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Prof. Bo Rothstein of Gothenburg’s University’s Quality of Government Institute is a supporter of the Glorious Blues. Not Chelsea, but sixteen times Swedish champions FF Malmo. His presentation to SSEES’s politics centred on Anti-Corruption Indirect Big Bang Approach was, however, strictly Premier League stuff. The issue, as he explained to our medium sized but on-the-ball audience, was in fact one less one of politicians taking the occasional (or not so occasional) backhander as of institutions in much of the world delivering or not delivering basic public goods such as clean water and health, which left some people literally dying of corruption – and of repeated failed attempts to find a magic bullet to slay corrupt, inefficient institutions and the informal structures that underpinned them.
Both marketisation and democratisation had failed in this role, often merely transforming the problems into slightly new guise (or even aggravating them). As Robert Putman had realised individual-level incentives based on expectations of other people locked in corrupt (and non-corupt) behaviour – although unlike Putnam he did not think that associationalism was related to social capital., meaning there was no easy macro- institutional fix – or even a not-so-easy cultural one. Sadly, therefore corrupt, dysfunctional institutions were in many ways the norm and well governed Weberian states in Europe and North America the exception: why it should be asked was Sweden with large bureaucracies and large welfare programmes was not (as it should be) a cesspool of corruption and patronage-driven instability ?
|Rally backing Indonsia’s anticorruption committee – Photo Ivan Atmanagara||.|
The answer his research (and new book – forthcoming with Chicago University Press later this year) suggested he key he argued – awkwardly from a normative point of view – was, rather than (electoral) democracy, liberal state impartiality (and/or citizens’ sense of it) constituted the most effective means of dealing a ‘big bang’ blow (over a 10-20 year timescale). Delving into the Swedish (and British/Scandinavian) experience to find how corupt tax-farming and aristocratic rent-seeking in public office turns into squeaky clean public admininistration (Swedish foreign arms sales excepted) through historical case studies had proved inconclusive: several historians sent into the archives to do the job had (intellectually speaking) disappeared iwithout trace and drowned in the mass of documentation. It seemed, however, that an indirect strategy, partly triggered by political choices and partly by the imperatives of technological modernization was the key
Questions centred on whether his understand of democracy was not, in fact, a diminshed subtype (along the lines of Zakaria’s notions of democracy-as-elections) and whether the British colonial legacy played a role. As for patriotic Brits it did not: the new book contained a paired case study of Singapore and Jamaica in the new book (also available here as a working paper) examined how – despite seemingly better prospects Jamaica had sunk into corruption and stagnation, while ethnically divided Singapore had prospered although as one questioner suggested with a population the size of Brighton and Hove, the island state was an outlier rather than blueprint for the development of good governance.
All in all, big answers to big questions with a refreshingly wide range of cases and mehthods, rather than political science navel gazing we usually too often go in for.