technologies clearly create their own problem.  The fact that one moves directly from walking to automobile might mean that you don't have to deal with the problem of horse manure, but you still have to deal with pollution.  This is, of course, I really, really big problem in China right now, and they are clearly not outrunning it, nor are the going to be able to outrun it, by leapfrogging to fiber optics.

Beyond this, studies show it is almost impossible to sustain consistency in 'bleeding edge' -- I prefer the more conventional term, 'leading edge' -- innovation anywhere but in the most advanced of industrial and post industrial economies. And, contrary to Ramo's assertion, one certainly does not find it in China.  Even today, some 10 years after Ramo's claim, China does not produce anything that is leading-edge, design-competitive (or product competitive) on international markets.  Efforts to introduce centers for leading-edge industrial innovation, most notably those establishing industrial parks modeled after those that have promoted leading-edge innovation in Taiwan and South Korea -- have been unsuccessful:  The industrial parks established in China have invariably devolved simply into sites where foreign firms could source component suppliers.  A similar devolution has accompanied efforts to establish industrial parks in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, so one can't really blame it on China's political system (the way that some are wont to do).

As noted above, studies show that developing and sustaining capacity for leading-edge innovation is virtually impossible in the developing world.  Such innovation requires what Michael Storper has termed agglomeration effects, a synergistic spill-over of knowledge that results when a critical density of highly skilled and educated workers live and work in close proximity with each other.  This requires huge amount of local wealth and very high standards of living to attract and maintain this kind of labor force.  Moreover, agglomeration give the possessing region an absolute rather than simply a comparative advantage in the relevant areas of production.  This means that some other region cannot succeed by simply 'competing' with rival existing centers of agglomeration (absolute advantage means that competition is impossible), and given the huge first mover advantage that the advanced industrial economies have in product competitive industries, one would suspects that it would be highly improbably that there are any areas left for new entrants from developing countries even if some level of agglomeration could be achieved.  Which is why you simple do not see agglomeration emerging in anywhere but the developed world.
Ramo writes:
The second Beijing Consensus theorem is that since chaos is impossible to control from the top you need a whole set of new tools. It looks beyond measures like per-capita GDP and focuses instead of quality-of-life, the only way to manage the massive contradictions of Chinese development. This second theorem demands a development model where sustainability and equality become first considerations, not luxuries. Because Chinese society is an unstable stew of hope, ambition, fear, misinformation and politics only this kind of chaos-theory can provide meaningful organization. China’s new approach to development stresses chaos management. This is one reason why academic disciplines like sociology and crisis management are the vogue of party think tanks at the moment.

Again, the problem here is that sustainability and equality both required highly sophisticated regulatory systems whose costs are such that they generally cannot be supported by anything less than an advanced industrial economy.  These include not simply advanced technologies for regulating and responding to environmental degradation without interrupting the productive activity of the polluting industry, which China does not have, but highly evolved banking systems, auditing systems, and socially pervasive accounting practices to that can effectively collect and redistribute wealth through an efficient the taxation system, which China also does not have.  Again, China provides ample evidence of this.  Contrary to Ramo’s claim, China’s development has in fact resulted in a infamously massive increase in social inequality (as measured by GINI), and infamously staggering levels of environmental degradation.  Nor is China unique in this regard:  the technologies and quality of labor needed to support effective wealth redistribution and sustainable development are simply too expensive for lesser developed countries to develop, attract and maintain.  .

Nor is there no evidence of any meaningful 'crisis management' coming out of the central level in China.  In fact, many attribute the recent political crackdown on civil society (including educational institutions, and including the study of sociology) precisely to political insecurity resulting from a lack of crisis management regulatory technologies.  (Ironically, one of these people is Yu Jianrong, one of China’s most highly respected and internationally visible sociologists).  Like redistribution and environmental sustainability, crisis management is an expensive technology to maintain, both due to monitoring costs and due to the fact that personnel trained in this area are expensive and finicky about where they want to live. 

Finally, Ramo writes:
Finally, the Beijing Consensus contains a theory of self-determination, one that stresses using leverage to move big, hegemonic powers that may be tempted to tread on your toes. This new security doctrine is important enough that I treat it later in a separate chapter.

While there is some truth to this, this is a condition that clearly lies outside the reach of any domestic development ‘model’.  China’s autonomy was and is pure and simply a function of its size.  It is a capacity that simply lies beyond the reach of the vast majority of developing states.  One of the problems that informs this ‘theorum’ is that Ramo seems to think that economic autonomy is simply a problem of domination by international organizations (‘hegemonic powers’).  In fact, the much bigger problem is domination by markets.  The only effective response to this problem that we have found to date is for developing nations to enter into transnational regional financial arrangements like the Chiang Mai Initiative in Asia or the Prado-inspired BRICS Development Bank.  But at best, this only results in a regional autonomy, not in the kind of domestic financial autonomy that Ramo is imagining.  Moreover, they only insulate from large shocks, they do not insulate from the kind of persistent market-driven domination by private actors – as articulated, for example, in threats to relocate production, harassing litigation and lobbying, and intellectual domination of the WTO and other international financial institutions and organizations – that is a much greater threat to economic autonomy than ‘hegemonic powers’. 

In sum, China’s actual developmental trajectory has been almost the polar opposite of that which Ramo’s labels the ‘Beijing Consensus’.  It has not featured any significant ‘bleeding-edge innovation’; and it has been massively anti-egalitarian and massively unsustainable from an environmental perspective.  It has indeed featured a marked degree of economic autonomy, but this is due purely to China’s immense size and is therefore not a meaningful ‘model’ for other developing countries.  The failure of even China to meaningfully conform to the so-called ‘Beijing Consensus’ would appear to confirm that the Ramo’s notion of a Beijing does not represent a meaningful developmental model for “students in places like New Delhi and Brasilia,” or anywhere else in the world.

Finally, one might counter that implementing these theorems would pay for their (immense) administrative  costs by promoting economic growth.  Maybe so (not really), but China gives us no evidence of this.  Even at its very impressive levels of economic growth, China -- like India, Botswana, Indonesia, and other dramatically growing economies -- has shown to be utterly incapable of maintaining the developmental features called for by Ramo's 'Consensus'.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- Prologue

Over the next two months or so, Mariana Prado and myself will be using this blog to construct a scholastic dialogue about the so-called 'Beijing Consensus' and its possible relevance for law and development.  This exercise will lead to a book chapter for a forthcoming book on the Beijing Consensus being edited by Weitseng Chen of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (who is therefore my colleague, and was also Mariana’s classmate in the Yale Law School doctoral program).  In keeping with the scholastic dialogue tradition, I am proposing that Mariana be ‘Optimo', and I be ‘Pessimo’.

In this introductory post, I will introduce the intellectual history behind the Beijing Consensus, so as to give some background.  Later this week, Pessimo will be making the first entry.

The Beijing Consensus was a term initially coined by Joshua Cooper Ramo.  Ramo used term to introduce a particular developmental strategy that he was advancing as a superior alternative to the then popular Washington Consensus.  According to Ramo, in contrast to the Washington Consensus, the Beijing Consensus emphasized experimentation rather than what we might call ‘programaticism’; a developmental focus on equitable distribution and (environmental) sustainability, rather than simply on GDP growth; and a focus on promoting and protecting ‘financial sovereignty’ – aka, the country’s ability to determine for itself how to structure its national economy, without being pressured into adopting particular policies by the advanced industrial countries or the international developmental organizations.

We will examine and critique Ramo’s notion in further detail later on.  But for now, it is significant to note that Ramo’s notion can be seen as part of a larger intellectual history.  Since the 1970s, scholars have been advancing various ‘Asian’ models of development as promising alternatives to ‘Western’ models.  Prior to Ramo, these included the ‘Developmental State’, and a ‘post-industrial’ form of industrial organization often referred to as ‘post-Fordism’.  The idea of the Asian ‘developmental state’, which was initially developed by Chalmers Johnson in the 1970s based upon the developmental experiences of Japan, advance the idea that the state could promote economic developmental by adopting industrial policies that targeted particular domestic industries for industrial development.  Post-Fordism, as perhaps most influentially articulated in the context of law and development by Charles Sabel, and which also derived in part of Japanese industrial organization, emphasized promoting industrial flexibility and adaptiveness rather than industrial exploitation of economies of scale.  A third precedential model, called neo-authoritarianism, emerged in the early 1990s, and argued that Asia’s impressive development could be credited to a policy decision to promote capitalist and neo-liberal economic reforms before promoting democratic and liberal political reforms.  (The subsequent “Asian values” thesis of the later 1990s, associated primarily with Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani, can be seen as a variant of this.)

Ramos particular conceptualization of the Beijing Consensus met with a lot of resistance, principally because there was real question whether the particular developmental policies he saw it as prescribing accurately described China’s actual path of economic development.  But it did appear to trigger renewed Western academic interests the possibility of a superior, and distinctly Asian, developmental model.  In 2005, Randall Peerenboom, wrote a book published by Oxford University Press, entitled China Modernizes: Threat to the West or Model for the Rest?, in which he advances what he termed the an “East Asian Model”, is characterized both by prioritizing economic reforms over liberal political reforms, and by a distinctively pragmatic approach to development that Peerenboom referred to as “doing what works”.  A couple of years later, Dani Rodrik advanced a similar developmental model, which he and others are calling ‘New Development Economics’ (which was discussed a bit in Michael Trebilcock’s recent post to the blog), that like the East Asian Model emphasizes pragmatism and experimentation and that cites China’s post-Mao development as its principal exemplar.  More recently, some scholars – perhaps most prominently in the field of law and development, Curtis Milhaupt – have been advancing a distinctly Chinese notion of ‘state capitalism’: a form of capitalism similar to the developmental state but in which the focus is not so much on industrial policymaking but more on state involvement in the corporate governance of firms.

The succeeding posts in this dialogue will debate the relevance of each of these ‘models’ to ‘law and development’. Stay tuned.