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Doing for the Social Sciences what Darwin did for the Biological Sciences, Part 3

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Herbert H. Werlin

As explained in my 2003 Public Administration Reveiw (PAR) article, the justification for Political Elasticity (PE) theory is simply that it is more enlightening than other theories in regard to the most interesting questions in the literature having to do with the poverty and wealth of nations:

1. Why is it that rich countries are both more centralized and more decentralized than poor countries?

2. Why is it that rich countries are more successful than poor countries in permanently changing their culture?

3. Why is it that classical democracy is more essential than liberal democracy for economic development?

4. Why is it that corruption is devastating for poor countries but not for rich countries?

5. Why is it that globalization will benefit some countries far more than others?

PE theory is subject to the criticisms that it is “untestable” and “tautological.” However, it is clear that the theory is built upon the commonsensical political software requisites mentioned earlier, each of which is also “untestable” and “tautological.” Yet, to deny them is also to deny commonsense, which seems to be perplexing, to say the least. For example, hiring qualified people cannot be used to explain the success of a business without encountering “circular reasoning.” Nevertheless, in many parts of the world, leaders are much more interested in hiring “loyalists,” than qualified people because they are more concerned with survival than development.

I have used “the ordinary language” approach taught at Oxford during my years there (the mid-l950s) to clarify such words as politics, political power, corruption, and democracy–all of which are sources of confusion in public administration, as here indicated:

Politics. If administrators see politics only as “partisanship” (the struggle for competitive advantage), they obviously want to avoid it. However, if they view it as “statesmanship” (the struggle for consensus), they may recognize it as essential for effective administration and the transformation of political power into “social energy.”

Political Power. Instead of the coercive view political power prevalent in political science literature (“A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something B would not otherwise do,” to quote Robert Dahl’s 1964 book, Modern Political Analysis), it has to become more persuasive for political development to take place, recognizing that, while A can force B to surrender resources, he/she cannot force B to productively invest them. This requires an “enabling environment,” which must be fostered, rather than overtly imposed.

Democracy. Whereas liberal democracy has to do with partisanship (elections, multi- party systems, and majority rule), classical democracy refers to the Athenian conception of community or polis: consensus-building. Without statesmanship (including a legitimate legal system), elections can be meaningless or counterproductive.

Corruption. Primary corruption is my term for excessive partisanship or greed; secondary corruption indicates a governmental inability to control or mitigate this situation. As an analogy, we might think of basketball fouling under two situations: one in which there is normal refereeing, so that fouling is meaningful, punishable, and tolerable; the other in which refereeing is corrupt, causing fouling to be pervasive, essential, and destigmatized. While primary corruption does not necessarily prevent development, secondary corruption has a corrosive effect on the requirements for development. This is because secondary corruption stems from as well as contributes to weak political software. In so doing, it causes and intensifies political inelasticity.

Decentralization. I argue that in most wealthy countries, centralization and decentralization tend to merge. This is so because of the high quality of political software that exists in these countries. In poor countries, on the other hand, local governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations are denied much authority or assistance. They are also inadequately controlled, so that forms of both centralization and decentralization appear to be ineffective.

To conclude, I believe that public administration is a neglected field in journalism and the social sciences; that my theory, if taken seriously, will promote a better understanding of the poverty and wealth of nations; and that a younger generation of scholars might be able to make my theory more useful in ways that I cannot anticipate. At the invitation of Professor Jeanne Marie Col of the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, City University of NY, I will be talking to her graduate students of comparative administration this month (April, 2012), challenging them with the bold assertion that I have done for the social sciences what Darwin did for the biological sciences.

Herbert Werlin is a retired University of Maryland professor and was for many years a researcher, writer, and editor for the World Bank. He is the author of a 1998/2001 (with a 2001 addendum) University Press of American book, The Mysteries of Development: Studies Using Political Elasticity Theory. He is the winner of the 2010 Fred Riggs Award given by ASPA’s Section on International and Comparative Administration. Those interested in PE Theory may wish to look at the most recent (January/February 2012) issue of Challenge. Email: [email protected].

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