Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mark Bevir's "Democratic Governance"

Mark Bevir is a Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written widely about political theory and public policy. His previous books include New Labour: A Critique, Governance Stories, and Key Concepts in Governance.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democratic Governance, and reported the following:
When you open Democratic Governance at p.99, you instantly discover how important “governance” has become. That page is about the fact that “good governance” is one of the lending criteria used by the World Bank. Perhaps you have already noticed how the word “governance” keeps cropping up everywhere. The World Bank is just one example. Climate change is described as an issue of “global governance”. The Forest Service calls for “collaborative governance”. Hospitals have created systems of “clinical governance”. Newspapers report scandalous failures of “corporate governance”.

Even if people keep coming across the word “governance”, they may not be sure what it means. How does governance differ from government? Why has the word “governance” become so popular? What is the relationship of governance to democracy? Democratic Governance answers these questions. It is about the rise of governance, the role it plays in our lives, and the challenge it poses to democracy. A new governance based mainly on markets and networks has spread rapidly across the world. Democratic Governance explores the theories behind this new governance. And it discusses concrete examples ranging from constitutional reforms to the response to the financial crisis.

If you continue to read p.99, you discover that although “governance” has become so widespread and important, there are reasons to be skeptical.
The World Bank has come to use the term “good governance” to cover concerns with technical areas and civil society. The technical concerns include legal frameworks for development (consistent laws, an independent judiciary, and the place in codified law of concepts such as fairness, justice, and liberty) and also capacity-building (better policy analysis, stricter budgetary discipline, and public service reforms). The concerns with civil society include legitimacy, transparency, accountability, and participation, all of which are seen as ways of strengthening civil society in order to reduce the power of the state, attack corruption, and ensure the efficient allocation of public resources. The same ends also inform the Bank’s concern with promoting competition, strong local government, and decentralized administration. In short, although the World Bank does not actually promote liberal democracy outright, it advocates liberal values as the way to efficiency. The World Bank promotes an efficient liberal economy based on free markets through both a liberal state enforcing property rights and contractual obligations and a liberal civil society sustaining and restraining such a state....

Challenges to the policy discourse of good governance typically concentrate on one or more of the following: its vagueness, its neoliberal bias, or its ethnocentrism.
That last sentence points to a critical perspective on governance. I would have liked p.99 to have included more of my skepticism, as that is a key part of Democratic Governance. In the book, I argue that policy-makers rely too much on expertise. Their faith in markets and networks has squeezed out democratic participation. Contemporary democracy thus suffers from blurred lines of accountability and declining legitimacy. I conclude the book by suggesting various strategies for democratic renewal.
Read an excerpt from Democratic Governance, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue