In 1999, Evans and Rauch showed a strong association between government effectiveness (quality of government)—particularly the presence of a Weberian-like bureaucracy, selected and promoted on merit alone and largely autonomous from private interests—and economic growth. In 1997 and the aftermath of the Washington Consensus controversial reforms the World Bank promoted this finding in its influential World Development Report 1997 as part of its broader paradigm on “institutional quality.” Twenty years of investment in state capacity followed, by means of foreign assistance supporting the quality of public administration as a prerequisite to development. However, most reviews found the results well under expectations. This is hardly surprising, seeing that Max Weber, credited as the first promoter of the importance of bureaucracy as both the end result and the tool of government rationalization in modern times, never took for granted the autonomy of the state apparatus from private interest. He clearly stated that the power using the apparatus is the one steering the bureaucracy itself. In fact, a review of empirical evidence shows that the quality of public administration is endogenous to the quality of government more broadly and therefore can hardly be a solution in problematic contexts. The autonomy of the state from private interest is one of the most difficult objectives to accomplish in the evolution of a state, and few states have managed in contemporary times to match the achievements of Denmark or Switzerland in the 19th century. Two countries, Estonia and Georgia, are exceptional in this regard, but their success argues for the primacy of politics rather than of administration.
State capacity has attracted renewed interest over the last years, notably in the study of violent conflict. Yet, this concept is conceived differently depending on where the interest lies. In this article, we focus on bureaucratic autonomy as a distinct concept and discuss its connection to state capacity in detail. Using panel data over 1990–2010 and a novel indicator of autonomy, we estimate the separate effect of state capacity and bureaucratic autonomy on child mortality and tuberculosis prevalence. The evidence suggests that bureaucratic autonomy has a stronger impact than commonly used measures of state capacity or traditional macroeconomic variables.
The gradual drop in public confidence in the EU since the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis indicates an erosion of the long-held belief among citizens and elites alike that European integration is the best option to secure a better future. But is it EU democracy that is being challenged here, or is democracy itself challenging the prospects for EU integration? To answer this question, this article briefly reviews first-hand evidence of the basis of trust and the loss of it in European institutions. The evidence is dealt with at a national rather than individual level, and comprises mostly survey data and primary facts that can inform a policy argument. This article does not offer a full explanation of populism nor of attitudes to democracy or globalization, each of which clearly deserve an article in their own right. Instead, it uses data to deconstruct the myths of the EU loss of confidence and its connection with democracy. The two main factors found to decrease trust in the EU are economic growth and confidence in national governments’ performance in terms of controlling corruption.
What is state capacity and how does it affect development? The concept of state capacity acquired centrality during the late seventies and eighties, sponsored by a rather compact set of scholarly works. It later permeated through several disciplines and has now earned a place within the many governance dimensions affecting economic performance. The present article aims to provide a historical account of the evolution and usage of the state capacity concept, along with its various operationalizations. It examines in particular: a) the growing distance in the usage of the concept by different disciplinary and thematic fields; b) the process of `branching out’ of the concept from restricted to more multidimensional definitions; c) the problems with construct validity and concept stretching, and d) the generalized lack of clarity that exists regarding the institutional sources of state capacity.