A Theory of Discontinuous Change
Author: Ashok Chakravarti
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How does institutional development occur in the South and how can it be supported? This paper, published by Queen Elizabeth House at the University of Oxford, argues that institutions are more central to successful development than resources, whether physical or human capital. The emergence of institutions favourable to good governance requires interventions which break through patterns of elite predation. Such deep and rapid institutional interventions, undertaken by external actors with local partners, can constitute a successful model for development policy and practice.
In Western Europe, institutions favourable to good economic and political governance emerged through a gradual evolutionary process. A study of institutional change during the past 100 years in the South, however, reveals a discontinuous process. Favourable developments require the intervention of human agency, either through an enlightened domestic group or an external force. The experiences of Japan, India, Turkey and Botswana and southern Sudan provide examples of such interventions.
An analysis of events in southern Sudan since 2005 indicates that institutional development facilitated by the U.S. Government’s Democracy and Governance Program is creating an 'open access' society. The findings include the following:
- An externally supported intervention, in partnership with local elites, is effecting fundamental changes in both formal and informal institutions and in the practices and thinking of key actors. These changes mark a major break from what was formerly 'ordered anarchy' in southern Sudan, in an essentially stateless society.
- A strong federal framework, including constitutional protections and appropriate authority for states, guards against overwhelming dominance from the centre.
- Oversight of the executive power is in the hands of vigorous institutions under constitutional protection. Collective decision-making systems have also worked to minimise the possibility of dictatorial authority.
- Under a benign and encouraging regulatory framework, private media outlets are emerging.
- Liberal economic policies and straightforward regulations under the new government are prompting a wave of private investment, largely from the southern Sudanese diaspora living in the West.
- A flourishing non-governmental sector is receiving much of the foreign aid that has entered southern Sudan since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed.
Although societies are continuously undergoing change and transformation, substantial periods of self-regulating equilibrium occur during any given historical period. Resulting equilibrium traps, according to modern economic theory, will be characterised by the particular history, social forces and distribution of wealth in a given society. External intervention is needed in order to alter such a situation, usually human agency: domestic, external or a combination of the two. Furthermore:
- Once such an intervention has occurred, the interaction between institutions and behaviour may become self-reinforcing, as shown in the positive cases of Japan, Turkey, India and Botswana.
- Many Southern societies do not have the needed social forces or behaviours to ensure that institutions will evolve to encourage rational economic and political behaviour.
- Where predation tends to be the normal elite behaviour, the Western European model of gradual institutional evolution may have limited applicability.
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Chakravarti, A., 2008, 'A Theory of Discontinuous Change', Working Paper Number 164, Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford
Organisation: Queen Elizabeth House, (QEH), http://www.qeh.ox.ac.uk/