what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Hundred Years of Solitude....alienation.... and "transition"?

I’ve been in sensitive territory with my last three posts which covered the fields of “formal” and “informal” structures - and of the values which sustain the latter…
I suggested that Romanian (managerial) culture makes cooperative endeavour of any sort difficult - there is simply too much distrust (let alone macho leadership and partiality). 
The Head of the European Delegation to Romania (Karen Fogg 1993-98) used to give every visiting consultant a summary of Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work – civic traditions in Italy (1993) which suggested that the "amoral familism” of southern Italian Regions (well caught in Banfield’s The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (1958) effectively placed them 300 years behind the northern regions. That’s “path dependency” at its most powerful,,,

Romania had some 200 years under the Ottoman and the Phanariot thumbs - but then had 50 years of autonomy during which it developed all the indications of modernity (if plunging latterly into  Fascism).
The subsequent experience of Romanian communism, however, created a society in which, paradoxically, deep distrust became the norm – with villagers forcibly moved to urban areas to drive industrialisation; the medical profession enrolled to check that women were not using contraceptives or abortion; and Securitate spies numbering one in every three citizens.

The institutions of the Romanian state collapsed at Xmas 1989 and were subsequently held together simply by the informal pre-existing networks – not least those of the old Communist party and of the Securitate. Tom Gallagher has documented the process in “Theft of a Nation”.
Sorin Ionitsa’s booklet on Poor Policy Making in Weak States (2006) captures brilliantly the profound continuing influence of the different layers of cultural values on present-day political and administrative behavior in Romania; and uses recent literature to identify the weaknesses of the rationalistic approaches used by the EC.

But the foreign consultants working on the capacity building (which was carried out for 15 years with EC funding) understood little of these informal networks and the values on which they were based – they worked rather with toolkits of rational planning and, latterly, Guidebooks on Anti-Corruption……and ignored the hint Karen Fogg seemed to be giving them.
The development literature is full of warnings about the pitfalls of a rationalistic approach – but in those days any hapless foreigner who mentioned African (or even Asian) experience got a very bad reaction.
In a paper I delivered in 2011 to the Annual NISPAcee Conference - The Long Game – not the log-frame – I invented the phrase “impervious regimes” to cover the mixture of autocracies, kleptocracies and incipient democracies with which I have become all too familiar in the last 27 years. I also tried to explain what I thought was wrong with the toolkits and Guides with which reformers operated; and offered some ideas for a different, more incremental and “learning” approach.

I’m glad to say that just such a new approach began to surface a few years ago – known variously as “doing development differently”, or the iterative or political analysis…….it was presaged almost 10 years ago by the World Bank’s Governance Reforms under real world conditions written around the sorts of questions we consultants deal with on a daily basis - one paper in particular (by Matthew Andrews which starts part 2 of the book) weaves a very good theory around 3 words – "acceptance", "authority" and "ability". I enthused about the approach in a 2010 post

But there is a strange apartheid in consultancy and scholastic circles between those engaged in “development”, on the one hand, and those in “organisational reform” in the developed world, on the other…..The newer EU member states are now assumed to be fully-fledged systems (apart from a bit of tinkering still needed in their judicial systems – oh…. and Hungary and Poland have gone back on some fundamental elements of liberal democracy…..!). But they are all remain sovereign states – subject only to their own laws plus those enshrined in EC Directives….

EC Structural Funds grant billions of euros to the new member states which are managed by each country’s local consultants who use the “best practice” tools - which anyone with any familiarity with “path dependency” or “cultural” or even anthropological theory would be able to tell them are totally inappropriate to local conditions..…
But the local consultants are working to a highly rationalistic managerial framework imposed on them by the European Commission; and are, for the most part, young and trained to western thought. 
They know that the brief projects on which they work have little sustainability but – heh – look at the hundreds of millions of euros which will continue to roll in as far as the eye can see…..!!!

Someone in central Europe needs to be brave enough to shout out that ”the Emperor has no clothes!!” To challenge the apartheid in scholastic circles….and to draw to attention to the continued relevance of Ionitsa’s 10- year old booklet and Governance Reforms under real world conditions  

Afterthought; The title is deliberately provocative! I appreciate that the reference to "transition" in the title implies progress to a "better" system; and that the core "liberal democracy" system is now under question.....one could indeed argue that, from now on, it is the older member states who need to make the transition to simpler and more resilient societies!!   

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