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Fukuyama proposes new ways to measure governance

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 15 Feb 2013 12:55 GMT
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By Stella Dawson

WASHINGTON (TrustLaw) – Indices that measure the quality of governance are woefully inadequate in giving an accurate picture of many countries, a leading political economist said.

Francis Fukuyama, senior fellow at Stanford University best known for his 1992 book “The End of History” which said liberal democracy and free market capitalism were the ultimate form of government, proposes a new framework for studying the effectiveness of the state in delivering goods and services to its citizens.

In a discussion paper, Fukuyama suggested that the quality of the executive branch is influenced by the level of professional expertise within its bureaucracy and how much independence the bureaucracy has to carry out its tasks.

Yet these two factors – capacity and autonomy – are not reflected adequately in current indices that attempt to measure the quality of governance, he said.  Moreover, the data may not even exist in the first place to measure these factors. But identifying the shortcomings of current indices is a starting point for finding ways to improve them, he said.  

The World Bank Institute’s Worldwide Governance Indicators are perhaps the best known attempt to quantify the effectiveness of governments. They are composite indicators that aggregate a range of expert opinions, surveys and perception measures in six areas – voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption. Other measures include Freedom House’s quality of democracy reports or political risk measurements from Political Risk Service Group. 

Such indices frequently are criticized for being qualitative in nature, based more on perceptions and opinions than concrete facts.  But finding more effective, quantitative performance measures for states is challenging.   

In his paper, published on the Center for Global Development website, Fukuyama suggested that assessing the interaction between capacity and autonomy might help.

“That is, more or less autonomy can be a good or bad thing depending on how much underlying capacity a bureaucracy has. If an agency were full of incompetent, self-dealing political appointees, one would want to limit their discretion and subject them to clear rules,” Fukuyama said in the paper.

More rules might restrain corrupt behaviour where the exercise of good judgment cannot be trusted, whereas in a highly skilled country greater bureaucratic freedom could improve efficiency, he said.

At the very least, using this kind of framework helps to explain why low-income countries with low literacy and professional skill levels are advised to tighten control over their bureaucracies to improve governance, while in high-income countries where professional expertise is well-developed seek to lessen red tape controlling bureaucracies, Fukuyama said in the paper .  

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