Governance: An international journal of policy, administration and institutions

Rothstein on “What is governance?”

Bo Rothstein of the University of Gothenberg responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”, published by Governance this week:

I applaud this commentary and agree with much of it, especially the critique against mainstream political science for neglecting the issue of state capacity and the rational choice approach for being unable to account for how organizations are steered by norms. I think the problem is due to that most mainstream political scientists are more interested in explaining “politics” (who wins elections, who decides policies, who votes for what) than explaining the effects politics have on human well-being. And on this point, state capacity (what “the machine” can do) turns out to be very important and more so than is the level of democracy.

I also agree that we should distinguish between quality of democracy and quality of government (such as e.g., control of corruption) since we want to know if democracy can be a cure against the latter.

However, I would like defend a normative definition of quality of government/ (QoG) against the empirical one suggested by Francis Fukuyama.

First, democracy is usually defined by normative standards such as Robert Dahl’s “political equality” and I see no reason why the definition of QoG should be different.

Secondly, while it is true a normative procedural definition like the one suggested by Jan Teorell and me (impartiality in the exercise of laws/policies) will not be a guarantee against bad outcomes (as the concentration camp example Fukuyama points to show), the same problem exists for most definitions of democracy since there is no guarantee that the majority will not decide very bad policies.

The problem is that “capacity” and “autonomy” as suggested by Fukuyama will not solve this problem. As for capacity, a majority of the delegates at the Wannsee conference that planned the Holocaust had a doctoral degree. Concerning autonomy, the SS were in fact a quite autonomous organization.

Finally, Fukuyama asks if impartiality results in high quality of government. A recent study by my colleagues at the QoG institute shows that this is probably the case. The principle of impartiality entails meritocratic recruitment to the civil service and their studies show that meritocracy correlates highly with high quality of government and low levels of corruption. Their studies also show that bureaucratic autonomy, understood as the existence of a special careers, long-term tenure and special laws that protect civil servants, have no effect on the quality of government.

Some related articles:

Rothstein, Bo and Jan Teorell. 2008. “What is Quality of Government: A Theory of Impartial Political Institutions.” Governance  21.2:165-190.

Dahlström, Carl, Victor Lapuente, and Jan Teorell. 2011. “The Merit of Meritocratization: Politics, Bureaucracy, and the Institutional Deterrents of Corruption.” Political Research Quarterly 65:656-668.

Dahlström, Carl and Victor Lapuente. 2012. “Weberian bureaucracy and corruption prevention”, in S. Holmberg & Bo Rothstein (eds.). Good Government: The Relevance of Political Science. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Bo Rothstein holds the August Röhss Chair in Political Science at the University of Gothenberg.  He is currently head of the Quality of Government Institute in the university’s Department of Political Science.

Written by governancejournal

March 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Posted in commentary


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