Policy-Making in a Transformative State

Edited collections are challenging to write about and review, with the chapters covering diverse areas / topics and each offering unique data and perspectives. One unique edited collection on Qatar is Policy-Making in a Transformative State: The Case of Qatar, edited by M. E. Tok, L. R. M. Alkhater and L. Pal (2016). The book is over 400 pages and has 14 chapters, beyond the scope of a quick summary. However, there are some valuable contributions that I will point readers toward, which will be of interest from the perspective of understanding policy making as well as unique contributions to understand the Qatari context.

One of the gems in this book is Khalid Rashid Alkhater's Macroeconomic Stabilization Policies and Sustainable Growth in Qatar (Ch 12). While the title is generic, this is an excellent contribution on financial and monetary policy, which I will continue to use in my teaching. The chapter by Lolwah Alkhater on educational reform (Ch 4) provides much more detail than Vora's book. For anyone interested in the education system (and its transformations), this is a critical reflection of decisions made and an important resource. This is followed by a chapter on higher education (Ch 5, by Ahmed Baghdady), which is more descriptive.

In the available English literature, there are few places where one can find nuance on constitutional and legal details of Qatar (while there are political books, like Kamara, these remain quite broad on these points). For this, Hassan Al-Sayed's chapter on Qatar's Constitutional and Legal System (Ch 2) is worth reading. Now the dean of CHSS at HBKU, Amal Mohammed Al-Malki, has a chapter on identity (Ch 9) and Hend Al Muftah has a chapter on labour (migration, Qatarization; Ch 10) with explicit policy recommendations.

Many of the books available on Qatar are written by outsider voices, sometimes following short stays in the country and often by scholars who do not have access to Arabic sources or conversations. This edited volume provides a broader range of content, not only with insider perspectives but also in many instances contributing original data and interviews. Although much has changed since 2016, this is still a useful book for those interested in understanding Qatar, and particularly useful understanding policy challenges and policy making. One downside to the book is the cost - this is an expensive academic book published by Palgrave, which reduces the accessibility of this collection for those without institutional subscriptions.

  60 Hits
60 Hits

People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent

In 2019, Joseph Stiglitz published "People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent." The book covers a wide range of topics, largely on contemporary American policy while also highlighting their histories - and is overtly political (Trump comes up frequently, throughout). The author provides an analysis of the challenges as well as potential pathways for the future. Some of the policies that are recommended include new regulations, such as regulating corporate business and money in politics. Other recommendations include introducing new services in the areas of social protection and safety nets as well as ensuring full employment, equality of opportunity and greater investment in education and research. Many of the recommendations will be common to readers familiar with economic arguments on the left-of-centre political spectrum. Very few, with the exception potentially of a universal basic income scheme, are radical or new. Nonetheless, this is worth a read, or at least the scan, to understand the economic arguments behind these recommendations. 

Some context on why regulations are called for and the barriers to change:

"Adam Smith's invisible hand (the notion that the pursuit of self-interest leads as if by an invisible hand to the well-being of society) is perhaps the single most important idea in modern economics, and yet even Smith recognized be limited power of markets and the need for government action. Modern economic research - both theory and experience -has enhanced our understanding of government's fundamental role in a market economy. It is needed both to do what markets won't and can't do as well as make sure that markets act as they are supposed to." (p. 24)

"The truly greedy and short-sighted in the 1 percent have come to understand that globalization, financialization, and other elements of the current economic rulebook are not supported by the vast majority of Americans, and understandably so. For these, this has one deeply disturbing implication: if we let democracy run its course, and if we believe in a modicum of rationality on the part of voters, they will choose an alternative course. In their pursuit of their naked self-interest, these super-rich have thus formulated a three-part strategy: deception, disenfranchisement, and disempowerment. Deception: they tell others that policies like the 2017 tax bill to further and enrich the rich will actually help ordinary Americans, or that a trade war with China will somehow reverse deindustrialization. Disenfranchisement: they work hard to make sure that those who might vote for more progressive policies can't or don't, either by making it hard for them to register, or by making it difficult for them to vote. And finally, disempowerment: they put sufficient constraints on government so that, if all else fails and a more progressive government were elected, it couldn't do what is needed to reform our politics and economy. One example: the constraints imposed by an increasingly stacked and ideological Supreme Court." (p. 27)

"A particularly invidious example of market power is the oligopoly in academic publishing. Chapter 1 highlighted the central role of knowledge in increases in our well-being. Advances in knowledge, in turn, require the dissemination of ideas. But in our market-based economy, this has been entrusted largely to the market, and the form that has taken is a highly concentrated and highly profitable oligopoly, with some five publishers accounting for more than half of all papers published, and for 70 percent of those in the social sciences. The irony is that the publishers get the articles for free (in some cases, they even get paid to publish them), the research reported is typically funded by the government, the publishers get academics to do most of the editorial work (the review of the articles) for free, and educational institutions and libraries (largely government-funded) then pay the publishers. Their high prices and excess profits, of course, mean that there is less money to fund research." (p. 76)

"Right now, on balance, our economy needs more regulations, at least in certain key arenas. Our economy has been changing fast, and our regulations need to keep pace. Twenty years ago, for instance, we didn't realize the dangers posed by carbon emissions; we now do, and we need regulations to reflect that. Twenty years ago, obesity was not the problem it is today. Now, we need to protect our children from the sweet and salty foods, designed to be addictive, that are contributing to this epidemic. Twenty years ago we didn't have the opioid crisis that has in part been manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry. Twenty years ago we didn't have a rash of for-profit educational institutions exploiting their students and the government loans for which they qualify. The conflict over net neutrality provides a vivid example of the need for regulation and the ways in which corporate interest manipulate the system for their own advantage." (p. 146)

  242 Hits
242 Hits

New Publication: Soil and Water Conservation in Ethiopia

Zerihun N., Tsunekawa, A., Nigussie H., Enyew A., Cochrane, L. and Floquet, A. and Abele, S. (2018). Applying Ostom's Institutional Analysis and Development to Soil and Water Conservation in Ethiopia. Land Use Policy.

Abstract: Sustainable land management is of utmost importance in Ethiopia and relies on Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) measures collectively implemented by smallholders through participatory processes. This paper contributes systematic evidence on how SWC strategies are implemented and how participation is operationalized. Drawing upon inductive, qualitative research, we explore the design, implementation and evaluation of SWC activities, as they relate to Ostrom's Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework, in order to determine how the activities can be made more appropriate, effective and sustainable. Findings show that on all levels of Ostrom's framework, there are shortcomings in the SWC institutions, which have to be addressed with more participatory approaches, a change from top-down to bottom-up measures, and economic incentives for farmers to invest in SWC measures instead of e.g. compulsory labor, and the integration of so far neglected groups like youth, women and the landless.

Available here. From the Journal here.

  489 Hits
489 Hits

Can Trade Promote Development?

Joseph Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton wade through the debates and evidence in "Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development" (2005). The book aims to "describe how trade policies can be designed in the future with a view to helping the developing countries" including that "liberalization needs to be managed carefully - the task is much more complex than the simple prescriptions of the Washington Consensus which blithely exhorts developing countries to liberalize their markets rapidly and indiscriminately" (p. 2). It has been over a decade since the book was published, and as a result some of the details have changed, but the general arguments are important ones. The book is easy to read for non-economists and is highly recommended. 

The book begins: "The rules which govern world trade affect the livelihoods of the whole planet, and influence the economic development of all nations... You might hope that the world's trading system went some way to redressing the global inequalities which slice our world into the rich, the poor, and the very poor. Yet the opposite is true. The world trading system has protected the interests of the rich countries, at the expense of the poor, and entrenched inequalities" (p. v). 

The authors provide plenty of examples to back up the strongly worded statement given at the outset. One example: "Farmers are subsidized and protected by the governments of the rich countries, where less than two percent of the workforce is employed in agriculture. This protection shuts out goods produced by farmers of developing countries, where agriculture supports the livelihoods of most of the world's poor people. Intellectual property rules protect the rights holders in the rich countries, but do little to transfer technology to the underdeveloped industries in the poor countries. We are in the bizarre position of giving the developing world some $100 billion in aid every year, but costing them three times as much in protectionist policies." (p. v; see also p. 7). 

Despite what might be assumed (based on the positionality of the authors), the authors do not advocate for free trade, in all places at all times. In fact, they argue against this. "To date, not one successful developing country have pursued a purely free market approach to development. In this context it is inappropriate for the world trading system to be implementing rules which circumscribe the ability of developing countries to use both trade and industry policies to promote industrialization" (p. 17). And, not just trade - liberalization will affect inequality, and thus other services are required (like safety nets) to ensure the redistribution of wealth do not simply re-create new forms of poverty.

One point I found interesting was a commentary on the idea of 'comparative advantage', and the limits (or limiting role it can play). "For example, the theory of comparative advantage told South Korea, as it emerged from the Korean War, that it should specialize in rice. But Korea believed that even if it were successful in increasing the productivity of its rice farmers, it would never become a middle- or high-income country if it followed that course. It had to change its comparative advantage, by acquiring technology and skills. It had to focus not on its comparative advantage today, but on its long run, its dynamic comparative advantage. And government intervention was required if it was to change its comparative advantage." (p. 30). Often the 'comparative advantage' discourse is deterministic, stories such this present comparative advantage not as a reflection of present resources and opportunities but also of a vision for different opportunities and creating pathways for that. 

The focus of the second half of the book is what fair trade could actually look like - in agriculture, intellectual property, labor mobility, non-tariff barriers, and a number of other areas. Interested readers should pick this book up.

  505 Hits
505 Hits
Subscribe to receive new blog posts via email