Capability Traps? The Mechanisms of Persistent Implementation Failure - Working Paper 234
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.
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:234. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (David Roodman)
If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.
If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.
If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.
Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.