I found our discussions on the topic of corruption to be quite interesting. I think that the notion of corruption has this strong stigma in the minds of so many people, and there is an automatic rejection of its possible benefits by the connotation of the word alone. Corruption is a widely misunderstood term that many people throw around without completely understanding, and I enjoyed being able to further examine what government corruption really looks like in practice and see that in some ways, it did give benefits to a larger community than just the corrupt individuals or organizations. Not to say that corruption is overall a good thing, but we do see some benefits stemming from corruption in some areas that seem like they wouldn’t exist otherwise. I think too that corruption is a symptom of a larger problem, and efforts that target the destruction of corruption are missing the bigger picture and because of this have generally been unhelpful in attempting to create any real changes.
Overall my views on poverty in the Global South have changed quite drastically while in this class. It is somewhat worrying to me to consider how much I have learned, and then realize that a majority of voters in the US currently know as much as I did about poverty and aid before I entered this course. It’s because of things like this that I worry for the future of Global South countries. People with money to give to development projects think they are helping just by doing something, so often the projects that are implemented (particularly infrastructure projects) are not helpful or at least aren’t the best use of the money if the goal is to improve the lives of people in that community.
When it comes to the intervention of the Global North countries in an attempt to alleviate poverty in the Global South, it seems to me that most plans and projects fail to make a large impact on the betterment of people’s lives. I can certainly say that I’ve gained a more pessimistic view of the world order while in this class, but unlike many I do not consider this to be a bad thing. People who are convinced they are doing good in an environment where they are not being helpful have the potential to do more harm without realizing it. If you are constantly critical of your own actions, you’re more likely to catch things that aren’t working and try to adjust accordingly.
Historically, poor people have had to suffer in order for nations to develop. The Global North’s efforts are aimed at reducing the human costs of development, and have had varying degrees of success and failure. While we may not know what solves the issue of human suffering during development, I like to believe that even little things that can be done to improve the lives of those in the Global South while encouraging sustainable development in any measure is helpful, especially compared to doing nothing.
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When attempting to determine the success or failure of an aid project, one must first understand the context of the project. Some things to consider would be the scope of the project (was it targeting a large or small population?), the amount of funding put towards the project and how it was allocated, and the reason the project was started in the first place. Once we understand this background information, we can start looking at some of the finer details that determine success or failure: the commitment on both ends of seeing the project fully through, the effort put forth in executing the project on the ground, and the lasting impact (or lack thereof) of the project.
So what does it mean then to say a project worked? Though the goal of aid projects individually vary, we can say that there is one overarching goal that applies to every aid project, and that is to improve the lives of human beings in some way. But it isn’t enough to see that some aspect of live has improved to call the project a success. The thing about aid projects is that they aren’t the only thing going on in the communities where they’re implemented. Life still goes on, and that means there are immeasurable other factors in play that can determine if someone’s life gets better or worse. Correlation is not causation, and it is important to remember that even if we see improvements that coincide with the start of an aid project, that doesn’t mean that these improvements are because of the aid. The reverse is also true—if we see things getting worse, it may not be because of the aid project, though that would call for a more critical look over the project to attempt to determine whether or not it was problematic.
When we consider this, I personally don’t think it’s possible to prove that an aid project worked. There are too many other variables to consider in the lives of human beings to point out that one action taken to make things better was the actual catalyst for these changes. That being said, I do think that it is possible to determine that an aid project did not work. If we take structural adjustment as an example, we can pick out signs that show us that something does not work. Structural adjustment was created to be a transition phase, and in theory, if every actor cooperated how they were ‘supposed to’ under the program and it remained short term, it may have yielded some benefits. But the leaders of countries who got these loans wanted to enact the prescribed reforms as little as possible, and tried to stretch out the structural adjustment money for as long as they could. This conflict of interests between the World Bank and country leaders show us already that the possibility of enacting lasting change is low, especially if we accept that the main driver of long-term growth is good institutions.
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Corruption is a common topic in the field of political science, one that gets blamed while explaining the issues of a nation or trying to explain why something occurred. The concept of corruption and its causes are a bit more complicated than the general public make it out to be, and each paper we looked at takes a different view on corruption and offers an explanation for why it occurs where and when it does. Corruption, as defined by Huntington, is the exchange of political power for personal profit or gains.
According to Huntington, corruption occurs more frequently when it’s easier to get money than it is to get political power, so it’s easy to see that places with a higher potential for class mobility have more corruption. He makes the argument that it happens more in modernizing societies because the characteristics of those societies help enable it. He states three reasons for this. The first is that changes in societal structure fuel changes in what types of behavior are considered to be the norms, the second is the is a creation of new sources of wealth and power, and the third is the government filling new roles and taking on new responsibilities. Huntington would say the cause of corruption overall is the economic situation of the community.
Fisman and Miguel take a different approach and argue that corruption occurs when someone’s experienced social structure doesn’t discourage it and when it won’t be punished. They study a correlation between illegal parking and indicator of corruption in home country. They found that cultural experiences seem to then frame attitudes and tendencies toward corruption, while level of enforcement seems to determine whether people act on their corrupt desires or not, and at what frequency. They then see that the cause of corruption overall is the cultural background of the region and the ability to get away with it.
Gay explains that corruption occurs when there is an incentive to be corrupt that outweighs any negative consequences of this corruption. Support, whether active or passive, makes it easier for someone to act in a corrupt manner, as does lack of retribution from any source. In the case he studies, the corruption acts as an unspoken social contract; the people vote for the person chosen by the community leader, essentially ‘giving’ their vote to the leader to use as a bargaining chip, and in turn the community gains improvements, like paved roads and medical centers. He argues that the overall cause of corruption is the efficiency and effectiveness of corruption over other sources of achieving goals.
I think that each author is right in his own regard. I agree mostly with Gay’s conclusion, and would argue that his reasoning could be applied to the other two cases as well. In Huntington’s argument, he talks about how the economic situation specifically makes it easy for people to act in a corrupt matter, and in Fisman and Miguel’s article, they see radical change in behavior when enforcement increases. In both cases, corruption is higher when it is easy and more effective to be corrupt, and when it gets harder or corruption stops being as effective at achieving one’s goals, it goes down.