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Rethinking neo-liberal state building: building post-conflict development states

I was at Tatte today and saw a Politics, Philosophy and economics student (PPE Major) reading an interesting paper which discussed building post-conflict development states and few days ago I was talking to CP about the relationship between authoritarian model of government and development.

Here’s are few points and notes I made from discussion with both of them.

It’s quite interesting!!!!!!

The paper begins by acknowledging that efforts to rebuild states that have experienced failure or collapse following periods of violent conflict have become an imperative for the international community. These “failed states” are said to pose major risks to international security and global order.

State-building exercises, such as those conducted under the auspices of the United Nations in East Timor and the current international effort in Afghanistan, are seen as diagnostic tests for broader international attempts to protect the international system from various problems of underdevelopment and conflict, which failed states reflect and embody.

State-building is broadly conceived as the process of ‘constructing or reconstructing institutions of governance capable of providing citizens with physical and economic security’. This process is qualitatively different from ‘typical’ forms of development assistance.

The author asserts that the international community has heavily relied on neo-liberal development paradigms in their attempts to rebuild post-conflict states. However, they argue that neo-liberal state-building has proved ineffective in stimulating economic development in post-conflict states, thus undermining prospects for state consolidation.

Instead, the author offers the “developmental state” as an alternative model for international state building, arguing that it’s better suited to overcoming the developmental challenges that face post-conflict states. Drawing on the East Asian experience, “developmental state building” would seek to build state capacity to intervene in the economy to guide development, compensating for the failure of growth led by the private sector to materialize in many post-conflict states.

In essence, the paper calls for a shift in the international community’s approach to state-building in post-conflict situations, advocating for an approach that acknowledges and compensates for the limitations of private-sector-led growth in these contexts.

The “developmental state” model refers to a type of economic system where the state plays a key role in the economy by influencing the direction and pace of economic development. It is often associated with the rapid growth of certain East Asian economies in the second half of the 20th century, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, among others. Here are some key characteristics of a developmental state:

  1. Active Role of Government: In a developmental state, the government takes an active role in guiding economic activity and makes decisions on allocating resources. This often involves implementing policies that promote certain industries or sectors of the economy that the government deems important for national development.
  2. Industrial Policy: The government often employs an industrial policy that includes targeted investment in specific sectors, import restrictions, export incentives, and other measures to promote certain industries and protect them from international competition.
  3. Collaboration between Government and Private Sector: While the state plays a leading role, it does not mean that the private sector is unimportant. Instead, there is often a close relationship between government and business, with the state providing support and guidance and the private sector driving innovation and growth.
  4. Investment in Human Capital and Infrastructure: Developmental states often prioritize education and infrastructure development. High levels of literacy and numeracy, as well as a well-developed infrastructure, are seen as crucial for economic development.
  5. Performance-Based Legitimacy: The legitimacy of the government in a developmental state often hinges on its ability to deliver economic growth and improved living standards, rather than democratic representation or ideological conformity.
  6. Long-term Vision: Governments in developmental states often have a long-term vision for the country’s economic development and are willing to make short-term sacrifices to achieve these long-term goals.

However, it’s important to note that while the developmental state model has been successful in some contexts, it’s not without its critics or challenges. Some argue that the model can lead to cronyism and corruption, inefficient allocation of resources, and can stifle innovation by protecting certain industries from competition. Others argue that the model is difficult to replicate in other contexts due to unique cultural, historical, and institutional factors in the countries where it has been successful.

The relationship between the type of government (authoritarian or democratic) and economic development is complex and does not lend itself to straightforward generalizations. Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Historical Examples of Economic Development in Authoritarian Regimes: There are instances where authoritarian governments have presided over periods of rapid economic development. For example, the “Asian Tigers” (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong) experienced rapid industrialization and economic growth under authoritarian regimes during much of the post-World War II period. China, under a one-party authoritarian system, has also experienced significant economic growth in recent decades.
  2. Efficiency vs. Responsiveness: Authoritarian governments can sometimes make and implement decisions more efficiently than democratic governments, as they don’t need to go through lengthy democratic processes. This can theoretically lead to faster economic development. However, authoritarian governments are also less likely to be responsive to the needs and wants of their citizens, which can result in policies that neglect certain sectors of the population or lead to human rights abuses.
  3. Corruption and Cronyism: Authoritarian regimes, due to lack of transparency and accountability, may also be more prone to corruption and cronyism. This can stifle economic development by discouraging foreign investment and creating inefficiencies in the economy.
  4. Long-Term Stability: While some authoritarian regimes can achieve short- to medium-term economic development, there are questions about long-term stability. Since these regimes often rely on force or repression to maintain power, they can face significant social and political unrest, which can undermine long-term economic development.
  5. Variety in Outcomes: It’s important to note that there’s a wide variety in outcomes among authoritarian regimes. Not all authoritarian regimes lead to economic development. In fact, many have presided over economic stagnation or decline.

In conclusion, while there are instances of authoritarian governments that have overseen periods of economic development, it is not a given outcome, and such regimes can also result in negative consequences such as corruption, inequality, and social unrest. Furthermore, high levels of economic development have also been achieved in democratic contexts, and many argue that democratic institutions are more conducive to sustainable, long-term development.

Determining an “ideal” term length for an authoritarian government to stimulate development before transitioning to a democracy is not straightforward, and it is arguably an oversimplified approach to a complex issue. The relationship between governance, economic development, and democratic transition is multifaceted and context-specific. Here are a few key points to consider:

  1. Economic Development: There’s no universal time frame for how long it takes to achieve significant economic development. It can take decades, and the time needed can vary based on a multitude of factors including the initial state of the economy, resource availability, the specific policies implemented, geopolitical relationships, and more.
  2. Democratic Transitions: Transitions from authoritarianism to democracy can be challenging and unpredictable. They can sometimes lead to instability or conflict, and there’s no guarantee that a democratic system will be immediately successful or stable. It’s also important to note that democracy is not just about holding elections; it involves building a range of institutions and norms such as rule of law, free press, and respect for human rights.
  3. Public Opinion and Political Culture: The process of shifting from an authoritarian government to a democratic one also involves changes in public opinion and political culture. This includes developing a belief in democratic values, trust in democratic institutions, and skills for democratic participation, all of which can take time.
  4. Authoritarian Entrenchment: The longer an authoritarian regime is in power, the more entrenched it can become. This can make a transition to democracy more difficult.
  5. Human Rights: It’s also critical to consider the human rights implications of maintaining an authoritarian regime, even for a set period. Authoritarian regimes often involve restrictions on freedoms and civil liberties, and can sometimes involve significant human rights abuses.

Given these complexities, it’s clear that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The most successful transitions to democracy tend to involve a combination of favorable economic conditions, strong institutions, a supportive international environment, and a citizenry that’s engaged and committed to democratic principles. Achieving these conditions requires more than just setting a time frame for authoritarian ruleā€”it involves careful, context-specific planning and policy-making, as well as a commitment to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.