Citizen Action and National Policy Reform

"Citizen Action and National Policy Reform: Making Change Happen" (2010), edited by Gaventa and McGee, presents a series of case studies of citizen movements and advocacy for national policy change. The book fits well within the "How Change Happens" space. Cases are presented from: South Africa, Philippines, Mexico, Chile, India, Brazil, Morocco and Turkey. The cases represent "emerging or existing democracies characterized by functioning states and at least some democratic space" (p. 4), even if that was not the intended objective of the volume. However, these effective cases suggested to the editors that it was "precisely because these are the kinds of settings where we can most expect collective citizen action on national policy to emerge" (p. 4).

Give the difficulty of summarizing the diversity of the cases, this review will share the key lessons learned about citizen action for policy change, as outlined by the editors in a series of propositions:

  • Proposition 1: Political opportunities are opened and closed through historic, dynamic and iterative processes. While political opportunities create possibilities for collective action for policy change, these openings themselves may have been created by prior mobilization.
  • Proposition 2: Civil society engagement in policy processes is not enough by itself to make change happen. Competition for formal political power is also central, creating new impetus for reform and bringing key allies into positions of influence, often in synergy with collective action from below.
  • Proposition 3: While international allies, covenants and norms of state behaviour can strengthen domestic openings for reform, they can also be the subject of fierce domestic opposition. Successful reform campaigns depend on careful navigation to link international pressures with differing and constantly changing local and national contexts.
  • Proposition 4: Successful policy change occurs not through professional advocacy alone, but involves complex and highly developed mobilizing structures which link national reformers to local and faith-based groups, the media and repositories of expertise. Such structures are built over time, deeply grounded in the societies where they are found, and linked to the biographies of those who lead them.
  • Proposition 5: Alliances between social actors and champions of change inside the state are critical to make policy change happen. Social mobilization structures provide opportunities for state-based reformers to generate change from within, just as political opportunity structures provide spaces for social actors to do so from without.
  • Proposition 6: Policy change on contentious issues requires contentious forms of mobilization. Contentiousness is a dynamic and contingent concept. Successful collective action must also be dynamic, with the ability to frame issues carefully, adjust to changing circumstances and audiences, and draw upon a wide repertoire of strategies.
  • Proposition 7: 'Success' can be understood in many different ways, especially among the different actors in a broad-based campaign or social movement. In general, robust and sustainable changes require campaigns which link the national to the local and which pay attention to the processes of empowering citizens and deepening democratic governance as well as to effecting policy change itself.

This book is a great resource. One note of caution, although the book was published in 2010, it appears most of the case studies were written around 2004-2006, and largely reflective of activities from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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New Publication: Collaborative Adaptation Research in Africa and Asia

​Cochrane, L., Cundill, G., Ludi, E., New, M., Nicholls, R. J., Wester, P., Cantin, B., Murali, K. S., Leone, M., Kituyi, E. and Landry, M.-E. (2017) A Reflection on Collaborative Adaptation Research in Africa and Asia. Regional Environmental Change 17(5): 1553-1561.


AbstractThe reality of global climate change demands novel approaches to science that are reflective of the scales at which changes are likely to occur, and of the new forms of knowledge required to positively influence policy to support vulnerable populations. We examine some of the opportunities and challenges presented by a collaborative, transdisciplinary research project on climate change adaptation in Africa and Asia that utilized a hotspot approach. A large-scale effort to develop appropriate baselines was a key challenge at the outset of the program, as was the need to develop innovative methodologies to enable researchers to work at appropriate spatial scales. Efforts to match research to the biophysical scales at which change occurs need to be aware of the mismatch that can develop between these regional scales and the governance scales at which decisions are made.


Full paper available from journal as an Open Access article.

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How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future

Open doors or build walls? Immigration is one of the most politicized issues. Thus, the value of the book by Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan (2011): "Exceptional People – How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future". Before delving into the detail, this book was likely written for an undergraduate audience – those moderately well read on migration will find the first two sections ("Past" and "Present") a summary of the literature. The third section ("Future") offers some interesting food for thought that draws from the literature. It is also worth emphasizing that this book was published in the year the Syrian Civil War started, before the large movements of people into Europe and well before Trump began promising walls and bans.

In the introductory remarks, the authors make clear their position: "International migration pays dividends top sending countries, receiving countries and migrants themselves. In receiving countries, it promotes innovation, boosts economic growth, and enriches social diversity, and is a boon for public finance. Sending countries have their economies stimulated by the financial and social feedback of migrant networks. Migrants reap the welfare benefits of higher wages, better education, and improved health when they move to relatively more developed countries. High rates of migration do, however, produce costs that are carried unevenly by particular localities and countries. These costs are often short-run, and they can be reduced through resource transfers and by building the capacity of public institutions to manage the social and administrative changes presented by higher rates of migration" (p. 5-6). Later chapters (e.g. 6: Impacts of Migration), confront assumptions and assertions with evidence, which has a tendency to emphasize the positive and downplay the negative, but nonetheless makes a strong and clear case for the important, and positive, role that migration has played, and will continue to play, globally.

The first part of the book ("Past") provides an overview of migration in human history. One notable point in reflecting upon history is the novelty of citizenship and immigration restrictions in the modern sense: "Throughout the development agrarian civilizations and the emergence of the first states and empires, borders were porous, and cross-cultural encounters were intermittent but far from uncommon. Cross-cultural interaction was a primary stimulus for the growth of commerce, the spread of ideas and religion, and the advancement of civilizations" (p. 28). Yet, the value of ideas moving with people began to have less of an impact because "somewhere around 1000 CE, world history began to shift from a pattern of divergence – or separate development of civilizations – toward a pattern of global convergence. Up until this time, migration had virtually always meant a permanent departure from the home community. Around the turn of the millennium, however, the accelerating tempo of cross-civilization commerce was launching transoceanic journeys and satellite communities that were the first tremors of globalization" (p. 32). Thus, a shift occurred from migration being an important way for ideas to move, toward migration as an important way for labor and innovative people to move.

It was not until recent centuries that the world of regulations, quotas and applications took shape: "The twentieth century would witness rising nationalism accompanied by a system of states increasingly capable of monitoring their borders. As migrant destination countries received people from ever more diverse locations – and often with fewer skills – native residents demanded greater management of migration flows by the state. Opposition to migration was commonly xenophobic or racist, and prejudices toward foreigners were inflamed by economic downturns and unemployment. The defense of perceived national interests through rising economic protectionism in the early twentieth century was extended to migration control" (p. 67-68). An interesting contribution this book offers, at least in my perspective, is how many nations (e.g. West Germany) used temporary worker programs, and much might be learned from these for the expansion of such programs in countries like Canada today.

Migration is "a key driver of human and economic development and that our future will be strongly influenced by policies regarding migration. How governments craft and coordinate migration policy will determine whether our collective future is defined by a more open and cosmopolitan global society or one that is unequal, partitioned, and less prosperous" (p. 2). What do the authors see for the future (from the vantage point of 2011): "all the evidence tells us that the first half of the twenty-first century will be characterized by more migration… By the middle of the twenty-first century, our societies will be more diverse than ever before" (p. 213). Yet, some caution of what this increase entails: "The dramatic forecasts of as many as 200 million "environmental refugees" by 2050 have been widely cited in official reports, but they have not held up to wider scrutiny. We believe it is unlikely that climate change alone will lead to a tenfold increase in the number of refugees and displaced persons, and doubling of the total number of migrations, as implied by these guesstimates" (p. 237). The authors note that the "'pressure points' include intercountry inequality and wage disparities, growing working-age populations in many developing countries, and environmental stress. More people will have the capacity and propensity to move because of economic growth in poor countries, urbanization, and rising education standards" (p. 241). Additionally, "developed countries are already witnessing a contracting in the supply of native low-skilled labor, a trend that will continue into the future… Without increased migration, these labor shortages will generate a long-term drag on the economies of developed countries" (p. 250).

What then to do – what policies and approaches do the authors recommend – on the question of open doors or walls? They conclude: "We propose five key principles that should guide engagement with migrants and migration by governments and international organizations: extend transnational rights; promote social and economic advancement for migrants; widen the umbrella of legal migration; combat xenophobia and migrant abuse; and improve data collection" (p. 272). Each of the principles is outlined in detail within the book.

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Global Inequality

Inequality is headline news. Recently Oxfam reported that only 8 individuals own as much as the poorest half of the world's population. In 2014, Piketty published a widely read book on the subject, taking a historical economics approach. But, this question is not new. Amin addressed it in his 1976 book "Unequal Development", the greater level of attention and sense of urgency, along with improved data and new approaches, make the more recent publications unique. Branko Milanovic, in his 2016 book "Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization", also attempts to address the causes, and potential remedies, of inequality. He author looks carefully at both national inequality and global inequality, and argues that "a study of global inequality over the past two centuries, and especially during the past twenty-five years, allows us to see how the world has changed, often in fundamental ways" (p. 2).

This book responds to Piketty, and builds on Kuznets. Rather than a cycle, Milanovic focuses upon Kuznets waves: "I think that it is more appropriate to speak of Kuznets cycles, or waves, and to view the current upward swing in advanced countries as the beginning of the second Kuznets wave. Like the first wave, it is the product of technological innovation and change, of the substitution of labor by capital ( the "second machine age"), and the transfer of labor from one sector to another. In the first Kuznets wave, the transfer was from agriculture (and thus rural areas) to manufacturing (and thus urban areas); in the second, it is from manufacturing to services… this second wave is also driven by pro-rich changes in economic policies" (p. 93). On global inequality: "The world where location has the most influence on one's lifetime income is still the world we live in. It is the world that gives rise to what we might call a "citizenship premium" for those who are born in the right places (countries), and a "citizenship penalty" for those born in the wrong places (countries)." (p. 131).

At points, Milanovic draws attention away from globalization and toward the rules structuring it, similar to how Reich (2015) has done in addressing questions about capitalism. "It is this fundamentally ambivalent nature of globalization that I hope to bring out in this book. The reader needs to be constantly aware that globalization is a force both for good and bad" (p. 30). He continues, "As is nicely illustrated in Europe and the United States for the period after the Great Depression and World War II, the strength of trade unions, the political power of socialist and communist parties, and the example of military threat of the Soviet Union all curbed pro-rich policies by constraining the power of capital. But once these political limitations weakened or disappeared and economic factors became more favorable to capital, including skill-biased technological change and the large expansion of global labor that came with the opening of China and the fall of communism, the situation reversed, and the advanced economies entered a period of rising inequality, the second Kuznets wave, which is still in force" (p. 87).

What are the forces enabling inequality to rise in this second wave, particularly within the higher income countries? Milanovic explains that "middle class and poor people are being diverted, largely by design, from looking after their own economic interests into caring about other concerns, especially social or religious ones that are often divisive. This diversion does not necessarily arise from any sort of backroom conspiracy, but rather from a collectively manufactured elite consensus. It is, to some extent, an understandable (and acceptable) strategy because voting decisions are multidimensional: people do not vote solely on economic issues and many care deeply about such matters as migration, religion, and abortion. But given the enormous amount of private money that is used in politics and media, one cannot but think that the aim of these investments is very similar. In one case (politics), influence is sought directly; in the other case (the media), influence is created through shaping public opinion so that it agrees with the opinion of the funders. The creation of a false consciousness takes place through ideological matraquage (a French term that means a breain-beating as if by a nightstick), where newspaper readers, TV viewers, and internet surfers are bombarded with issues – running from abortion and gun control to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism – that distract popular attention from the basic economic and social problems like unemployment, the incarceration rate, war profits, and billion-dollar tax loop holes for the rich. In other words, the culture war has a function, and that function is to mask the real shift of economic power toward the rich." (p. 202).

Predicting the future in economics does not have a great track record. Milanovic points to three key challenges: "the belief that the trends that appear to be the most relevant at a particular time will continue into the future, the inability to predict dramatic single events, and an exaggerated focus on key global players, especially the United States. All three problems, even if accurately diagnosed, seem to be very difficult to solve" (p. 158). But, he offers some: "The great middle-class squeeze (which I discussed in Chapters 1 and 2), driven by the forces of automation and globalization, is not at and end. This squeeze will in turn further polarize Western societies into two groups: a very successful rich class at the top, and a much larger group of people whose jobs will entail servicing the rich class in occupations where human labor cannot be replaced by robots" (p. 214-215). And, that it is "hard to imagine that a system with such high inequality could be politically stable. But perhaps inequality will decline, and the problem of instability will disappear. What happens next depends on (1) the nature of technological progress, which might evolve in a pro-poor way, as by the replacement of people in some occupations that are very well paid now, say, professors, with lower-paid workers, and (2) the ability of the "losers" in this system to organize themselves politically. If the losers remain disorganized and subject to false consciousness, not much will change" (p. 217).

On a slightly more positive note: "Policies that would work toward shifting this long-term equalization include (1) high inheritance taxes (as Piketty calls for), which would keep parents from being able to transfer large assets to their children, (2) corporate tax policies that would stimulate companies to distribute shares to workers (moving toward a system of limited workers' capitalism), and (3) tax and administrative policies trhat would enable the poor and the middle classes to have and hold financial assets. Also fitting with this proposal is de Soto's (1989) call for much broader ownership of assets the poor already possess, such as properties that in many countries are held without legal title and so cannot be used as collateral for loans. But these policies would not be sufficient" (p. 221).

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Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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