Governance in the Developing World

Principal Investigator: Prof. John Gerring

Additional Funding: Kirk Radke via the Clinton Global Initiative

Problems of development are inextricably tied to problems of governance. Unless local, regional, and national governments perform their assigned tasks, and do so in a tolerably efficient manner, little respite will be found from poverty, disease, illiteracy, crime, civil war, and other problems plaguing the developing world. There is only so much that international bodies, nongovernmental organizations, and market forces can do.

This salient fact has been amply acknowledged in recent years. Over the past few decades, scholars and policymakers have turned their attention to problems of governance, including such topics as democratization, corruption control, capacity-building, electoral systems, judicial systems, and so forth. It is now commonplace to observe that development will occur only if a country has “good institutions” in place, and many of these institutions are either intrinsically political or are political by extension. Thus, the establishment of effective property rights depends upon a structure of law and law enforcement; it does not and cannot exist independently of government. Similarly, the development of a strong civil society is virtually impossible without the development of strong formal institutions of government. Many other examples might be given.

With the objective of providing an effective forum for research, discussion, and knowledge dissemination concerning problems of governance in the developing world, a new program was created at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University in January 2007, with funding support from Kirk Radke via the Clinton Global Initiative. Thus far, the program has fostered four initiatives.

1. Democracy and Development: A Historical Perspective. This project investigates democracy’s connection to development across a wide range of developmental outcomes—economic, social, and governmental. The operating hypothesis is that the positive impact of democracy on international development is obscured when observers look only at immediate or short-term effects (the common practice among scholars and policymakers). By looking at the long-term impact of regime change, we hope to bring to light a new, and more realistic, picture of democracy’s effect on various facets of development.

To explore this idea, a conference was held on April 6–7, 2007, at Boston University, sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. Specific questions under consideration included the following:

  • How might one measure, and test, the impact of the past? What is the best way to construct an historical measure of “democratic stock”? How should the impact of past regimes be discounted over time?
  • What are the causal pathways by which past regime status might influence present outcomes?
  • Over what set of policy areas might these temporal relationships hold? How might they vary by issue area?
  • Do the time-mediated effects of democracy extend to other sorts of political institutions (e.g., electoral rules, bureaucracies, federalism, presidentialism/parliamentarism)? More details are available.

2. Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Methods Applied to the Study of Governance in the Developing World. Experimental methods have long been regarded as the “gold standard” among methodological options. Yet, such methods have rarely been applied to questions of governance. Even more rarely have they been applied to questions of governance in the developing world. Why do we find reluctance to apply methods that have proven their value in other venues? What is the prospect for experimental methods in studying questions of governance in the developing world?

To assess these questions, we held a conference at Harvard University on September 28–29, 2007, sponsored by the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, the Clinton Global Initiative at Boston University, and the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University. This conference considered recent and potential applications of randomized interventions to understanding governance outcomes, with a special emphasis on institutions of relevance to the developing world. More details available.

3. The Politics of Social Policy. This initiative has three goals. First, it aims to create an overall measure of country performance in the social policy sector, applicable to all countries around the world. To do so, the project relies on a range of policy outcomes in public health, education, and demography. Since countries inherit very different social policy challenges, and are differently equipped to meet these challenges, policy success in these areas must be measured against a country’s geographic, economic, and disease endowments. This model-based (or “residual”) analysis of policy success forms the core idea behind what we hope will be a more useful approach to benchmarking performance through time and across countries.

Our second objective is to identify countries that have over-performed—relative to what might be expected of a country with similar geographic, economic, and disease endowments—in the contemporary era. Intensive case studies will be conducted in these countries over the next year with an aim to discover the secrets of their success.

Our final objective is to illuminate the political sources of social policy success in the developing world. We surmise that the key to overcoming disease, illiteracy, and other ills is to be found in the political arena. Countries that can provide good governance, and can muster the “political will” to address contentious policy problems, have a very good chance of succeeding. Countries that cannot do so are virtually certain to fail. The technical ingredients of success—i.e., public health and education inputs—are not mysterious. What remains mysterious are the political ingredients that lie behind policy success. In order to mobilize academics, and to bring them into contact with policymakers, we propose to hold a conference on “The Politics of Social Policy,” to be held in the summer or fall of 2008.

4. The Distal Determinants of Public Health. This initiative will explore the distal determinants of public health policies and focus on prior actions and conditions that make certain types of policies – certain styles of leadership – more or less likely. The motivations for this initiative are severalfold. First, distal factors in public health seem to have been largely neglected by scholars and policymakers. Whereas institutions are granted central importance in explaining economic growth and other outcomes of concern, they have not been accorded the same importance in explaining public health. Second, the workshop hopes to facilitate greater exchange across the social sciences in matters relating to public health and finally, we hope to find ways to enhance the political, social, and economic incentives that govern the provision of public health.

To explore these ideas, a workshop was held on April 29 – 30, 2010, at Boston University, sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. More details available.