Weak states, poor coun­tries

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - By An­gus Deaton

In Scot­land, I was brought up to think of po­lice­men as al­lies and to ask one for help when I needed it. Imag­ine my sur­prise when, as a 19-year-old on my first visit to the United States, I was met by a stream of ob­scen­i­ties from a New York City cop who was di­rect­ing traf­fic in Times Square af­ter I asked him for di­rec­tions to the near­est post of­fice. In my sub­se­quent con­fu­sion, I in­serted my em­ployer’s ur­gent doc­u­ments into a trash bin that, to me, looked a lot like a mail­box.

Euro­peans tend to feel more pos­i­tively about their gov­ern­ments than do Amer­i­cans, for whom the fail­ures and un­pop­u­lar­ity of their fed­eral, state, and lo­cal politi­cians are a com­mon­place. Yet Amer­i­cans’ var­i­ous gov­ern­ments col­lect taxes and, in re­turn, pro­vide ser­vices with­out which they could not easily live their lives.

Amer­i­cans, like many cit­i­zens of rich coun­tries, take for granted the le­gal and reg­u­la­tory sys­tem, the public schools, health care and so­cial se­cu­rity for the el­derly, roads, de­fense and diplo­macy, and heavy in­vest­ments by the state in re­search, par­tic­u­larly in medicine. Cer­tainly, not all of these ser­vices are as good as they might be, nor held in equal re­gard by ev­ery­one; but peo­ple mostly pay their taxes, and if the way that money is spent of­fends some, a lively public de­bate en­sues, and reg­u­lar elec­tions al­low peo­ple to change pri­or­i­ties.

All of this is so ob­vi­ous that it hardly needs say­ing – at least for those who live in rich coun­tries with ef­fec­tive gov­ern­ments. But most of the world’s pop­u­la­tion does not.

In much of Africa and Asia, states lack the ca­pac­ity to raise taxes or de­liver ser­vices. The con­tract be­tween gov­ern­ment and gov­erned – im­per­fect in rich coun­tries – is of­ten al­to­gether ab­sent in poor coun­tries. The New York cop was lit­tle more than im­po­lite (and busy pro­vid­ing a ser­vice); in much of the world, po­lice prey on the peo­ple they are sup­posed to pro­tect, shak­ing them down for money or per­se­cut­ing them on be­half of pow­er­ful pa­trons.

Even in a mid­dle-in­come coun­try like In­dia, public schools and public clin­ics face mass (un­pun­ished) ab­sen­teeism. Pri­vate doc­tors give peo­ple what (they think) they want – in­jec­tions, in­tra­venous drips, and an­tibi­otics – but the state does not reg­u­late them, and many prac­ti­tion­ers are en­tirely un­qual­i­fied.

Through­out the de­vel­op­ing world, chil­dren die be­cause they are born in the wrong place – not of ex­otic, in­cur­able dis­eases, but of the com­mon­place child­hood ill­nesses that we have known how to treat for al­most a cen­tury. With­out a state that is ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing rou­tine ma­ter­nal and child health care, these chil­dren will con­tinue to die.

Like­wise, with­out gov­ern­ment ca­pac­ity, reg­u­la­tion and en­force­ment do not work prop­erly, so busi­nesses find it dif­fi­cult to op­er­ate. With­out prop­erly func­tion­ing civil courts, there is no guar­an­tee that in­no­va­tive en­trepreneurs can claim the re­wards of their ideas.

The ab­sence of state ca­pac­ity – that is, of the ser­vices and pro­tec­tions that peo­ple in rich coun­tries take for granted – is

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