- Why the early German socialists opposed the world’s first modern welfare state Adam Sacks, Jacobin
- Russia’s twin Soviet nostalgias Anna Nemtsova, Atlantic
- Is our economists learning? Ryan Cooper, American Prospect
- An excellent history of China in Ghana Joseph Hammond, Diplomat
- A Republic of Cuckoo Clocks: Switzerland and the History of Liberty (pdf)
- Pastoralism in a Stateless Environment: The Case of the Southern Somalia Borderlands (pdf)
- The Profits of Power: Land Rights and Agricultural Investment in Ghana (pdf)
- Rethinking Postcolonial Democracy: An Examination of the Politics of Lower-Caste Empowerment in North India (pdf)
- Working Across Borders: Methodological and Policy Challenges of Cross-Border Livestock Trade in the Horn of Africa (pdf)
NEO’s response to my musings on decentralization in Africa is worth highlighting:
It strikes me , Brandon, that one of the impediments here, there may be others, I’m no expert, is that the nascent US was composed mostly of literate folks with a (at least somewhat) common outlook that specified above all honesty and a “government of laws, not men”. I would also state that this is a good bit of our problem now.
This is a great observation. An anthropologist by the name of Maya Mikdashi recently wrote an article on the effects of market-based reforms in the Middle East. She essentially argued that the market-based reforms assume that only a certain type of individual can successfully participate in the market economy (stay with me here): the rational, autonomous, freedom-seeking, and legally-protected-as-an-individual type. Over the past two decades, as more states have moved towards a market-based economy, we have seen the institutional and cultural rewards being reaped from this process. Instead of people who have known only poverty and want, the market-based economy has pushed individuals to seek to become more rational, autonomous, freedom-seeking, and legally protected as an individual.
Now, stay with me. The market-based economy, capitalism, has four broad institutional pillars that it needs to thrive: private property, individualism, the rule of law, and an internationalist spirit. From these pillars come the fountains of progress that the West has come to enjoy over the past 300 years. While I doubt she realizes it, Mikdashi is simply echoing the writings of the great classical liberal theorists of the past three centuries: institutions matter, and they matter a lot. A big point both Dr. Ayittey and myself have been trying to make is that the institutions necessary for progress and capitalism are already in place in the post-colonial world; when I was in Ghana doing research one of the things I always asked farmers is where they got their property titles and they answered “the chief.” I asked them why they didn’t go through more official routes to obtain their property titles (i.e. through the state), and I’m sure you can finish the Ghanaian farmer’s answer for him.
The fact that most, if not all, citizens of the new republic desired the rule of law is one that cannot be stressed enough, and it is definitely one of the reasons why we have grown so prosperous, and answers why we are in trouble today. However: Africans don’t desire the rule of law?
I recently attended an excellent lecture at Cabrillo College, located in central California, by an International Relations scholar who focused on the effects of colonialism. We took a solid look at the ‘World Systems Theory’ of why the developing world is, well, developing, and it was great to go over this school of thought’s main arguments.
For those of you who don’t know, World Systems Theory is a Marxian analysis that basically states that poor countries are poor because of the effects of colonialism, and the evidence supporting their claims is pretty damn solid. Basically, the World Systems theorists argue that when the various European powers gained outright control of non-European lands (this process in itself took centuries, by the way, and I deplore the historical narrative that argues Europeans set out to conquer foreign lands and divide up the spoils of war for reasons outlined in the link provided), the European powers set up states that were designed specifically to export raw agricultural materials to European factories, to be produced by European workers, and to be consumed by European (and elite non-European) consumers.
This is pretty much what happened, and explains why most of the developing world is dependent upon raw commodity exports (that are shipped to European markets) for most of their well-being. Unfortunately, the very solutions that the World Systems theorists propose to dismantle the structural inequalities that exist in this world will (and have) actually led to more of the same structural inequality.
Allow me to explain. Continue reading