Aart Kraay

Is the Good Governance path a dead end?

Is the “markets plus good governance” formula indeed the enlightened way to economic Nirvana that its adherents say it is?

Warning: I am following Paul Krugman’s tradition of labeling some of my posts ‘a bit wonkish’. Some of the succeeding material might be a bit taxing, but for those who persevere, the results can be quite rewarding.

The Fork in the Road

During his first state of the nation address, President Noynoy Aquino or PNoy told us that the country faced a fork in the road. On the one hand was the destructive path of evil tread by the Inglorious Beast, on the other was the righteous path of good governance that he the Benign One would lead us down.

Nearly one year on and it seems the righteous path is headed nowhere with allegations of BFFism floating around, corruption and smuggling continuing unabated, and a government that cannot seem to spend its own lean budget in a timely manner.

Despite these setbacks, the Palace continues to put up a brave face. PNoy after all has become the new poster boy for Washington’s policy consensus having been endowed with a grant by the US Milennium Challenge Corporation to pursue its Milennium Development Goals to halve poverty.

This follows the Philippines belated exit from the IMF emergency loan program. The ADB for its part turned on the tap by partly financing the expansion of the Conditional Cash Transfers program, the government’s flagship project for ending poverty. Meanwhile private investments were being sought to fund the government’s public infrastructure program.

The present seems to echo the 1950s and 60s when the country was held in such high esteem by international donors during the last “big push” towards development. We can of course see what that era of donor dependency produced when it culiminated with Ferdinand Marcos’s debt driven boom and crash of the 1970s and 80s.

The Righteous Path

The 1990s saw the rise of economic fundamentalism among policy circles the world over. The precepts of this view bordered on religious zeal. The high priests and prophets of this pseudo-religion proclaimed that there was but one model, the Market.

All those on the path to the Promised Land had to be guided by the Invisible Hand of the Market. Thou shalt have no other models before me was the first commandment. The Philippines under the yolk of the IMF had to follow these strictures. We soon found that the Market could be very exacting and vengeful. Many of the vulnerable, “uncompetitive” and at risk sectors would fall by the way-side and suffer from its discipline.

Despite all the pain that followed from swallowing this bitter pill, the economy did not grow sufficiently fast enough to deliver our people from the clutches of poverty. Why our leaders cried, has the Market abandoned us? We found more and more of our countrymen being led into exile, into servitude abroad. Where have we fallen short? they asked.

Then from on high came the answer.

In the 2000’s, a new covenant was sealed. We were now told that we needed an intercessor to mediate on our behalf. That Intercessor was called Institutions. For the magic of the Market to come into our lives, we needed to repent of our evil ways and follow the path of Good Governance. To convince us, the apostles of the new covenant showed us this sign (click to zoom):

From the pages of the IMF’s journal Finance and Development, Kaufmann and Kraay sought to demonstrate that good governance is the path through which all nations need to pass to get to economic salvation. It shows by implication that countries which have adopted Western standards of governance flourish economically, and countries that have shunned them tend to have floundered.

Indeed though it sounds tautological the very simple and coherent nature of this message, a message that puts it all on our ability to be born again to a re-awakened sense of right and wrong, has enamored most of our elders in the political and business community. Even Mrs Arroyo claimed to tread on this path, but she had stumbled along the way. In 2010, Mr Aquino pledged to bring us back on it.

We would soon be joining the rich club with his slogans like Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (no corruption, no poverty) and Daang matuwid (the Righteous Path). PNoy was singing from the same hymn book of the new Washington Consensus (Markets + Institutions = Economic Nirvana).

The real Fork in the Road

The development experts, who had once written us off, welcomed us back in the fold like a Prodigal Son. In his first year in office, PNoy relaxed on spending thinking that we had already been saved and that through the grace of the Market we would soon be rolling in the clouds along with our richer ASEAN neighbors who had already passed on to the other side.

Such a seductive world view, with everything tidily falling into place–that is until you consider the Inconvenient Truth from the real world. It turns out that things don’t necessarily follow according to the message. Take a look at this contradicting sign courtesy of Mushtaq Khan from the UNCTAD’s Discussion Papers (the UNCTAD being the IMF’s poorer cousin).

It draws on a similar data set that Kaufmann and Kraay used covering indicators of good governance and economic well-being from the 1990s predominantly. We find that countries can actually be grouped into three: the rich ones (circled in the upper right-hand corner), the poor ones (circled in the bottom left-hand corner), and the ‘convergence club’ countries (circled in the upper left-hand corner).

From the chart we can see that the members of the converging economies (on the upper left-hand corner) advanced economically first before improving institutionally. In fact the convergence club performed on average just as poorly on the corruption scale as the diverging economies (on the lower left-hand corner).

(Update: Although the regression line is upward sloping, indicating a positive correlation between anti-corruption and economic growth, an analysis of the three clusters of countries comprised of rich, poor and convergence club members reveals the direction of causality to flow from growth to control of corruption, not the other way around)

Indeed if we examine the economic histories of the convergence club members, we will find that they did not adhere strictly to the ‘righteous path’ of Markets plus Institutions. Japan, Korea and China developed not by relying on the Invisible Hand of the Market alone, but by wielding the Visible Boot of the State to coordinate, reward and punish industry players in accordance with their rational industrial policies.

Instead of relying on impersonal contracts under the Market framework, they used informal contracting under different guises, the keiretsus, chaebols and guanxi, to create secure property and contract rights to protect investors in strategic sectors within their economies. These institutions did not come from Western capitalism but were home grown. Indeed the alternative of implementing Western-style rule of law throughout the system would have been beyond their reach at the time they were emerging.

Chalmers Johnson who documented the rise of industrial policy in Japan by studying MITI the lead agency of its industrialization, wrote that

(a) part of the MITI perspective is impatience with the Anglo-American doctrine of economic competition. After the war MITI had to reconcile itself to the occupation-fostered market system in Japan, but it has always been hostile to American-style price competition and anti-trust legislation. Sahashi likes to quote Schumpeter to the effect that the competition that really counts in the capitalist system is not measured by profit margins but by the development of new commodities, new technologies, new sources of supply, and new types of organizations.

What this points to is the fact that rather than the fork in the road being a choice between the Righteous Path of good governance versus bad governance, the decision we are faced with is whether we continue down the same old road of the (new) Washington Consensus or change course and move more towards the BeST Consensus (Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo Consensus) bearing in mind that no other country has successfully traveled down the path of the former into the promised land.

A wake-up call

So is the good governance path a dead end? If we are to look at economic history, the answer seems to be a resounding YES. Unfortunately, the tribe of PNoy seems to have fallen head over heels for it. They will not accept any deviation from this course. The eunuchs and high priests surrounding him are all advising their leader to stick to their teachings.

Who can blame them? The gospel they have accepted is a truly seductive one. It does not require us doing our homework, building home grown institutions consistent with channeling resources into more producitive activities. It fits with our fatalistic, religious upbringing to rely on someone or something external to deliver us from evil.

The results of the alternative path trodden by the convergence club are evident for anyone to see. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and even Indonesia are heading down that road. The Philippines needs to wake-up to this reality. It needs to gain “a re-awakened sense” alright, not of right and wrong, but of self-empowerment and self-determination. That is the very essence of people power after all.

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