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The Good-Governance Trap

Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that implementing good-governance reforms leads to more rapid and inclusive economic and social development. In fact, the focus on governance reform – based on a wide variety of one-size-fits-all indicators – may actually be undermining developing countries’ progress.

ROME – Development and improved governance have tended to go hand in hand. But, contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that success in implementing governance reforms leads to more rapid and inclusive economic and social development. In fact, it may be the other way around.

The focus on good governance stems from the struggle to restore sustained growth during the developing-country debt crises of the 1980s. Instead of reassessing the prevailing economic-policy approach, international development institutions took aim at the easy targets: developing-country governments. Advising those governments on how to do their jobs became a new vocation for these institutions, which quickly developed new “technical” approaches to governance reform.

The World Bank, using well over 100 indicators, introduced a composite index of good governance, based on perceptions of voice and accountability, political stability and the absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, the rule of law, and levels of corruption. By claiming that it had found a strong correlation between its governance indicators and economic performance, the Bank fueled hope that the key to economic progress had been found.

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