Although I read a fair bit on economic development, I tend to stay away from books that detail in too great a depth the actual plight of the poor. I know it’s bad, but somehow reading about the details doesn’t seem to help. I’m aware it’s bad, but what overall can be done? That’s why this book was on my “maybe list” for a while – before I read it. Now it’s on my essential reads list.
Put shortly this book explains why economic development will never really help until the basic justice and proper policing is established. Seems obvious – how does a micro loan to a woman trying to set up a food both help if gangsters keep steeling her cart? How does economic development help some one sold as a sex slave? The aid that is given will just end up stolen until proper Rule of Law is established. Seems simple enough.
What I didn’t realize is how bad the Rule of Law actually is in many countries. This book outlines how millions of people live basically outside the protection of law. From police forces that don’t really consider rape a crime, to police that take bribes, to courts with no paper and few judges: there are a huge number of ways for a justice system to get bottlenecked. In many countries proper land titles don’t exist – so when a gang decides they want your house, the can often just take it. In this context, what do we expect to happen with economic development aid?
The best example the author gives is a truck his farmer grandfather had. It had a motor and a frame and was lying deserted in a field. It hadn’t run in years but you could look at it and identify parts. The developing world legal system is just the same, you could say you have a truck, but it wouldn’t be what anyone that is familiar with the function of a truck would mean when you ask “Do you have a truck?”.
I was startled to learn that in absolute terms there are more slaves now than during the the slave trade system of the 18th Century – and it exists in countries considered to be developing nicely – namely India and Brazil.
The optimism comes from the fact that many countries including France, the US and the UK once had corrupt and incompetent police forces. And in more modern times, Georgia once voted near the bottom of the bucket in corruption recently (1990’s) fired all of their traffic cops to root out the problem – and is now seen as a leader in fighting corruption.
In short, we in the western world, often argue about the limits of government, but the one thing nearly everyone agrees upon is that the government is there to protect. We would not consider healthcare, education or welfare funding unless we felt our legal system basically worked. The same needs to be made true everywhere.