Thursday, May 26, 2011

Advice for South Sudan

Remembering that free advice is worth what you pay for it, I enjoyed the debate over the last two weeks on what South Sudan should prioritize. Of course, this debate is not due to any request from anyone actually in South Sudan, but the armchair politicians are having a little fun.

Duflo and Banerjee got in the first response at Leonhardt’s request, advocating social welfare policies designed to reduce poverty.

Blattman countered rather forcefully: “These would be my last priorities for the new government. … The long term welfare of its citizens means sustained stability and security and order. Without it, all the anti-poverty impacts, no matter how great, will evaporate in months.” His most intriguing point: “3. Next, give every incentive for elites, especially the ones apt to war, to invest in fixed assets whose value depends on stability and growth. Make them entrepreneurs. Oil rigs don’t count. Property in Juba does. So do plantations and small factories, even if they need subsidies to operate at first. This is hard, and will require attention and dedication.”

Blattman also surrenders to the point made by Roving Bandit and others: Most of his points are already high priorities for the government. He responds that he’s less trying to convince the government of South Sudan and more trying to convince the donor community to not put undue emphasis on funding the other things.

B&D respond that there isn’t so much distance between their approaches as it might appear: “An effectively implemented redistributive policy is a very good way to give a new state a clearer identity in the minds of the voters. This can create ownership and start a virtuous cycle where the majority has a stake in fighting against the take over the state by one group.”

Blattman is skeptical that the evidence to support a strong chain is there and adds: “Even so, it may help to explain my vantage point: several years in post-conflict African countries watching justice and security sacrificed for premature social programs, a growing worry that large scale social programs weaken rather than strengthen a fragile state, and a doleful skepticism that national identity is fostered through redistributive aid.”

Taub at Wronging Rights puts forward some additional points in her usual enjoyable style:
Of course, my first piece advice for the new government of South Sudan would be "don't take advice from some random lawyer in New York who's never set foot in your country or, come to think of it, even seen very many photos." If they stuck around, I'd probably try my one-size-fits-all advice for all situations, which is "hydrate, and don't let anyone boss you around."

However, if for some reason I had to give governance recommendations - which I can only imagine would occur during some sort of state-building drinking game at South Sudan's statehood shower - I would probably explain that as far as I'm concerned, states are supposed to do these four things:
take care of "poop," monopolize violence, establish functioning food markets, and make citizenship meaningful.
Education and health care aren't on this list. That's not because I don't think they're important. On the contrary, I love that stuff! It's just that education and health care are easier for people to get from the private sector or NGOs than the stuff on my list.
On monopolizing violence, she emphasizes small claims courts based on judges “who already occupy positions of authority in the community instead” and make sure the police are the good guys, or at least get punished when they’re not.

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