From Beijing To Washington People Cry Out For Good Governance – Professional Politicians In Developing And Developed Countries Are Often Behind The Curve

By Paolo von Schirach

March 10, 2013

TRAVELING BETWEEN EMERGING MARKETS – In the developing world, a few decades ago the cry was for “Independence” and “Freedom”, and then “Justice”. Now it is mostly about the more prosaic yet far more tangible issue of “Good Governance”. Governance is a catch-all term that encompasses quite a few things: clear rules, transparency, accountability, honesty, (that would be the opposite of rampant corruption), institutions capable of delivering services, and the implementation of sound policies that actually improve lives. This is about “Value for Money”. Taxpayers want to see what elected leaders actually do with the funds they raise through taxation.


The rising middle classes made out of professionals and entrepreneur in what experts call “Emerging Markets” generally hold a dim of view of their elected leaders. They are judged rather harshly. Either dishonest or incompetent. Opinions collected here and there: “They said they would improve the city. But nothing happened. They convene a conference, organize workshops, and have a big lunch. But nothings happens”. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give this government a 4 when it comes to its ability to deliver”.

From China To Europe

Even in fast growing China people demanding transparency are getting louder. Yes, they also want transparency. Believe it or not, some activists have been told that data about soil pollution in China is a “state secret”; and therefore it cannot be released to the public. Until not too long ago the state refused to publish real data about air pollution, fearing that the public might react badly once the truth about intolerable levels became known.

In Europe it is not that different. Despite strong “anti-everything” populist messages in countries badly hit by the debt crisis, there is a widespread feeling that many states have been ruled  by professional politicians who are either crooked or incompetent. In fact, in many cases it is both. Witness the emergence in Italy, out of nothing, of the anti-establishment Party 5 Stelle created by comedian Beppe Grillo.

Gridlock in America

And what about America? Over there, an otherwise brilliantly conceived  system of “checks and balances” has morphed into perpetual political and policy gridlock on account of mediocre leaders in both parties now hostages of extreme ideologies that make pragmatic compromise virtually impossible. America’s Government has become a giant, mostly inefficient, money eating machine that delivers very little value for money. Beyond that, an American political leadership made out of lawyers who love procedures and do not understand policy cannot competently lead a knowledge society that can prosper only if driven by pro-growth, pro- innovation policies.

Governing is hard

In the end, it comes down to this. Governing is hard. Free people demand a lot: sensible policies, accountability and good management of tax payers money. But Governments are not run by corporate managers. They are run by politicians who contest elections making outlandish promises; therefore creating expectations that cannot be fulfilled, especially by public institutions that are far too often under resourced.

Hence a state of semi-perpetual disappointment. Of course, if you are a Hugo Chavez devotee in Venezuela, you have reasons to believe that Chavez was a good President who really wanted to help you. And he did help the poor. But he did so very badly, creating a semi-dictatorship; while showing how incompetent he was as an economic policy steward. In this oil rich country oil production actually went down under Chavez.

Striving for social justice and fairness is good. But good leaders have to mix these noble goals with accountability, transparency and overall competence. As I said, governing is hard. Governing well is like being a pianist virtuoso. Many aspire, very few succeed.


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