Realistic Policy Making and Effective Governance Lacking in Developing Countries

Author: Ian Anderson, Johns Hopkins

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It seems as if in this age of globalization everyone has their own opinions about alleviating the issues of the developing world. On the right we have the neo-liberals who believe that through the market forces of capitalism all of these issues will simply work themselves out.  The barriers of growth will dissipate with the help of loans by the IMF and World Bank, in addition to allowing free reign of foreign direct investment. The leftists attack these assumptions, stating that the investing in and by the state is the only proper avenue for growth. They point out Western Europe and other successes like South Korea and Japan were not due to favorably low interest rates, rather became competitive in the global economy due to financing of education and infrastructure. Furthermore, Neocolonialists argue that many of the results that the developed world wants to see in the developing world are western in notion and did not set themselves to the same moral standard to become the countries they are today.

I have lived in India for about two months so far, and after reading many of these opinions on I expected Indians (and other individuals who preside in the developing world) to be using the same terms and theories.  The issues of development are still on everyone’s minds, but the reality is vastly different. When I talk with people about their country, one topic is always brought up, good governance.

Good governance is not about abstract political institutions or the relationship between the individual and the state; it is literally about whether the government is doing their job. For example, roads here are in poor shape, yet they are repaired just as much as they are in the United States. However, the differences here are the factors at play. First a government organization is responsible for their repair. Second India has open sewers; one can see waste water flowing down streams on the side of the roads in ravines, which is run by a different government organization. There are landfills on the sides of roads, whose responsibility of maintenance again falls to yet another sector of government. There is no coordination between these groups, who sometimes follow conflicting policies on road maintenance, causing excess damage to the pavement and prevents long term planning.

To say what is needed is a constriction of government largess again misses many of the realities on the ground. Vehicles here will very rarely exceed speeds of 45 miles per hour. However the inhabitants on these roads are much more diverse than the west. Cars, rickshaws, cows, jeeps, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, goats, and disoriented European backpackers are just some of the things I have seen. Government officials cannot look to the west for solutions to these problems, they have to deal with a different set of problems with much fewer resources.

Lastly, we are all human, and politics can sometimes resemble a patronage system in the developing world. I am residing in Varanasi, the center of the BJP party in India and the district that Narendra Modi is the representative of. Utter Pradesh is currently controlled by the BSP a regional political party that routinely clashes with the BJP. Contentions have started to rise due to unusually long power outages in the state. The federal government provided excess kilowatts of energy to the UP government; however most of it went to BSP vote bank areas rather than shared equally among the state. Varanasi is still facing unusually long power outages, even after federal intervention.

All of this shows that sometimes focusing on the arm chair analysis and not reality on the ground can warp people’s perceptions of what matters to those who are actually experiencing it. People here are not debating exchange rates or actions by multi-national corporations; they are talking about what is affecting their lives on a day to day basis. Even more pressing is that these issues won’t be solved by academics using complex social theory analysis, rather institutional and governmental reform at the local level. People want to have faith in their own government meeting their basic needs. Until then, these states will continue to face the same issues that they have been trying to deal with since their independence.  

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