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WeakStates,PoorCountriesbyAngusDeatonProjectSyndicate

GLOBALHEALTH&DEVELOPMENT
ANGUSDEATON
AngusDeaton,ProfessorofEconomicsandInternationalAffairsatPrinceton
UniversitysWoodrowWilsonSchoolofPublicandInternationalAffairs,isthe2015
Nobellaureateineconomics.HeistheauthorofTheGreatEscape:Health,Wealth,
andtheOriginsofInequality.

OCT12,2015

WeakStates,PoorCountries
ThiscommentarywasoriginallypublishedinSeptember2013.
PRINCETONInScotland,Iwasbroughtuptothinkofpolicemenasalliesandtoask
oneforhelpwhenIneededit.Imaginemysurprisewhen,asa19yearoldonmyfirst
visittotheUnitedStates,IwasmetbyastreamofobscenitiesfromaNewYorkCity
copwhowasdirectingtrafficinTimesSquareafterIaskedhimfordirectionstothe
nearestpostoffice.Inmysubsequentconfusion,Iinsertedmyemployersurgent
documentsintoatrashbinthat,tome,lookedalotlikeamailbox.
EuropeanstendtofeelmorepositivelyabouttheirgovernmentsthandoAmericans,
forwhomthefailuresandunpopularityoftheirfederal,state,andlocalpoliticiansare
acommonplace.YetAmericansvariousgovernmentscollecttaxesand,inreturn,
provideserviceswithoutwhichtheycouldnoteasilylivetheirlives.
Americans,likemanycitizensofrichcountries,takeforgrantedthelegaland
regulatorysystem,thepublicschools,healthcareandsocialsecurityfortheelderly,
roads,defenseanddiplomacy,andheavyinvestmentsbythestateinresearch,
particularlyinmedicine.Certainly,notalloftheseservicesareasgoodastheymight
be,norheldinequalregardbyeveryone;butpeoplemostlypaytheirtaxes,andifthe
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waythatmoneyisspentoffendssome,alivelypublicdebateensues,andregular
electionsallowpeopletochangepriorities.
Allofthisissoobviousthatithardlyneedssayingatleastforthosewholiveinrich
countrieswitheffectivegovernments.Butmostoftheworldspopulationdoesnot.
InmuchofAfricaandAsia,stateslackthecapacitytoraisetaxesordeliverservices.
Thecontractbetweengovernmentandgovernedimperfectinrichcountriesis
oftenaltogetherabsentinpoorcountries.TheNewYorkcopwaslittlemorethan
impolite(andbusyprovidingaservice);inmuchoftheworld,policepreyonthe
peopletheyaresupposedtoprotect,shakingthemdownformoneyorpersecuting
themonbehalfofpowerfulpatrons.
EveninamiddleincomecountrylikeIndia,publicschoolsandpublicclinicsfacemass
(unpunished)absenteeism.Privatedoctorsgivepeoplewhat(theythink)theywant
injections,intravenousdrips,andantibioticsbutthestatedoesnotregulatethem,
andmanypractitionersareentirelyunqualified.
Throughoutthedevelopingworld,childrendiebecausetheyareborninthewrong
placenotofexotic,incurablediseases,butofthecommonplacechildhoodillnesses
thatwehaveknownhowtotreatforalmostacentury.Withoutastatethatiscapable
ofdeliveringroutinematernalandchildhealthcare,thesechildrenwillcontinuetodie.
Likewise,withoutgovernmentcapacity,regulationandenforcementdonotwork
properly,sobusinessesfinditdifficulttooperate.Withoutproperlyfunctioningcivil
courts,thereisnoguaranteethatinnovativeentrepreneurscanclaimtherewardsof
theirideas.
Theabsenceofstatecapacitythatis,oftheservicesandprotectionsthatpeoplein
richcountriestakeforgrantedisoneofthemajorcausesofpovertyanddeprivation
aroundtheworld.Withouteffectivestatesworkingwithactiveandinvolvedcitizens,
thereislittlechanceforthegrowththatisneededtoabolishglobalpoverty.
Unfortunately,theworldsrichcountriescurrentlyaremakingthingsworse.Foreign
aidtransfersfromrichcountriestopoorcountrieshasmuchtoitscredit,
particularlyintermsofhealthcare,withmanypeoplealivetodaywhowould
otherwisebedead.Butforeignaidalsounderminesthedevelopmentoflocalstate
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capacity.
ThisismostobviousincountriesmostlyinAfricawherethegovernmentreceives
aiddirectlyandaidflowsarelargerelativetofiscalexpenditure(oftenmorethanhalf
thetotal).Suchgovernmentsneednocontractwiththeircitizens,noparliament,and
notaxcollectionsystem.Iftheyareaccountabletoanyone,itistothedonors;buteven
thisfailsinpractice,becausethedonors,underpressurefromtheirowncitizens(who
rightlywanttohelpthepoor),needtodisbursemoneyjustasmuchaspoorcountry
governmentsneedtoreceiveit,ifnotmoreso.
Whataboutbypassinggovernmentsandgivingaiddirectlytothepoor?Certainly,the
immediateeffectsarelikelytobebetter,especiallyincountrieswherelittle
governmenttogovernmentaidactuallyreachesthepoor.Anditwouldtakean
astonishinglysmallsumofmoneyabout15UScentsadayfromeachadultintherich
worldtobringeveryoneuptoatleastthedestitutionlineofadollaraday.
Yetthisisnosolution.Poorpeopleneedgovernmenttoleadbetterlives;taking
governmentoutoftheloopmightimprovethingsintheshortrun,butitwouldleave
unsolvedtheunderlyingproblem.Poorcountriescannotforeverhavetheirhealth
servicesrunfromabroad.Aidundermineswhatpoorpeopleneedmost:aneffective
governmentthatworkswiththemfortodayandtomorrow.
Onethingthatwecandoistoagitateforourowngovernmentstostopdoingthose
thingsthatmakeitharderforpoorcountriestostopbeingpoor.Reducingaidisone,
butsoislimitingthearmstrade,improvingrichcountrytradeandsubsidypolicies,
providingtechnicaladvicethatisnottiedtoaid,anddevelopingbetterdrugsfor
diseasesthatdonotaffectrichpeople.Wecannothelpthepoorbymakingtheir
alreadyweakgovernmentsevenweaker.
https://www.projectsyndicate.org/commentary/economicdevelopmentrequires
effectivegovernmentsbyangusdeaton
19952015ProjectSyndicate

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