International seminar by CAF: State, Public Management and Development in Latin America

Every morning when I am riding a bike between small and big vehicles, I imagine how’d life be amazed if I were like Moises pushing aside all those vehicles for me to be easy and calm to pass by. I don’t get much sometimes when some of those vehicles try to compete with me on a small beach bicycle. There is no compassion, respect nor protection. It is a city life that one endures. Sometimes the motive that one shoulders off in the urban crowdedness comes from the opportunities that this city promises: Today’s conference about the role of State and its impact on Latin American development is surely one of those promises.

For the first time I stepped in Faculty of Economic Science (FCE; Facultad de Ciencias Económicas) of University of Buenos Aires (UBA). It seemed like that today was the first day of the school for this year, so there were many youngsters with fresh passion, romantic hope and prospective future. After I locked my bicycle along with Kobe’s bike, I asked around to get in where the conference was to hold. I observed that the faculty was quite a spatial ornament of the classical tendency, allowing skylight to sit on every corner of its shy spots. I actually was awed by some beautiful horizontal and vertical lines of faculty building. I took some pictures then, when I first stepped in the faculty, and when I had a break from the conference. Monotonous but colourful were the lines and I was really glad to see those, holding five new books I got from CAF(Latin American Development Bank, with its main office in Venezuela).

In this post, I want to make some summaries that I caught during the seminar. Even though this seminar was held in Faculty of Economic Science, the panels were with a focus of political science rather than an economic one. Well, according to the little blue book by Ha-Joon Chang, Economics is a mere political argument. So perhaps it wasn’t much out of focus having a political science approach on development at Faculty of Economics. Furthermore, the very goal of this conference was to reassure the role of State in 21st century, as a main factor of development in Latin America. And here follow some notes I made:

  1. The actuality of Latin America can be described “Rich cities and poor population” as the Pope Francisco quoted about the region.
  2. Result-based management is at success. This is a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures affecting impact, and programme POETA is an excellent example(by Trust Fund for the Americas organisation). This programme is to implement technology centres for job training, started from 2 centres in Guatemala and now branched out to 162 centres all around the continent. POETA resulted its employment impact to be up to 50% which was originally 15%.
  3. Open government is being introduced for clearer transparency and further innovation along with citizen’s participation. This open government concept is a paradigmatic rupture which comes along with public management, investigation for participation and documentation of knowledge for development. Open government is not about technological, rather philosophical concept of which values like transparency, collaboration and participation count with more importance.
  4. An integral approach towards State, Civil Society and Market is required, for they affect one another; they are condition sine qua non. One of the obstacles that we face is that we forget how to accumulate knowledge generation to generation. We are capable to save ourselves from possible oblivion.
  5. The only goal for public policies can be summarised as the eradication of poverty. The demand for inclusive public policies is rising. Public policies are designed to solve uncertainty that comes from public problems. Public investment is a strong tool. If public investment is formed dimly, its evaluation wouldn’t be accountable. It is a method to conform the future with anticipated returns. This type of investment can be a mechanism that weighs the quality of decision, and public management is about involvement to make such decision, rather than with a technological set.
  6. Some used to say “governance without governments” after observing civil movement rise in European countries, but governments are important as interaction is important part of governance. In this process of interaction we observe three different kinds of movement and our challenge is to knit together all these divergent tendencies and to achieve metagoverning (governing of governings).
    1. Movement down : decentralisation, devolution, delegation and deconcentration. Those are for fairer democracy and efficiency (virtues) but limited to inequality and incoherence (vices).
    2. Movement up : presidentialisation, joint of governments. good for steering but limited to the possibility for autocracy.
    3. Movement out : involvement of social actors and market. good for participation but limited to indecision and loss of control.
  7. The actuality, perspectives and challenges of Argentine development are discussed as such below:
    1. Leadership quality related : almost 30% of population in under poverty, and almost 50% of children are poor. These facts demonstrate intergenerational poverty and public polices for educational and health systems are required, along with an enhancement of productive systemic competitiveness to generate employments and to insert informal employments to formal ones.
    2. Institutional frailty related : institutional frailty weakens parliamentary and administrative capacity of a State. A State is at a power game between democratic order and international market, and economic and democratic integration differs with global hegemony as its direction can change as of Trump example. Argentina will need to learn how to cope with those changes.
    3. Intertemporal crisis related : development isn’t just about growth but a intuitive and historical process. For example, when parents invest on education of their children is because they have certainty of the returns of investment. In Argentina, such certainty is being lost.

This conference was interesting in many aspects and one of those was that I could actually see those speakers in person. I had read some articles and books of those speakers which made me realised how lucky I was just with being there at the moment. Even though I didn’t present myself to them (due to lack of self confidence, I guess), I was fascinated to listen their words directly. I recognised some speakers like Oscar Oszlak or Michael Mann. The conference ended with Mann’s words of the role of State in 21st century.

Mann’s table to describe state power (hardly seen, but presented in this photographed note above) was a handy tool for further understanding and comparison of some case studies. He threw two essential questions that amused me: Will world follow the West in moving toward despotically weak but infrastructurally strong state? Will the West itself continue this type of state form? He mentioned authoritarian model observed in East Asia wouldn’t be suitable for newly developing states, but at the same time, a nation nurturing infrastructural power can be a threat to democracy. Mann categorised 4 elements of infrastructural power of a State:

  1. Public employment and government expenditure for infrastructure : In term of public employment, Singapore records 6% whereas Sweden records 34% and Argentina 18%. Government spending on infrastructure is observed as 32% in case of Korea, and 58% in Finland.
  2. Inequality induced by knowledge economy : Industrial automation moves from labour intensive to idea driven, and this threatens democracy and citizenship. Many remedies have been made such as less-hour working condition or universal basic income, but those haven’t turned out successful yet. Automation dropped employment 49% in UK, 38% in Japan and 14% in Korea.
  3. Globalisation : Transnational finance, giant corporations and climate change are also threats for democracy. Governments started to penetrate more of private life, rising of social liberalism. It is positively observed in term of sexual equality like gay and transgender rights but surveillance on private life is induced due to terrorism and unwinnable-symmetric wars. In globalised world, international collaboration between states are to perform against corporations’ tax evasion, drug transport and climate change.
  4. Nationalist reaction : National identities become stronger than broader cosmopolitan identities. Nationalism is becoming stronger in some regions, declaring less immigrants and more populism, as of Trump case.

After all, the conclusion of the conference is that the role of State is not declining but rather surviving in varied forms. It’s been more complex to define its role in 21st century, but ideally international collaboration should be considered in an intertwined globalisation. Still realistically it’s hard to conclude the role of State due to global uncertainty for the future and further development, knowing that State cannot be erased from the interaction with Civil Society and Market, it performs an important role for regional development.

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