29 July 2020

Arrested Development: November as a Choice Between a Patrimonial or Modern State, of Progress or Decay

The worldviews we hold determine what kind of institutions we can create.

Francis Fukuyama argues that government emerged gradually through these stages:
  • A band: small group of hunters and gatherers who were related.
  • A tribe: like a band but they pushed back genetic connection a generation or more and thus were able to get bigger groups than a band.
  • A patrimonial state: the state administration is essentially an extension of the ruler's household (think Louis XIV or Kim Jong un) and relies on family and friends.
  • A modern state: this state is impersonal and power does not consist of the ruler's family or friends; rather, recruitment to administrative positions is based on impersonal criteria such as merit, education, or technical knowledge.
I was talking to a guy from Africa, asking about the government in his country. He said that the political party you join is almost always defined by which tribe you're part of, which often makes politics zero-sum. Most of his countrymen get their identity by tribe and not nationality, he said.

The good news is that we seem to be further along than so many besieged African nations . What's shocking to me, though, is the realization that so many Americans would still prefer the patrimonial state that Trump fights for, a government in which his son-in-law consistently gets the most important assignments, his friends are made immune from law and order, and his decision about whether to send aid or troops to a state are based on which party dominates. And of course when loyalty is the test and not technical expertise, conspiracy theories abound because belief in conspiracy theories that defy critical assessments are a great test of loyalty. As Trump said, "Stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. ... What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

We create the institutions we believe in. You could probably say that our institutions are simply manifestations of our beliefs. For now, a big portion of the American population believes in a patrimonial rather than modern state. It's simply not possible for African nations ruled by people who think of themselves as tribal to enjoy the peace and prosperity a nation affords. Similarly, it's simply not possible for the US to enjoy the peace and prosperity a modern state affords when so many Americans are committed to a patrimonial state. The regions of the country that hold this view are going to always be less prosperous than the regions that instead believe in a modern state. We will soon see which is the real America and what stage of development we're at.

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