The Economist

Why states fail and how to rebuild them ?!

Reading of the day -> The Economist: Why states fail and how to rebuild them
What we can learn from countries that failed to build themselves?!


– Few things matter more than fixing failed states. Broadly defined, state failure provides “a general explanation for why poor countries are poor”. Life in a failed or failing state is short and harsh.

– Lawless regions, such as the badlands of Pakistan and Yemen, act as havens for terrorists.[…] In the most extreme form of state failure, in places like Somalia, the central government does not even control the capital city. In milder forms, as in Nigeria, the state is far from collapse but highly dysfunctional and unable to control all of its territory. Or, as in North Korea today or China under Mao Zedong, it controls all of its territory but governs in a way that makes everyone but a tiny elite much worse off.

– The key to understanding state failure is “institutions, institutions, institutions”.

– States are not wretched and unstable because of geography—if so, how to explain the success of landlocked Botswana? Nor is culture the main culprit: if so, South Koreans would not be more than 20 times richer than North Koreans. Some societies have “inclusive institutions that foster economic growth”; others have “extractive institutions that hamper it”.

The world’s newest country, South Sudan has received billions of dollars of aid and the advice of swarms of consultants since seceding from Sudan in 2011, but has failed to build any institutions worthy of the name. South Sudan failed to build institutions that transcended tribal loyalties or curbed the power of warlords. There are plenty of government buildings, including state ministries of education, culture and health. But none of them does much. Nowhere in South Sudan does the state do what it is supposed to.

The fighting becomes tribal because warlords recruit by stirring up ethnic tension so that their kinsmen will rally to them. This creates a vicious circle. Lacking protection from other institutions, people seek it from their own tribe. Rather than demand evenhanded government, they back tribal leaders, knowing that they will steal and hoping they will share the spoils with their kin.

– “The politics of the vast majority of societies throughout history has led, and still leads today, to extractive institutions.” These tend to last because they give rulers the resources to pay armies, bribe judges and rig elections to stay in power. These rulers adopt bad policies not because they are ignorant of good ones but on purpose. Letting your relatives embezzle is bad for the nation but great for your family finances.

– But failed states are not doomed to stay that way. Even states that have collapsed completely can be rebuilt. Liberia and Sierra Leone were stalked by drug-addled child soldiers a decade and a half ago; now both are reasonably calm. The key is nearly always better leadership: think of how China changed after Mao died. Many bad rulers continue deliberately to adopt bad policies, but they can be—and often are—replaced with better ones.

Afghanistan case. Afghanistan’s president since 2014, Mr Ghani is a former academic and author of a book called “Fixing Failed States”. His TED talk on fixing broken states has been viewed 750,000 times. Now he is trying to put his own theories into practice.

The Economist: My name is Paste. Copy Paste

The Economist: My name is Paste. Copy Paste

According to party loyalists, Prime Minister Victor Ponta is in select company. Interior minister Ioan Rus on Friday claimed (this and most other links in Romanian) that “ever since Plato and Aristoteles, everyone who has ever written a PhD in philosophy, in social sciences, has plagiarised.” Apart from the bemusement that Mr Rus’s statement may cause, it is also an indication that despite energetic (foes say clumsy) attempts to silence the plagiarism scandal, the 39-year-old Prime Minister may be heading for the same political graveyard that contains the corpses of the German defence minister Theodor zu Guttenberg and the president of neighbouring Hungary, Pál Schmitt.

In an interview (link in Spanish) with El Pais last week, Mr Ponta promised to resign if proven that his PhD about the International Criminal Court was an act of plagiarism. He made those statements before the ethics committee in charge gave its ruling, with its chairman saying it was plagiarised “copy-paste style”, 85 pages out of a total of 307, from the work of another Romanian scholar. The relevant text excerpts can be found here.

In an twist of irony, the professor who oversaw Mr Ponta’s work was no other than his political mentor, Romania’s former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the first high level official to be put behind bars for corruption. Barely was the verdict out than the Ponta government dissolved the entire committee, alleging it was full of acolytes of Traian Basescu, the country’s president and the PM’s political rival. A few days earlier, the government also took over the publication of the official gazette, until then under the authority of the parliament. The move seems also politically motivated: the journal so far has failed to publish a verdict of the Constitutional Court which Mr Ponta chose to ignore last week, the first public official since 1989 to do so.

The court had ruled in favour of the president in a long-lasting squabble over whom should represent the country at EU summits. Mr Ponta went to Brussels anyway, claiming again that the ruling was politically motivated by “a bunch of judges appointed by Basescu.” The president, a shrewd former sea captain, surprised everyone by staying home. And he took his time in giving Mr Ponta an official mandate to represent the country. “I got a phone call from the Prime Minister around noon saying he wants a mandate,” Mr Basescu told journalists last week in Bucharest. It took another few hours for the fax to arrive – the EU summit had already begun.

The episode, along with the politicisation of state institutions ranging from the public television to Romania’s cultural institutes abroad – has sparked the outrage of the country’s cultural elite. Among them is Herta Muller, a German-speaking writer of Romanian origin who in 2009 won the Nobel prize for literature for her works exposing the terror under the infamous Securitate, the secret police under the Communist regime. Gabriel Liiceanu, a prominent philosopher, who wrote about the “combination of circus and nightmare” that has grabbed the public opinion in the past two months since the Ponta government came to power.

The Social-Liberal government has been in power since May. It gained a a majority thanks to mass desertions from the PDL party that had ruled the country since parliamentary elections in 2008. New elections are due this fall and polls so far (and local election results last month) indicate a clear win for the ruling coalition. Mr Ponta would be sorry to miss that.