Monday, June 3, 2013

State Building: Governance and the World Order in the Twenty-First Century

The first issue that I should address comes from the fact that that I have posted this book review on my “Steve’s View from Abroad” website. What has this to do with India? While a far cry from the failed states that are the primary focus of this book, India, nevertheless, is a state (or states, as it’s a federal system) that fails to function effectively in many realms. Anytime I speak about India, I almost always mention the lack of basic government services and the effect that this has daily life. Poor roads, poor drainage, poor sewers, poor water and air quality—I could go on (and did with some dinner partners just the other night). I believe that India will gain a measure sophistication and decent quality of life (which includes and transcends a mere increase in GDP) when Jaipur no longer has garbage strewn upon its streets; when the poor living in shanties have found decent housing; and when the middle class has initiated a “Progressive Era” for India to clean-up political corruption and to address its failing infrastructure. India is far from a world-class economy currently, but if it can reach a critical minimum of an engaged middle-class willing to fight the good political fight, it has a future. A lot of work—a lot—remains to be accomplished, but it can happen. 

So issues of governance drew me to this work as one reason, but the other is the reputation of Fukuyama himself. Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, now much maligned, is a very interesting and instructive book. I read it many years ago to great benefit and delight. The benefit and delight came from understanding a train of political thought that I’d never grasped very well before. Plato, Hegel (via Kojeve), and Nietzsche were brought to life in a manner that I’d never before appreciated. The English tradition, with Locke, Bentham, Mill, etc. emphasizes rational, utilitarian man, homo economus. However, this older tradition, going back to Plato and Thucydides (although Plato wanted to crush all human instinct under reason), emphasizes thymos, our human demand for dignity and respect, the kinds of things that the English tradition, at least in economics, tended to downplay if not outright ignore. Fukuyama raised my understanding Hegel’s dialectic of master and slave, something that in a rush toward Marx, too much political theory ignored. For this education alone, Fukuyama’s book was very worthwhile. 

The other part of The End of History and the Last Man concerns the growing trend toward liberal democracy in the world, and here’s where people have come down hard on Fukuyama, considering him a failed prophet. However, I don’t recall (sorry, my copy not here with me) that Fukuyama emphasized that we would all become happy, bourgeoisie democrats. What I believe that he did—and on which he has not been rebutted—is to establish that no political system is more appropriate for human affairs than liberal democracy. As a practice, liberal democracy has not swept the field, but as an ideal (non-utopian), who stands as a contender? No other system, I submit, and for this reason, Fukuyama deserves more praise than the easy derision he has received. 

The criticism that The End of History and the Last Man has received hasn’t slowed Fukuyama, and he’s gained in prominence. I enjoyed his The Great Disruption and Trust, and well as a number of articles that he’s written. Meanwhile, the Panda (sometimes Hungry, sometimes Inscrutable), during her earlier visit India, was reading his most recent book, The Origins of Political Order (Part 1). She began it with some skepticism but concluded it with approval and assigned it to me to read (my copy awaits me in IC). Thus, when I saw this slender (179 p.) book, I took it up and read it in less than a day. It proved worthwhile, indeed. 

Written in 2004 after the invasion of Iraq and our incursion (if that’s the right term) into Afghanistan, it reflects on these experiences as well as the long list of “failed-states” that grabbed world attention in the years following the collapse of the Communism. Put simply, states (governments) serve crucial functions and when they fail (no longer function effectively), people suffer and often die. Fukuyama initially details the function of states and how these functions can vary. For instance, the state in the U.S. is much more limited than European states in the provision of services and policies. Think healthcare, for instance. While thoughts can vary in this regard, a certain minimum number of functions need attention. In addition, Fukuyama devotes a chapter to public administration, which proves to me, again, not only his mastery of a great empirical body of knowledge, but his ability to draw out some of the fundamental theoretical and practical aspects of a topic like public administration. 

Fukuyama discusses how public administration is an issue around the globe and identifies its unique problems. For instance, the agency problem, the scope of authority problem, and the motivation problem. Fukuyama criticizes the microeconomics approach to public administration and the institutional approach, at least to the extent that those approaches aren’t augmented by a sociological approach. Fukuyama notes that organizations, or more exactly, the individuals within them, are governed by group norms, personal relationships, leadership standards, and other non-economic motivations (without totally ignoring the economic issues). His example of the armed forces serves perfectly: men and women don’t fight and die for the great pay; they fight and die for each other. (By the way, this applies to terrorists as well. See Scott Atran’s work Talking with the Enemy.) Among our economics-envying social sciences, this may come as news. It shouldn’t, but at least in the current policy-making world, it does. (Economics, in the meanwhile, suffers from a perverse physics-envy.) Everyone should consider this from Fukuyama: 

            It has been a longstanding dream of the social sciences to turn the study of human behavior into a true science, moving from the mere description to formal models of causation with nontrivial predictive value, based on rigorous empirical observation. This project can be realized more readily in some spheres of human behavior than in others. Markets are susceptible to this kind of analysis, which is why economics emerged as the queen of the social sciences in the late twentieth century. But organizations constitute a complicated case. Individuals in the organizations look out for their narrow self-interests, and to the extent they do, the economist’s methodological individualism provides genuine insight. But to a much greater extent than in markets, norms and social ties affect individual choices in organizations. The effort to be more “scientific” than the underlying subject matter permits carries a real cost in blinding us to the real complexities of public administration as it is practiced in different societies. (123)

Agreed. Thus, theorists like Herbert Simon, James March, and Chester Barnard receive Fukuyama’s use and praise instead of more recent thinkers. In addition, I must note the fascinating account of Japanese public administration after WWII when American “experts” attempted to “fix it”. Amazing. 

Finally, Fukuyama addresses the issue of sovereignty, one in which the U.S. (especially the Bush Administration) and other countries often parted ways. To his credit, Fukuyama mentions Robert Kagan, whom I believe has been a critic of Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. He cites Kagan’s appreciation of the differences between the U.S. and Europe on these issues. 

All in all, a short but powerful book. Having now experienced ineffective or marginally effective states (I’ll throw in Cameroon as well), I have a new and greater appreciation of the mundane but crucial work of government.

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