January 11, 2008

why wait for a crook to change into a saint?

As many posters have before me mentioned that chapter eight in Harford’s book is an intriguing bit of literature. I got a great sense of hopelessness when reading about the corruption that infests the government and that the incentives that most people have is to harm another person. In the last pages of the chapter Harford mentions the first steps that he believes should be taken for a country like Cameroon to start on the journey of economic growth. He points out that it would be a good start to have an official with a benevolent heart to cut the red tape and allow businesses to legally be created. The other qualification that needs to be met is to allow the country to incorporate the rest of the world and its economy for the great amount of help and opportunities it can offer. However, Harford makes a note that to embrace the world economy the government corruption must be lessened for the world economy to have any effect. So the way I see it, the government must change first.
I do agree with this fully but for a long time I’ve been one of those people that thought that force should be used to get a dictator to change his country. And when I mean force I mean bombs and bullets. But I have come to the realization over the last few months that it’s better to get the person in question to want to change rather than force them to change. Even reading the chapter I thought to myself that I should just become the next dictator of Cameroon and change it myself, I would be way more benevolent than President Biya and could do some real changes. But I don’t like super hot places so the incentives of being the next great leader of Cameroon just aren’t enough for me to get off my couch.
So if it takes a change at the government level to start Cameroon of in the direction away from poverty then why hasn’t President Biay done that? Probably because he has no incentive to change the government. He has been in power for over 20 years he has no reason to change anything; if there was a threat of him getting the boot then he might change something. Ok, so there needs to be an incentive for the government to change and it cannot be through bombs and bullets. The government already run off of bribes, why not bribe the government into doing the right thing. This way would be what they are used too. Here is what my Idea would be to quicken the changes that need to be made in Cameroon to make the country better off, rather than waiting for someone to just do it out of the goodness of their heart.
I assume that there is aid being given to Cameroon to help with the hunger and medical issues, and I also assume that a bunch of that aid is funneled into the pockets of the government officials like Harford says. So my idea to speed the process up a bit would be to stop all aid that is given to the country. I call this the chemo-therapy method; since no one really can point out the bad officials the easiest way to put the squeeze on them is to do it to everyone. (Yeah I said I was benevolent and this seems cruel to the people that really need it but I see it as the “sweatshop” step, it sucks but it’s the first step in a better tomorrow.) Now that a portion of the income that the officials were getting is gone they might be easier to bribe directly.
Instead of letting the officials skim off the aid we give them some of the aid directly, money talks! Now say to them that they can have just a straight cash bonus if they remove the red tape as Harford puts it, on opening up legal businesses. Everyone in the country knows that to get anything done a bribe is the way to do it. Why wait for a crook to change into a saint when you can get the crook to do it now? We could change the incentives from getting money underhandedly by hurting people to getting money straight up for helping people.
Every year the aid money could be dangled in front of them to get them to change something and eventually the changes would take into greater effect and start to support the country better and people would be better off. Soon the aid wouldn’t be needed and the country would be on track for economic growth. I’m sure that my idea has some flaws and would like if anyone see any to comment on it. And on a side note, instead of cutting off aid we could raise some cash and just bribe the people that we know could make the changes.

1 comment:

Larry Eubanks said...

Perhaps your suggestion draws too heavily on an understanding of economic analysis which is too narrow. Specifically, almost all of economic analysis is about voluntary exchange. Even economic analysis of government by economists who accept that the basic attribute of government is force and coercion, relies on an exchange model of government.

But, Mancur Olson pointed out in Power and Prosperity that economists also need a theory of the logic of power if they are to have any chance of accurately understanding systems of political economy. Your suggestion could benefit from knowing something about the logic of power as well as the logic of exchange.

And, I suspect you've heard the next line before: You can take a look at the logic of power by taking my course Power & Prosperity (or you could just read Olson's book on your own).