Good Governance Is a Bad Idea
The good-governance agenda was always meant to mask underlying power structures by elevating technocratic decision-making over political struggles. The full costs have become apparent only recently, as the paradigm blocks effective action against climate change.
FRANKFURT – Once upon a time, not so long ago, commentators and experts portrayed “good governance” as the sole ingredient needed for economic growth and development. For many years, it was a staple of mainstream policy advice and institutional reforms. In a 1992 report, Governance and Development, the World Bank defined the term as consisting of four components: capacity and efficiency in public-sector management, accountability, legal frameworks for development, and information and transparency.
The term has since fallen into desuetude, perhaps because the concept itself has lost some of its bite. While there is nothing wrong with any of its four components, or with the principle of procedural fairness in managing public and private affairs, the assumption that good governance would solve complex social and political problems was deeply flawed.
Moreover, some critics contend that the good-governance agenda was always meant to mask underlying power structures by elevating technocratic decision-making over political struggles. Whether intended or not, good-governance advocates did tend to focus on appearances rather than substance: “how” questions took precedence over “what” questions – as if good outcomes would spring miraculously from sound processes.