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Capability Traps? The Mechanisms of Persistent Implementation Failure - Working Paper 234

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  • Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock, Matt Andrews

Abstract

Many countries remain stuck in conditions of low productivity that many call “poverty traps.” Economic growth is only one aspect of development; another key dimension of development is the expansion of the administrative capability of the state, the capability of governments to affect the course of events by implementing policies and programs. We use a variety of empirical indicators of administrative capability to show that many countries remain in “state capability traps” in which the implementation capability of the state is both severely limited and improving (if at all) only very slowly. At their current pace of progress countries like Haiti or Afghanistan or Liberia would take hundreds (if not thousands) of years to reach the capability of a country like Singapore and decades to reach even a moderate capability country like India. We explore how this can be so. That is, we do not attempt to explain why countries remain in capability traps; this would require a historical, political and social analysis uniquely applied to each country. Rather, we focus on how countries manage to engage in the domestic and international logics of “development” and yet consistently fail to acquire capability. What are the techniques of failure? Two stand out. First, ‘big development’ encourages progress through importing standard responses to predetermined problems. This encourages isomorphic mimicry as a technique of failure: the adoption of the forms of other functional states and organizations which camouflages a persistent lack of function. Second, an inadequate theory of developmental change reinforces a fundamental mismatch between expectations and the actual capacity of prevailing administrative systems to implement even the most routine administrative tasks. This leads to premature load bearing, in which wishful thinking about the pace of progress and unrealistic expectations about the level and rate of improvement of capability lead to stresses and demands on systems that cause capability to weaken (if not collapse). We conclude with some suggestive directions for sabotaging these techniques of failure.

Suggested Citation

  • Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock, Matt Andrews, 2010. "Capability Traps? The Mechanisms of Persistent Implementation Failure - Working Paper 234," Working Papers 234, Center for Global Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:234
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    File URL: http://www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/1424651/
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    Cited by:

    1. Lant Pritchett & Michael Woolcock & Matt Andrews, 2013. "Looking Like a State: Techniques of Persistent Failure in State Capability for Implementation," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 49(1), pages 1-18, January.
    2. Matt Andrews & Lant Pritchett & Michael Woolcock, 2015. "Doing Problem Driven Work," CID Working Papers 307, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    3. Andrews, Matt & Pritchett, Lant & Woolcock, Michael, 2013. "Escaping Capability Traps Through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 234-244.
    4. Nancy Birdsall & Christian J. Meyer, 2015. "The Median is the Message: A Good Enough Measure of Material Wellbeing and Shared Development Progress," Global Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 6(4), pages 343-357, November.
    5. Lant Pritchett, 2014. "The Risks to Education Systems from Design Mismatch and Global Isomorphism," CID Working Papers 277, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    6. Garofalo, Maria Rosaria, 2011. "Il volontariato può sostenere lo sviluppo? Riflessioni metodologiche per la costruzione di un frame work teorico
      [Can the voluntary sector sustain the development path of an economy? Suggestions fo
      ," MPRA Paper 40008, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Lant Pritchett & Salimah Samji & Jeffrey Hammer, 2012. "It’s All About MeE: Using Structured Experiential Learning (‘e’) to Crawl the Design Space," CID Working Papers 249, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    8. María Franco Chuaire & Carlos Scartascini & Mariano Tommasi, 2017. "State capacity and the quality of policies. Revisiting the relationship between openness and government size," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(2), pages 133-156, July.
    9. Paulo F. Azevedo & Maria Sylvia Saes & Paula Sarita Bigio Schneider & Thiago Bernardino de Carvalho & Andresa Silva Neto Francischini & Synthia Kariny Silva de Santana & Maria Clara de Azevedo Morguli, 2016. "Learning from Productive Development Agencies in Brazil: Policies for Technological Innovation," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 8020, Inter-American Development Bank.
    10. Yanagihara, Toru, 2016. "User-Centered Approach to Service Quality and Outcome:Rationales, Accomplishments and Challenges," Working Papers 123, JICA Research Institute.
    11. Paulo F. Azevedo & Maria Sylvia Saes & Paula Sarita Bigio Schneider & Thiago Bernardino de Carvalho & Andresa Silva Neto Francischini & Synthia Kariny Silva de Santana & Maria Clara de Azevedo Morguli, 2016. "Learning from Productive Development Agencies in Brazil: Policies for Technological Innovation," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 96997, Inter-American Development Bank.
    12. Matt Andrews & Lant Pritchett & Michael Woolcock, 2015. "The Challenge of Building (Real) State Capability," CID Working Papers 306, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    13. repec:wsi:jicepx:v:03:y:2012:i:02:n:s1793993312500093 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. repec:unu:wpaper:wp2012-64 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Lawrence Sáez, 2013. "Methods in governance research: a review of research approaches," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series esid-017-13, BWPI, The University of Manchester.
    16. Matt Andrews & Lant Pritchett & Michael Woolcock, 2016. "The Big Stuck in State Capability for Policy Implementation," CID Working Papers 318, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    17. Frauke de Weijer, 2013. "A Capable State in Afghanistan: A Building Without a Foundation?," Working Papers id:5452, eSocialSciences.
    18. Lant Pritchett & Salimah Samji & Jeffrey Hammer, 2013. "It‘s All About MeE: Using Structured Experiential Learning (“e”) to Crawl the Design Space," Working Papers 322, Center for Global Development.
    19. Tobias Akhtar Haque & David Knight & Dinuk Jayasuriya, 2015. "Capacity Constraints and Public Financial Management in Small Pacific Island Countries," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 2(3), pages 609-622, September.

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    Keywords

    capability traps; big development; isomorphic mimicry;

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