Dr Amit Kumar Sharma

Dr. Amit Kumar Sharma
Department of Sociology,School of Social Sciences,Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi - 110067

Random Thoughts on Nation building and Institutions

Random Thoughts on Nation building and Institutions

Nation building means the creation of self sustaining state capacity that can survive once foreign advice and support are withdrawn.

1. The British succeeded in creating durable institutions in a number of their colonies, such as the Indian Civil Service and the legal systems in Singapore and Hong Kong that are widely credited as laying the basis for post independence democracy in the first case and economic growth in the latter two.

2. The Japanese as well left behind some durable institutions during their colonial period in Taiwan and Korea; despite the hatred of many Koreans for Japan, South Korea has sought to recreate many Japanese institutions, from industrial combines to one-party government.

3. Both Germany and Japan were both very strong bureaucratic states long before United States defeated them. Indeed, it was the strength of their states that led them to be great powers and threats to the international system in the first place. In both countries the state apparatus survived the war and was preserved into the postwar period with remarkably little change. The American occupation seriously underestimated the competence and cohesiveness of the Japanese bureaucracy and did little more than change a few positions at the top. In Germany, the post-war democratic government asked the allied occupation to permit them to keep in force a Nazi-era law governing their much vaunted civil service.

4. The United States has intervened and / or acted as an occupation authority in many other countries including Cuba, the Philippines, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, South Korea, and South Vietnam. South Korea was the only country to achieve long term economic growth, which came about more through the Koreans' own efforts than those of the United States. Lasting institutions were few and far between.

5. The international community is not simply limited in the amount of capacity it can build; it is actually complicit in the destruction of institutional capacity in many developing countries. Almost every African country has witnessed a systematic retrogression in capacity in the last thirty years; the majority had better capacity at independence than they now possess when the external aid agency bypasses the local government, the local government’s function is less one of service provision than of liaison and coordination with the foreign donor. The local bureaucracy learns the wrong kind of skills.

6. There are no globally valid rules for organizational design. It means that the field of public administration is necessarily more of an art than a science. One has to incorporate a great deal of context specific information. Good solutions to public administration problems have to be local (delegated discretion). (The very act of delegation creates problems of control and supervision and this is an art).

7. The Japanese lifetime employment/ seniority wage system is almost deliberately designed to encourage shirking, since it removes the employer's ability to incentivize workers through wages, status, or the threat of dismissal. And yet, Japanese workers are famous for how hard they work. Professionals in particular are motivated to do more than merely 'satisfies' and maximize shirking. They perform against internalized standards of behaviour. Social capital- norms that promote cooperative behaviour - thus substitutes for elaborate formal incentive systems.

8. The U.S. and the west generally have no objection to religious fundamentalism as such. The U.S., in fact, is one of the most extreme religious fundamentalist cultures in the world, not the state, but the popular culture. In the Islamic world, the most extreme fundamentalist State, apart from the Taliban, is Saudi Arabia, a U.S. client state since its origins; the Taliban are in fact an offshoot of the Saudi version of Islam.

Radical Islamist extremists, often called fundamentalists were U.S. favourites in the 1980s, because they were the best killers who could be found (against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan).

9. In 1980s, a prime enemy of the U.S. was the Catholic Church, which had sinned grievously in Latin America by adopting the preferential option for the poor and suffered bitterly for that crime. The west is quite ecumenical in its choice of enemies. The criteria are subordination and service to power, not religion.

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