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Article

On a continent where the majority of people are poor, do political parties represent class cleavages? Do parties have strong linkages to ordinary voters? Do economic policies address their needs? In the initial years following democratic transitions across the African continent in the 1990s, the answers to such questions were negative. Clientelism and patronage were the principal means by which parties interacted with their constituencies; elites and elite interests determined the objectives of political parties; voters in many African countries shifted parties frequently; and neoliberal economic policies largely reflected the preferences of foreign donors and international financial institutions. As parties and voters have adjusted to the institutional arrangements and political demands associated with democracy, a more heterogeneous political landscape has materialized since 2010. Party systems demonstrate distinct patterns of variation, from the more stable, institutionalized systems in Ghana and Botswana to fluid, inchoate configurations in Benin and Malawi. These variations in the degree to which party systems have institutionalized affect economic policy choices by parties and those who benefit from them. Furthermore, democratic politics has intensified pressures on ruling parties to provide goods such as electricity and education. Here too, patterns of goods provision show substantial variation over time and across countries, calling attention to the differences in the incentives and capacities of parties to respond to distributive demands by the electorate. To explore the political and economic heterogeneity of contemporary Africa, scholars have combined well-established qualitative and comparative approaches with new analytical tools. The use of cross-national public opinion surveys, field and survey experiments, satellite imagery, and geo-coded data have enabled more systematic, fine-grained study of the economic determinants of party system competition, economic voting, the distribution of goods, and the management of private sector development by ruling parties in recent years. These empirical approaches enrich understanding of the relationship between parties and political economy in Africa and facilitate more fruitful comparisons with other regions of the world.

Article

Danielle Resnick

Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.

Article

The real property tax (RPT) is a major, stable revenue source for local governments to provide basic public services. The quality, quantity and reliability of public services in a locality are key indicators of the living standards. The service responsibilities require local governments to maintain stable revenues. RPT is a tax on owning and holding land and structures on land, and RPT is a very old tax, dating back to ancient times when land and products thereof were the most important assets. RPT has been used by governments of all countries throughout history, although with huge variation in formats and ways of use. Despite numerous pitfalls in its design and administration, RPT has remained a pillar of local revenue, accounting for a high percentage of total local revenue. Thus, it is important to understand RPT and its roles in local public finance. RPT was mistakenly dubbed the worst tax, a misnomer that has caused misperception of the tax that should be corrected. RPT is one essential pillar of a modern tax system. The design and maintenance of an optimal RPT should follow six principles. The complexity of RPT is with key aspects in its administration, with the weakest link in property value assessment. Exemptions and limitations add to the complexity of RPT, causing unintended consequences. From a panoramic view, RPT has adapted to changes of the society and economy; it still holds prospects as an optimal tax and remains the cornerstone of accountable and sustainable local public finance.

Article

David Levi-Faur, Yael Kariv-Teitelbaum, and Rotem Medzini

Regulation, that is, rulemaking, rule monitoring, and rule enforcement, is both a key policy and legal instrument and a pillar of the institutions that demarcate political, social, and economic lives. It is commonly defined as a sustained and focused control mechanism over valuable activities using direct and indirect rules. Most frequently, regulation is associated with the activity of public independent regulatory agencies, designed to promote economic, social, risk-management, integrity, or moral goals. Since the 1990s, more and more states worldwide are establishing such agencies and placing more emphasis on the use of authority, rules, and standard-setting, thus partially displacing earlier emphasis on public ownerships and directly provided services. Alongside this rise of the “regulatory state,” the expansion of regulation is also reflected in the rapidly growing variety of regulatory regimes that involves nonstate actors, such as private regulation, self-regulation, and civil regulation. Regulatory regimes can be explained and assessed from three theoretical perspectives: public-interest theories, private-interest theories, and institutional theories. Each perspective shines a different light on the motivations of the five regulatory actors: rule-makers, rule intermediaries, rule-takers, rule beneficiaries, and citizens. Over the years, diverse regulatory strategies evolved, including: prescriptive strategies that attempt to mandate adherence in precise terms what is required from the rule-takers; performance-based strategies that set in advance only the required outcomes; and process-based strategies that attempt to influence the internal incentives and norms of rule-takers. Although it appears that regulation is here to stay as a keystone of society, it still faces fundamental challenges of effectiveness, democratic control, and fairness.

Article

Elissaios Papyrakis and Lorenzo Pellegrini

The resource curse hypothesis suggests that countries that are rich in natural resources are more likely to experience poor economic growth and other developmental problems. Latin American countries show a mixed picture, confirming the idea that the resource curse is not a deterministic phenomenon and that dependence on, rather than abundance of, natural resources is associated with developmental failures. When looking beyond the nation state, local communities may benefit from royalties accruing to regional governments, often, though, at the expense of other socioeconomic liabilities (as in the case of negative environmental externalities). The case of Ecuador is in many ways exemplary of the resource curse in Latin America and the failure of policies to overcome the curse. While the country was always a commodity exporter, the intensification of extractive activities and the expansion of the extractive frontier (over the last five decades) intensified the severity of boom-and-bust cycles and compromised socio-environmental values in the vicinity of extractive activity.

Article

In the era following the decolonization of Africa, the economic performance of countries on the continent can be traced across three periods. The early postindependence years reflected moderate growth and policy variation, with occasional distress in some countries. From the 1980s through the late 1990s, the region was gripped by a sweeping crisis of growth and solvency shaped by a steep economic downturn and a slow, stuttering recovery. This was also a period of convergence and restrictions on policy space. By the early 2000s, accelerated growth buoyed most economies in Africa, although commodity price shocks and the global economic slump of 2008–2009 created episodic problems. Different approaches to policy and strategy once again marked the landscape. A number of influences help to explain variations in the occurrence of economic crisis across Africa, and the different responses to economic distress. In addition to structural factors, such as geography, resource wealth, and colonial legacies, middle-range political conditions contributed to these downturns. Key institutions, core constituencies, and fiscal pressures were domestic causes and external factors include donor convergence, access to finance, and policy learning. One framework of analysis centers on three factors: ruling coalitions, the fiscal imperative, and policy space. The ruling coalition refers to the nature of the political regime and core support groups. The fiscal imperative refers to the nature of state finance and access to external resources. And the policy space comprises the range of strategic alternatives and the latitude for governments to make choices among broad policy options. Applying the framework to Africa’s economic performance, the first period was marked by distributional imperatives, a flexible fiscal regime, and considerable space for policy experimentation. During the long crisis, regimes came under pressure from external and domestic influences, and shifted toward a focus on macroeconomic stabilization. This occurred under a tight fiscal imperative and a contraction of policy space under the supervision of multilateral financial institutions. In the 2000s, governments reflected a greater balance between distributional and developmental goals, fiscal constraints were somewhat relaxed, and policy variation reappeared across the region. While the early 21st century has displayed signs of intermittent distress, Africa is not mired in a crisis comparable to those of earlier periods. Developmental imperatives and electoral accountability are increasingly influential in shaping economic strategy across the continent.

Article

Transparency is one of the keywords of contemporary governance. It is often associated with democratic accountability, but it also carries connotations of market efficiency. Though transparency is a key concept for economics and politics, its ideational roots lie in access to government information. Transparency holds promises for increased democratization and economic performance, but these may also stand in contradiction. Coinciding with the rise of transparency as a token of responsible governance, we have witnessed rapid global diffusion of information access laws. In debates on public accountability, transparency appears as an element of both deliberation and performance, which is peculiar as these are often seen as complementary types of accountability. Moreover, increased transparency is often assumed to lead to increased citizen trust in government, but the relation of trust and transparency is more complex. Transparency also implies access to public information, which can consist of various types of documents and registries. Through digitalization, public information has become a pressing topic of interest, including as raw material for a knowledge-based economy. Public administration also manages significant amounts of personal data of citizens, raising additional concerns for privacy. While transparency and privacy are not antonyms, there is a trade-off between them. Nevertheless, transparency also appears as a means for holding government accountable for its use of registry data. Finally, transparency has become a measured element of governance indicators that are themselves an instance of transparency. As a key concept of public administration, transparency is relevant for both democracy and efficiency of governance, but it is ambiguous and even paradoxical by nature.

Article

Cyril Alias, Bernd Kleinheyer, and Carla Fieber-Alias

In an integrated European Union, transport would be expected to be a major enabler of economic development and consumer services. This role, however, was not acknowledged, though laid down in initial treaties, until 30 years into the EU’s existence. A verdict of the European Court of Justice condemning the longstanding inactivity of the European Council and subsequent efforts toward a dedicated policymaking have changed the significance. The regular definition and monitoring of goals and objectives in European transport policy by means of White Papers and trans-European transport networks guide public attention to the policy area. From an initial stage, when transport was considered as a functional enabler for cooperation after World War II, transport has evolved toward a Community task, featuring a long phase of stagnation and a sudden change to actionism after the court verdict. From the 1990s onward, goals like liberalization, cohesion, environmental protection, modal shift, competitiveness, globalization, and resource efficiency characterize European transport policy. Despite the output failure in European transport policy over many years, the Single European Market propelled transport onto the center stage of European policies and later made it a key object of sustainability policies. This change in focus has also attracted citizens’ attention with the effect that the EU needs and manages to portray itself as an interactive and accountable legislator dialoguing with its population. This new openness is a mere necessity if the EU wants to pursue its goal of a Single European Transport Area that is both supported by its business and citizens. At the same time, European transport policy is subject to numerous external influences—both by other European and national policies and different stakeholder interest groups. The ordinary legislative procedure is preceded by the initial agenda setting over the proposal planning and issuing and ranges from the proposal to three readings before being passed by European Parliament and Council of Ministers. The stakeholders accompany the whole process and influence it at different stages. Several examples from the history of European transport policymaking are proof of this.