Friday, July 11, 2008

On the pitfalls of institutional reform in developing economies

What is Africa's problem. Many argue it is an issue of governance. One needs proper ownership rights, in particular for land, for an economy to function efficiently and to encourage entrepreneurship. For this reason, international organization, foreign governments and some NGOs insist on a regular basis on governance reform. This is not necessarily a good idea.

William Easterly and Dani Rodrik have for quite a while highlighted that such western style reforms may be ill-suited for developing economies. The main point is that these reforms are not performed in a vacuum. For example, there is typically already a system of ownership in place. It may not use the same institutions as in a Western economy, but it somehow works. Or business contracts are honored through "informal ways", like reputation.

In the latter case, imposing a system with formal courts may backfire: as they enforcement capability may not be high, people may want to opt out of contracts they would have kept in a reputation system. In this sense, the existing system may be a second best institution that would have to be reformed from the bottom up.

1 comment:

Vilfredo said...

We have seen over and over that applying Western methods steamroller style does not work. Colonization, forcing democracy on various countries, or Jeff Sachs' big bang strategy come to mind.