Lan Xue on “What is governance?”
Lan Xue of Tsinghua University responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”:
While it is not difficult to observe cases where low quality governance exists in democratic countries and high quality governance exists in “non-democratic” countries, trying to measure governance has not been easy. Fukuyama did a great job in reminding us how important it is and gave some useful leads. However, in this interesting commentary, he raised more questions than answering them.
For one, the governance context he automatically assumed was still the Western democracy where there is a separation of politics and administration. That division, however, is not all that clear in many non-Western democratic contexts. For example, one cannot equate individual discretion with institutional autonomy in the context of theChinese governance system. We have seen many situations in China where too much individual discretion and too little institutional autonomy co-exist, which leads to many problems including corruption and inconsistency in policy.
Another issue is with Fukuyama’s inverse U relationship between institutional capacity and autonomy. The relationship between the two may be more complex and dynamic than explained in Fukuyama’s commentary. For example, instead of having to match autonomy with capacity, it is quite possible that higher autonomy may help a government agency to get more resources and therefore, improve its capacity. So the relationship between capacity and autonomy can be messier than an inverse U.
Still, we have to thank Fukuyama for highlighting the need to pay more attention to the issue of measuring governance. As people say, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Lan Xue is Professor and Dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His commentary, “The Shifting Global Order,” appeared in the October 2012 issue of Governance.