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.

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