Questions of governance and respect

2006-04-08

in Politics, The environment

While I was revising IR theory, I found myself wondering how we establish whether an approach to development assistance is patronizing or not. For example, we can send a team of economic advisers to help create macroeconomic stability in a developing country. As Jeffrey Sachs’ role in ending hyperinflation in Bolivia seems to show, this is a strategy that can yield results. Of course, this kind of ‘we know better’ approach might hamper the development of governance structures and new ideas in the long run.

That said, leaving countries to sort things out for themselves could still be considered patronizing. Not only do we know better, but we know even better than that: we know to allow countries to make their own mistakes in the interests of developing legitimacy and their own capacity. Maybe, by that point, the patronizing aspect has become neutralized or non-corrosive.

These questions are relevant to my research when we start thinking about environmental governance and development. No problems crop up where new technology is both more economically efficient and cleaner. The trouble comes when situations like China’s growing need for energy and its huge reserves of coal are considered in combination.

There are situations where choices that would not be made in the rich world might make sense in the developing world, even at the cost of a somewhat damaged environment in those countries. Look how many forests were cleared in Europe during the period of industrialization. The trickiest issue is in places where the ecological harm is borne, in some measure, by everyone. How do we reconcile the teleological objective of a healthy planet with the deontological imperative to respect the freedom of states to make their own choices?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. April 8, 2006 at 3:59 pm

At the very least, there are both moral and factual issues here. Factually, we need to know what the consequences of industrialization in the style of the west would have, if the bulk of the developing world did it. Could the planet handle it? Would it even be possible to carry out, given resource limitations?

The moral argument is ultimately likely to be rather less important than the political or distributional questions of who will be able to take what, who would want to stop them and what capacity they have for doing so, and what new developments will change these balances.

R.K. April 8, 2006 at 4:04 pm

Oh, and the importance of being respectful doesn’t preclude the possibility that we really do know better. Under ideal circumstances, the best information and practices from all over can be debated, tested, and adopted by everyone.

Milan April 8, 2006 at 4:13 pm

Never has so profoundly liberal a comment followed such a thoroughly realist one…

I really need to go study somewhere where there are no computers. To the department! No, wait. The Wadham Library! Er, nope. The SSL? They are there as well. My room? The Nuffield Library? The Radcliffe Camera? All no good.

Back to Starbucks, I guess.

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