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Article

Institutions and Development: An Overview of Case Studies in China and India  

Pranab Bardhan

In contrast with the existing cross-country literature on institutions and development the overview in this article focuses instead on case studies of institutions at the disaggregated level that help or hinder productivity growth. It also shows how along with rule-based systems institutional systems based on social relations and networks and community organizations can resolve some issues of collective action in development. At the level of the state, our discussion focuses on incentive issues in the internal organization of government and how the nature of accountability structures at different levels of government can help or hinder development. In view of the breadth of the relevant literature we have deliberately confined ourselves to the available empirical case studies in only the two largest developing countries, China and India.

Article

Political Economy of Reform  

Stuti Khemani

“Reform” in the economics literature refers to changes in government policies or institutional rules because status-quo policies and institutions are not working well to achieve the goals of economic wellbeing and development. Further, reform refers to alternative policies and institutions that are available which would most likely perform better than the status quo. The main question examined in the “political economy of reform” literature has been why reforms are not undertaken when they are needed for the good of society. The succinct answer from the first generation of research is that conflict of interest between organized socio-political groups is responsible for some groups being able to stall reforms to extract greater private rents from status-quo policies. The next generation of research is tackling more fundamental and enduring questions: Why does conflict of interest persist? How are some interest groups able to exert influence against reforms if there are indeed large gains to be had for society? What institutions are needed to overcome the problem of credible commitment so that interest groups can be compensated or persuaded to support reforms? Game theory—or the analysis of strategic interactions among individuals and groups—is being used more extensively, going beyond the first generation of research which focused on the interaction between “winners” and “losers” from reforms. Widespread expectations, or norms, in society at large, not just within organized interest groups, about how others are behaving in the political sphere of making demands upon government; and, beliefs about the role of public policies, or preferences for public goods, shape these strategic interactions and hence reform outcomes. Examining where these norms and preferences for public goods come from, and how they evolve, are key to understanding why conflict of interest persists and how reformers can commit to finding common ground for socially beneficial reforms. Political markets and institutions, through which the leaders who wield power over public policy are selected and sanctioned, shape norms and preferences for public goods. Leaders who want to pursue reforms need to use the evidence in favor of reforms to build broad-based support in political markets. Contrary to the first generation view of reforms by stealth, the next generation of research suggests that public communication in political markets is needed to develop a shared understanding of policies for the public good. Concomitantly, the areas of reform have circled from market liberalization, which dominated the 20th century, back to strengthening governments to address problems of market failure and public goods in the 21st century. Reforms involve anti-corruption and public sector management in developing countries; improving health, education, and social protection to address persistent inequality in developed countries; and regulation to preserve competition and to price externalities (such as pollution and environmental depletion) in markets around the world. Understanding the functioning of politics is more important than ever before in determining whether governments are able to pursue reforms for public goods or fall prey to corruption and populism.

Article

Governance by Persuasion: Hedge Fund Activism and Market-Based Shareholder Influence  

Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Rongchen Li

Hedge fund activism refers to the phenomenon where hedge fund investors acquire a strict minority block of shares in a target firm and then attempt to pressure management for changes in corporate policies and governance with the aim to improve firm performance. This study provides an updated empirical analysis as well as a comprehensive survey of the academic finance research on hedge fund activism. Beginning in the early 1990s, shareholder engagement by activist hedge funds has evolved to become both an investment strategy and a remedy for poor corporate governance. Hedge funds represent a group of highly incentivized, value-driven investors who are relatively free from regulatory and structural barriers that have constrained the monitoring by other external investors. While traditional institutional investors have taken actions ex-post to preserve value or contain observed damage (such as taking the “Wall Street Walk”), hedge fund activists target underperforming firms in order to unlock value and profit from the improvement. Activist hedge funds also differ from corporate raiders that operated in the 1980s, as they tend to accumulate minority equity stakes and do not seek direct control. As a result, activists must win support from fellow shareholders via persuasion and influence, representing a hybrid internal-external role in a middle-ground form of corporate governance. Research on hedge fund activism centers on how it impacts the target company, its shareholders, other stakeholders, and the capital market as a whole. Opponents of hedge fund activism argue that activists focus narrowly on short-term financial performance, and such “short-termism” may be detrimental to the long-run value of target companies. The empirical evidence, however, supports the conclusion that interventions by activist hedge funds lead to improvements in target firms, on average, in terms of both short-term metrics, such as stock value appreciation, and long-term performance, including productivity, innovation, and governance. Overall, the evidence from the full body of the literature generally supports the view that hedge fund activism constitutes an important venue of corporate governance that is both influence-based and market-driven, placing activist hedge funds in a unique position to reduce the agency costs associated with the separation of ownership and control.

Article

The Ottoman Empire: Institutions and Economic Change, 1500–1914  

Şevket Pamuk

The Ottoman Empire stood at the crossroads of intercontinental trade for six centuries until World War I. For most of its existence, the economic institutions and policies of this agrarian empire were shaped according to the distribution of political power, cooperation, conflicts, and struggles between the state elites and the various other elites, including those in the provinces. The central bureaucracy managed to contain the many challenges it faced with its pragmatism and habit of negotiation to co-opt and incorporate into the state the social groups that rebelled against it. As long as the activities of the economic elites, landowners, merchants, the leading artisans, and the moneylenders contributed to the perpetuation of this social order, the state encouraged and supported them but did not welcome their rapid enrichment. The influence of these elites over economic matters, and more generally over the policies of the central government, remained limited. Cooperation and coordination among the provincial elites was also made more difficult by the fact that the empire covered a large geographical area, and the different ethnic groups and their elites did not always act together. Differences in government policies and the institutional environment between Western Europe and the Middle East remained limited until the early modern era. With the rise of the Atlantic trade, however, the merchants in northwestern European countries increased their economic and political power substantially. They were then able to induce their governments to defend and develop their commercial interests in the Middle East more forcefully. As they began to lag behind the European merchants even in their own region, it became even more difficult for the Ottoman merchants to provide input into their government’s trade policies or change the commercial or economic institutions in the direction they preferred. Key economic institutions of the traditional Ottoman order, such as state ownership of land, urban guilds, and selective interventionism, remained mostly intact until 1820. In the early part of the 19th century, the center, supported by the new technologies, embarked on an ambitious reform program and was able to reassert its power over the provinces. Centralization and reforms were accompanied by the opening of the economy to international trade and investment. Economic policies and institutional changes in the Ottoman Empire began to reflect the growing power of European states and companies during the 19th century.

Article

Long-Distance Trade in Medieval Europe  

Mika Kallioinen

Traditional historiography has overestimated the significance of long-distance trade in the medieval economy. However, it could be argued that, because of its dynamic nature, long-distance trade played a more important role in economic development than its relative size would suggest. The term commercial revolution was introduced in the 1950s to refer to the rapid growth of European trade from about the 10th century. Long-distance trade then expanded, with the commercial integration of the two economic poles in the Mediterranean and in Flanders and the contiguous areas. It has been quantitatively shown that the integration of European markets began in the late medieval period, with rapid advancement beginning in the 16th century. The expansion of medieval trade has been attributed to advanced business techniques, such as the appearance of new forms of partnerships and novel financial and insurance systems. Many economic historians have also emphasized merchants’ relations, especially the establishment of networks to organize trade. More recently, major contributions to institutional economic history have focused on various economic institutions that reduced the uncertainties inherent in premodern economies. The early reputation-based institutions identified in the literature, such as the systems of the Maghribis in the Mediterranean, Champagne fairs in France, and the Italian city-states, were not optimal for changing conditions that accompanied expansion of trade, as the number of merchants increased and the relations among them became more anonymous, as generally happened during the Middle Ages. An intercommunal conciliation mechanism evolved in medieval northern Europe that supported trade among a large number of distant communities. This institution encouraged merchants to travel to distant towns and establish relations, even with persons they did not already know.

Article

Making Institutions Work From the Bottom Up in Africa  

Moussa P. Blimpo, Admasu Asfaw Maruta, and Josephine Ofori Adofo

Well-functioning institutions are essential for stable and prosperous societies. Despite significant improvement during the past three decades, the consolidation of coherent and stable institutions remains a challenge in many African countries. There is a persistent wedge between the de jure rules, the observance of the rules, and practices at many levels. The wedge largely stems from the fact that the analysis and design of institutions have focused mainly on a top-down approach, which gives more prominence to written laws. During the past two decades, however, a new strand of literature has emerged, focusing on accountability from the bottom up and making institutions more responsive to citizens’ needs. It designs and evaluates a mix of interventions, including information provision to local communities, training, or outright decentralization of decision-making at the local level. In theory, accountability from the bottom up may pave the way in shaping the institutions’ nature at the top—driven by superior localized knowledge. The empirical findings, however, have yielded a limited positive impact or remained mixed at best. Some of the early emerging regularities showed that information and transparency alone are not enough to generate accountability. The reasons include the lack of local ownership and the power asymmetry between the local elites and the people. Some of the studies have addressed many of these constraints at varying degrees without much improvement in the outcomes. A simple theoretical framework with multiple equilibria helps better understand this literature. In this framework, the literature consists of attempts to mobilize, gradually or at once, a critical mass to shift from existing norms and practices (inferior equilibrium) into another set of norms and practices (superior equilibrium). Shifting an equilibrium requires large and/or sustained shocks, whereas most interventions tend to be smaller in scope and short-lived. In addition, accountability at the bottom is often neglected relative to rights. If norms and practices within families and communities carry similar features as those observed at the top (e.g., abuse of one’s power), then the core of the problem is beyond just a wedge between the ruling elite and the citizens.

Article

Corporate Governance Implications of the Growth in Indexing  

Alon Brav, Andrey Malenko, and Nadya Malenko

Passively managed (index) funds have grown to become among the largest shareholders in many publicly traded companies. Their large ownership stakes and voting power have attracted the attention of market participants, academics, and regulators and have sparked an active debate about their corporate governance role. While many studies explore the governance implications of passive fund growth, they often come to conflicting conclusions. To understand how the growth in indexing can affect governance, it is important to understand fund managers’ incentives to be engaged shareholders. These incentives depend on fund managers’ compensation contracts, ownership stakes, assets under management, and costs of engagement. Major passive asset managers, such as the Big Three (BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard), may have incentives to be engaged even though they track the indices and their engagement efforts benefit all other funds that track the same indices. This is because such funds’ substantial ownership stakes in multiple firms can both increase the effectiveness of their engagement and create relatively large financial benefits from engagement despite the low fees they collect. However, there is a difference between large and small index fund families: the incentives of the latter are likely to be substantially smaller, and the empirical evidence appears to be consistent with this distinction. The governance effects of passive fund growth also depend on where flows to passive funds come from, which investors are replaced by passive funds in firms’ ownership structures, how passive funds interact with other shareholders, and how their growth affects other asset managers’ compensation structures. Considering such aggregate effects and interactions can help reconcile the seemingly conflicting findings in the empirical literature. It also suggests that policymakers should be careful in using the existing studies to understand the aggregate governance effects of passive fund growth over the past decades. Overall, the literature has made important progress in understanding and quantifying passive funds’ incentives to engage, their monitoring activities and voting practices, and their interactions with other shareholders. Based on the findings in the literature, there is yet no clear answer to whether passive fund growth has been beneficial or detrimental for governance, and there are many open questions remaining. These open questions suggest several important directions for future research in this area.