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"Good Governance" for Whom?

By Alejandro Bendana | December 30, 2003

In the face of multiplying conflicts and increasing poverty after more than a decade of neoliberal policy fixes, it is not surprising that multilateral agencies are looking for scapegoats. One of them goes by the name of “good governance”. For example, the UN´s 2002 Human Development Reports concluded that good governance and strong institutions were necessary to foster economic growth. As summarized by the Economist, “governance and democracy, even together, are not enough”. In reality, the upsurge in the concern over governance responds to the need to provide an some answer to the inevitable question of what to do in the light of the failure of structural adjustments and “economic reforms” to deliver political stability. The Human Development Report admitted that over the course of the 1990s, income per head fell in no fewer than 54 developing countries, the very same years of “economic reform”. Perhaps one had something to do with another? By no means said the Bretton Woods institutions: the problem was not the reforms but rather “institutional factors”. How were those institutional factors to be addressed? Here is where the school of market-oriented orthodoxy known as the Washington Consensus introduced the notion of “good governance” as a revised component of the neoliberal paradigm stressing deeper political interventions to accompany the existing economic ones. New recipes called for improved management techniques and securing the collaboration of all the various social actors (civil society and business). In this way. markets could flourish as all “stakeholders” pitched-in to create the “atmosphere” conducive to private foreign and national investment. Notions of good governance measure effectiveness in terms of market-friendly reforms and private-sector development yet take countries in the opposite direction. Are markets therefore subservient to democratic institutions or, as the 2002 World Bank’s World Development Report’s title suggests, is it all about Building Institutions for Markets? Good governance recipes handed down by the economic powers and demanded by multinational corporations carefully avoid raising questions about the nature and realm of development, the politics of the dominant economic growth paradigm, and the forces that control such development in their own self-interest. The same corporate-generated neoliberal development model is responsible for the enormous concentration of wealth and assets in the hands of a few transnational entities while causing massive social and environmental dislocations. While the adoption or imposition of the models are overtly political acts, there is a refusal to recognize their outcomes in political terms. We witness therefore an attempt to depoliticize development and governance, reframing these as largely technical problems with technical solutions, denying the structural and political roots of conflicts. Separating the notion of governance from democracy is not simply inaccurate, it is dangerous.

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Read More: Democracy, Development, Finance, Globalization, Governance, Poverty

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