Lets take over The Gambia! (Sorry Samba)

To my surprise, my views on the causes of poverty in the Global South have remained relatively the same from the start of this course to the end. The difference is that now, I am able to back up my arguments with facts and statistics, and I have a broader understanding of how we came to be where we are.

Overall, I fall in the Sachs camp of development theory. I am skeptical of the free market and believe that the capitalist system has not only failed to serve underdeveloped areas, but has systemically prevented their growth. While the readings in this course emphasize that traditional aid projects have failed to yield the returns we expect or desire, most have also demonstrated that open market approaches are just as ineffective. And when it comes down to a battle between two ineffective approaches to aid, I choose the Sachs model. Sachs’ saving grace, in my eyes, is that the MVP approach supports the impoverished in the village over an extended period of time, as opposed to developing a system that rewards a few at the top and expects wealth to trickle down.

I was surprised, in the end, by very little, except perhaps the lack of interest that Dr. Kendhammer expressed in Jared Diamond’s explanation for long-run inequality. I stand by that model as the best macro model with which to introduce non-development theorists to the concept of developed vs. undeveloped vs. underdeveloped nations. I think that on a smaller scale Diamond’s explanations can even be used to discuss development differences within large countries like the United States.

To my knowledge the topic of this post was initially scheduled to be something like, “what is the solution?” Here is mine: (apologies in advance to Samba) …

Ohio University should sponsor “Politics of Developing Areas: Spring Semester”, which will be a practical application portion of this class. We as a group should roll into The Gambia in a bunch of Honda Pilots, take over, and begin to exercise control based on our overwhelming knowledge of development issues. We begin by revitalizing the education system, hosting conferences to write a new national constitution and then ratifying it through national vote, and seeking international contracts and monetary aid for infrastructure and business development projects.

Yes, the plan I just outlines is completely based in a white savior complex and yes I am 99% joking. The reason I framed it like I did is to emphasize the following: development is a task that requires all hands on deck. We saw this in regards to development states like Japan and South Korea. In nations like The Gambia, Yahyah Jammeh and leaders like him are not geared towards the same development mindset of a development state. I believe that with the proper people working towards the right goals, development is possible anywhere. (475 words)

Maybe in 20 years…

Foreign aid evaluation is made difficult by the number of variables in the global system. For example, in the Michael Clemens and Gabriel Demombynes report, the two researchers site cell-phone level ownership as one facet of the Millennium Villages Project. While the project’s initial findings suggested that the MVs were benefiting significantly from the project’s funds, further evaluation demonstrated that, “the true impact of the MVP intervention, averaged across all reported indicators and all sites, was roughly half of what the project had claimed based on the before-and-after comparison” (Clemens 5).

The difficulties associated with measuring aid effectiveness make it difficult to say whether an aid project has worked. In 2008 and 2009, Doucouliagos and Paldam concluded that it was possible to say that there was a small positive, yet insignificant, relationship between aid and growth. This report, and others like it, are discussed on the World Economic Forum website, where the necessity for repeated evaluation is emphasized. However, to the dismay of development strategists, no matter which way the data is parsed, results are inconclusive.

In order to determine whether an aid project has worked, several types of data could be used. Control villages or locations, unaffected by the mission of the project, can provide useful comparison data. It is through these forms of evaluation that we see the ineffectual nature of foreign aid. Data from these studies suggests that the impact of the market on a country makes a much larger difference that small aid projects does. Other types of data that could be used includes randomized evaluations, cost of living assessments, GDP growth reports, GNI growth reports, and inequality assessments. As was discussed at the beginning of the course, one statistic will never tell the full story behind development or standard of living within a country.

So it is possible to say that an aid project has worked? I think that it is. However, the aid projects that we have been developing since the 1980s suffer from a number of flaws. First, the money runs out or the project changes focus well before an impact can be expected. With chlorine pills or bug nets, short-term effects are limited by a society’s desire to use these tools. It could take up to three or four seasons before the society has accepted the new technology, fully implemented it, and noticed the results. For education goals, the deadline is even lengthier: one would expect that a full generation (20 years) should have to pass before the impact of a new system is discernible.

The international system does not have the willpower to stick with projects for this long. So while believe it is possible to say an aid project has worked, we would have to first see the impact of it, and not enough time has passed for that to have happened. I suggest choosing one project an ensuring 20 years of funding, then coming back to seek out data on the project’s effectiveness. (494 words)

Michael Clemens and Gabriel Demombynes (2013), “The New Transparency in Development Economics: Lessons from the Millennium Villages Controversy,” CGDEV Working Paper, #342

Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab, “Introduction to Evaluations”



This is a make-up post for mid-October:

Three notable societal factors allowed for Japan and the Asian tigers to successfully advance their economies through state-led development. First and foremost, I would posit that the type of corruption visible in countries that failed at state-driven development is less prevalent in the Asian tigers. For example, in states like Zaire, discussed in the Peter Evans reading, cronyism along family and kinship lines is the norm. The obedience to family presented a drawback for societies built on a kinship model, as described by Bates, since familial ties prevented unification of smaller social groups into an efficient whole. While cronyism definitely exists in Japan and the Asian tigers, it is institutionalized in a different fashion. The Amakudari system of transferring political elites into private sector jobs tied the political and economic world of Japan together. In addition, those officials who were part of the political (and later, economic) bureaucracy were selected among the top minds of the country, not what town somebody came from.

Elevating members of society highlights the second important factor of the Asian tigers: unification of the country along nationalist lines. Perhaps as a result of the Bates model (absence of violence = lack of unification) and/or other factors, LEDCs were not as socially cohesive as countries like Japan and South Korea? Asian cohesiveness can be seen in the education system of both nations, which selected the top minds of the country for advancement. From knowledge of a previous class, I want to suggest that Confucian values play a role here. A government emphasis on Confucian values, which included loyalty to authority and a responsibility to the larger society (more of a nationalist twist on Confucianism, but it worked) can also be seen as responsible for the lesser role of crony-capitalist politics.

Finally, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan (plus Japan) all organized large business conglomerates (Ziabatsu, Chaebols, etc.) that were given reign over portions of these nation’s economies. From start to finish, each member of the conglomerates understood that their mandate is advance society as a whole. This is an understanding that we do not see in narrations like Griffith’s The Economist’s Tale, and could be the ultimate determinant of what constitutes an economic development success.

I question how valuable it is to consider these differences? While we may find value in understanding what helped facilitate East Asian growth, a clear limitation exists in trying to transfer these principles to South Asia, Africa, and South America. The picture that is painted is so different from the countries that we have been studying that I have trouble relating the two regions. The take away is that perhaps success is not found in the specific policy, but success is more about the goals of each member of society being aligned, and the path to development in LEDCs lies in changing minds and providing new avenues for goal-driven growth. (487 words)

Values and Limitations of a Political Analysis

The readings for this Monday pose this argument: developmental states result from “beneficial” political institutions, which decide the economic fate of the entity in question. Acemoglu and Robinson state this in Why Nations Fail, explaining, “while economic institutions are critical for determining whether a country is poor or prosperous, it is politics and political institutions that determine what economic institutions a country has.” One compelling example of this theory is the colony of Jamestown. The authors explain that Jamestown survives because people learn to work for their wealth. The elite of England cannot use force to control the colony, and instead turn to an incentive system. These factors are a forerunner to modern day capitalism and democracy.

Acemoglu and Robinson assess the factors the allow Jamestown to survive and pass on lessons about successful societies labelling those factors “political.” However, these elements, labeled political, are actually geographic/environmental. A reliance on community lifestyle wasn’t new to the inhabitants of that land. Native American societies had a complex social structure involving elements of what we would consider “democracy”. While the lessons gained from Jamestown influenced the development of new North American culture, it was hardly innovative, and as demonstrated by the authors themselves, grew from the environmental reality in which these settlers were living.

While there are elements of this political argument of which I am skeptical, one example provided where it holds is North vs. South Korea. Between the two Koreas, there is little environmental change, and geo-politics have been the Seoul determinant of who succeeds and who fails. However, the components of South Korean growth that are discussed, specifically land reform begun by the U.S. military, while political on the surface, may go deeper. Could it be that, South Korea, with better access to ports that received Japanese and American goods and influence, benefitted from the geographic position it held relative to the northern part of the peninsula? Political decisions made by the southern regime resulted in the rapid growth of South Korea – but is this political, or a geographic given?

The origin of this political argument is evident. Development specialists are looking for clear understandings of why some states succeed in developing and others do not. The purpose is to then take those understandings and apply them to development in new regions. The values of seeking political understandings would allow us to present empirical evidence supporting one state structure/government action over another, lessons taken from a micro-political understanding of development

There are also major drawbacks to this analysis. First, the scale on which it works ignores larger factors that allow for the development of specific political ideas. Examples of these factors are proximity to other cultures and environmental facts-on-the-ground. These political decisions are shaped by innumerable factors which have developed over time as a result of a macro reality. While I value the understandings gained by this politically oriented thesis, I am left questioning whether they too will leave us without a clear path forward.




Class Readings and the following: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/28/us/iroquois-constitution-a-forerunner-to-colonists-democratic-principles.html