Thursday, 23 August 2012

Neoliberal Reforms and Democracy

[Useful for State vs. Market debate in PubAd]

This paper analyzes the changing political scenarios in India leading to the preference for neoliberal political reforms over liberal democracy. The primary objective of such a political reform is to improve the efficiency and productivity of governance. Illustrating the problems faced by developmental states (like India) in the 1970s and 1980s, the author details the steps by which neoliberals created an ideological predisposition for their agenda of political reform. Generally speaking, neoliberals reject the notion of public good and social justice, defining citizens not in terms of their entitlement to political, social and economic rights, but as consumers of services provided by the state and as active participants in the market. In the neoliberal view, the basic role of the state is to provide services and empowerment; and also to make partnerships with the non-state sector, civil society, national and global corporations, etc.

Thus the liberals’ concept of sovereignty and autonomy has been replaced by the idea of ‘embedded autonomy’. Neoliberal political reforms also recognize the importance of ‘business lines’ management to increase the efficiency and productivity of administration. By now, elections are less about providing choice between alternative political programmes, but have become instead a platform to build strategic alliances whereby development policies are typically masked by mobilization around emotive issues. In the end, the paper recommends a ‘procedural’ model in which good procedure rather than direct participation in the government can be an effective way to promote true democratic values. 1


'Embedded Autonomy' is a theory/concept coined by sociologist Peter Evans in 1995.  He argued that well-ordered state bureaucracies were an important factor in their own right in speeding industrial development, independent of their particular policies, provided they forged a strong alliance with a domestic productive class.

'Embedded autonomy,'is a delicately balanced combination of: 
(1) capable, coherent bureaucracies characterized by meritocratic recruitment, long-term career rewards, and high espirit de corps, with 
(2) dense ties to industrializing elites, which provides access to information, agents for implementation, and catalyses a more coherent, forward looking entrepreneurial class.

The state's role is to be autonomous of society (the autonomy part of the theory's title), capable of constructing long-term projects of social change that transcend short-term interests of specific groups." But the state could not be heavily insulated from its society. It had to be embedded in a deep alliance with people active in the economy. It is their dense ties to potential partners in shared projects that is crucial in terms of making states effective. Even the most capable state apparatus lacks the capacity to implement general social transformation. No bureaucratic apparatus can accumulate the information necessary to carry out such a project. Thus deep alliances are crucial to the success of the administrations.2

Reproduced from:
Joseph, Sarah: Neoliberal Reforms and Democracy in India.Economic and Political Weekly 42, 31 (2007): 3213-18.

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