Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When Economists Ignore Politics

Paul Collier, the father of the greed versus grievance argument (or at least the most noted promoter), has a piece in today's NYT about the discovery of minerals in Afghanistan.  I already posted about the mineral discovery (which got heaps of play on conservative blogs!).  But my point here is to just take a quick sharp stick to the pinata that Collier has hoisted.  He recommends that Afghanistan carefully exploit the minerals and focus the benefits on the folks near by, unlike Nigeria but like Botswana.

Sure, let's expect the government of Afghanistan to do super-good governance.  I feel like I am in somebody else's dream (Inception reference).  One of my biggest pet peeves in the ethnic conflict scholarship is when folks recommend things that might work if everyone buys into them, but there is little chance that such a miracle would happen.  Policy recommendations need to have the politics built in--how do you get folks to make the hard choices that you want them to make?  This is very difficult, which is why we ignore it, not unlike the drunk looking for his keys under the lamp post even though he lost his keys elsewhere.
To build trust, the Afghan government must be open about any deals it makes with foreign companies. It has already shown it has room for improvement in this regard: the country’s first extraction deal, for copper, was won by the Chinese in murky circumstances — the minister of mines was accused of taking a $30 million bribe. But now Kabul has signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a set of disclosure standards created seven years ago by an international organization of governments, civil society and business.
Room for improvement?  Understatement of the year.  The funny thing is that Collier's work spawned some discussion of state capacity, which Afghanistan sorely lacks.

Anyhow, the timing here is interesting as there is a conference for donors and other folks in the international community in Kabul this week.  I just hope that the political experts do not ignore the politics and the economics of Afghanistan's accountability problemos.

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