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April 14, 2008

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Per Kurowski

On the issue of bilateral investments treaties and the use of arbitration under foreign jurisdictions Rodrik falls into much simplified criticism, sounding almost as your friendly neighborhood activist, advising us that this strategy is probably not good for governance-as-an-end. In his conclusion I feel that Rodrik is, using his terminology, is only considering second or third best realities.

Rodrik argues that the above would create “an unhealthy distinction between domestic and foreign investors”, as if those differences do not exist anyhow; and that “the outsourcing may even delay the establishment of a healthy judiciary”, when it could just as easily help it along.

Of course the existence of local justice is important, but so is the existence of strong international systems that can settle disputes, since no matter how you look at them in the long run it is always the weaker who will benefit the most from having access to well functioning international justice…since the strong is strong even without it.

Let us not confuse the tremendous, shocking and hurting disappointments that many development countries might have had with the international grievance mechanism with the fact that many or most of the contractual obligations brought up to arbitration were drawn up without properly considering the implications of it. Instead of throwing away the international grievance mechanism, help the countries instead to learn from their experiences and so they will consider the real implications of it the next time they sign up a contract with a foreign investor. Much the contrary from what Rodrik holds, if our governments learn that they won’t get away that easy, they will also learn little by little (that’s the rhythm of development) to negotiate better and more seriously… and from this it is very clear that the local investors are the one who stands most to benefit, long term.

Per Kurowski

We have of course in many ways gone overboard in our fixation on good government; and created a lot of confusion having, as Dani Rodrik so rightly says, so often confused governance-as-an-end with governance-as-a-means; and we have tried to impose many oversimplified good governance for dummies practices; and we have even created a niche in experts in anti-corruption, which to me has always sounded like a particularly refined version of corruption; and we all know that in good governance no one has really the right of throwing the first stone, but, no matter all our faults and mistakes, please let us not give to bad governance the benefit of the doubt… and which by the way I am sure that Dani Rodrik does not do.

robertdfeinman

An excellent step in the direction of getting economists out of the business of making social policy.

The issue of governance is actually quite simple. Good governance requires functioning democratic institutions. If these exist all the attributes mentioned (transparency, lack of corruption ,etc) follow automatically. Of course true democracy also implies strong limits on wealth inequality. If money rules instead votes then democracy can't function. However the wealthy are not about to give up their privilege without a fight. This is the implementation issue where reforms always stumble.

Right now we have highly imperfect political democracies in a number of advanced societies. These range from totally fake ones like in Zimbabwe to broken ones like the US.

But, even if the political system was made more democratic we have no indications that democratic governance would apply elsewhere. Corporations are autocracies as are most religious and educational institutions. Non-profits are not subject to even nominal control as most have self perpetuating boards.

Even if more institutions were to become more democratic the inter-generational problem would still exist. There is no motivation (aside from some vague feelings of altruism) for people to take actions which cost them now in favor of future generations. Arguments about sustainability thus have little effect on current policies or attitudes.

The next step in the humbling of economists is for them to realize that who owns the means of production is of no real importance. A well governed state-owned asset can outperform a poorly governed private one and vice versa. One only needs to see the current demands that the Fed bail out the private financial firms to see how fast ideology gets tossed aside when money is at stake.

If the Fed (SEC, etc) couldn't be trusted to regulate markets why is OK for them to fix things?

The real issues remains (as always) too many people chasing too few resources and "growth" being promoted as the way to solve these problems.

When standing in a pit the first rule to getting out is to stop digging. In this case this means finding a replacement for the consumerist/capitalist model while simultaneously improving the lot of those most in need. I see no solutions being proposed by economists inside or outside the Washington Consensus.

jose carlos

yes, institutions matter; but no, KK-World Bank perception-based indicators data does not help as much as claimed. a good critique: The Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, No. 2, May 2007, pp. 563–569.

James Edwards

Very good piece on governance, I see strands of Amartya Sen in your analysis.

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