Bottom Billion

A talk by Paul Collier to TED.  A few pieces I just want to highlight.

1)The difference between democracy and liberalism (in the classical sense).  Collier describes this (not altogether helpfully imo) as two different understandings of democracy–1)democracy as elections (i.e. “ballotcracy”) and 2)democracy as checks and balances/transparency/rule of law (i.e. classical liberalism).

Prior to achieveing a governance of the second democratic kind (in Collier’s terminology) a resource boom leaves a country worse off in the post-boom bust then if they had never had such a boom in the first place.  Collier calls this the Resource Trap.  Think:  Libya, Nigeria, Venezeula, Iran, Congo (diamonds), Russia.  Autocracies all of them.

So the key above all else is moving into a rule-based governance scheme.  Otherwise the world is dominated by tribalistic/clan based politics–in the worst cases Civil War/ethnic conflict.  In the lesser cases, what Westerns call “corruption”–which is not corruption relative to the standards of the people who actually live in those countries but simply playing it smart, protecting your family, making a buck anyway you can so that your family doesn’t starve. i.e. It’s only “corruption” when viewed from a rule-based/open trade/meritocratic system. From such a vantage point–that is within the frame of a rule-of-law based society–such actions are in fact correctly labeled corruption.  But judging other societies based on a platform they do not have is in my book unjust.

2)On the two democracies front…in the move to a rule based system from a resource boom–i.e. how to diversify an economy based around more than a resource trap–democracies as elections (democracy #1) makes the situation worse.  Which is why those countries tends towards autocracy.

An alternate view is to accept such strongman states and work on the economic/transparency front.  A middle class then grows via open trade and eventually helps create a culture that pushes internally for reform.  South Korea is an excellent example of this trend.  This is called a Second World Solution to the Third World Problem.  Not a First World Solution.  Because a First World Solution (so-called) does not distinguish typically between democracy form #1 (elections) and democracy form #2 (rule of law).  The second is a culture that can sustain elections.  The former is simply a way in which to grant power and can easily be rigged so as to elect warlords/clans/miltias (see Iraq). Election #1 popped down into a situation prior to the rule of law only exacerbates ethnic tensions, tribalism, and fragmentation.  The worse that situation gets, the more likely the inevitable strongman who will come to power will be brutal.

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Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 10:15 am  Comments (1)  
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