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Research on


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Title: Research on

Research on macro issues in governance and
development Philip KeeferDevelopment Research
GroupThe World BankWorkshop on Alternative
institutional approaches to ensuring effective
governanceGlobal Development NetworkJune 2008
What do I mean by. . . ?
  • Governance
  • 1) Performance of public sector?
  • 2) Extent to which government serves broad
    public interest?
  • Me Second
  • Macro level analysis
  • 1) Focus on higher vs. lower level governments?
  • 2) Focus on citizen/beneficiary-politician
    relationships vs. service provider/bureaucrat -
    citizens/beneficiaries links?
  • Me Second

Governance impact or determinants?
  • Broad choices in governance and development
  • Collect further evidence that bad governance
    hurts development
  • Identify causes of bad governance.
  • If you believe Hausman-Rodrik-Velasco, the first
    is unsettled and deserves more attention.
  • My view first is relatively settled the latter
    more pressing (and more fitting for the GDN).

Causes Bad laws, low capacity
  • Most donor work on governance focused on bad
    laws, low public sector capacity.
  • Bad laws (e.g., contradictory, vague,
  • Not a promising area of policy-relevant research.
  • De jure changes have limited impact when politics
    unsympathetic to the public interest (Yakovlev
    and Zhuravskaya).
  • Bad bureaucracies (poor capacity) and governance.
  • More scope for research.
  • Limited effect of de jure changes suggests low
    probability of success.
  • But low capacity can be a reason that politicians
    dont act in the public interest (Huber and

Causes Political market imperfections
  • Deeper (more macro) causes of bad
  • Political market imperfections, a la
    Keefer/Khemani poor political incentives to
    serve the public interest.
  • Citizen information
  • Credibility of political promises
  • Social characteristics (polarization).
  • Research on the deepest causes
  • Compelling
  • Good for identification
  • Research on political mkt imperfections also
    furthers the deepest agenda what are the
    causal links from history/geography to incentives
    of current politicians?

Political mkt imperfections Citizen information
  • We know
  • media exposure associated with higher transfers
    (Svensson/Reinikka, Besley/Burgess, Stromberg)
  • Information can increase demand (e.g., for
  • We dont know
  • Does information (per se) improve public good
  • Are info effects endogenous to other political
    factors (e.g., political credibility, access to
    gov. data, political salience)?
  • Mechanisms What information? Do people who are
    more exposed to information know more? Do media
    lower costs of coordination?

Political mkt imperfections Political credibility
  • We know
  • Clientelist policies/political promises
    predominate in poor/young democracies (Keefer,
    Keefer/Vlaicu, Wantchekon) incompatible with
    public good provision.
  • Political parties are main vehicle through which
    politicians bind themselves to provide benefits
    to large groups of citizens.
  • We dont know
  • When political parties emerge that have an
    identity independent of leader and bind
    candidates to party.
  • When, specifically, politicians/parties believe
    that public good failure will cost them votes.
  • Whether NGOs can turn into parties (Proshika?).

Political mkt imperfections Polarization
  • We know
  • Social fragmentation undermines public good
    provision (from Banerjee-Pande to Alesina, et
  • We dont know
  • Is polarization endogenous to politics lack of
    credibility or information?
  • Is polarization a product of history/culture
    (Hoff, et al.)?
  • Is it violence, not ethnic fragmentation per se,
    that matters? Effects of violence for political
    ends (hartals, lynchings, etc.) on government
    accountability/governance? When does violence
  • Are ethnic-based parties better than no parties
    at all (Ghana vs. Benin)?

Some tradeoffs to consider
  • Ideal research project
  • actionable policy recommendations with large
    impact on growth and development
  • empirical design that leaves no doubts about
    causality and external validity.
  • Real world tradeoffs

Some tradeoffs to consider policy aims
  • Actionable vs. worthy of action
  • Fundamental (more political) sources of
    governance failure are less actionable.
  • Policy recommendations from research strategy
    that ignore politics are less likely to be
  • Possible resolution
  • explicitly discuss political context in which
    actionable reforms are feasible
  • explicitly discuss whether small but actionable
    reforms (e.g., incremental, micro, sub-national,
    legal or bureaucratic) put us on a path to more
    fundamental change.

Some tradeoffs to consider definitive vs.
  • Definitive causality vs. compelling development
  • Do we want to make definitive statements, even if
    the interventions are narrow?
  • Or do we want to address bigger governance
    issues, even with less definitive statements?
  • Eternal struggle. GDN should require that
  • narrow, definitive research discusses external
    validity seriously, and
  • broader, less definitive research discusses
    alternative explanations seriously.

GDN and macro-governance low risk
  • What program best fits the GDN (amenable to local
    scholarship, policy relevant, but still cutting
  • Low-risk information and governance.
  • Allows for within-country, data-rich studies.
  • Many open questions and GDN could lead the way in
    emphasizing political pre-conditions for success
    (external validity).

GDN and macro-governance higher risk
  • Higher-risk violence/law-breaking and
  • Important (from Benin to Bihar) and under the
  • Feasible American South (Alston and Ferrie).
  • Not only hartals absence of censuses and
    vote-rigging are likely to be a key political
    reason for poor governance.
  • Sources of political credibility?
  • Theory good, but still hard to take to the data.
  • However -- NGOs and political mobilization for
    public goods an important issue.
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