Good Government Means Different Things in Different Countries
A number of criteria have been developed to measure countries’ degree of “good government”; these can include the capacity to receive aid, manage foreign direct investment or initiate trade agreements. Many of these criteria have a fixed model of what constitutes “good” and “bad” government, and the judgments that follow can have real-world consequences.
A 2010 study by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government published in the journal Governance, “Good Government Means Different Things in Different Countries,” looked at the practices of countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as well as those not part of the group. The study focuses primarily on four indicators: fiscal rules; performance measurements; modern financial practices; and budget transparency.
The study’s findings include:
- Many of the conventional indicators of good governance only measure existing success and do not account for the varying processes used to achieve this success.
- Among nine OECD countries that are considered effective, some, such as the United States and Australia, have no explicit fiscal rules, and there is a wide mix of types of fiscal rules, expenditure rules and budget limits.
- The good governance picture suggests the importance of limited government, yet government revenue and spending as a percentage of GDP ranged in OECD governments from about 35% to about 55% in 2004.
- The 10 countries scoring lowest on the government effectiveness indicator developed by the World Bank have the highest rates of fiscal rule adoption measure average (2.2 out of 4).
- Few good-governance indicators were positively correlated with actual behavior in OECD countries at a statistically significant level.
The author concludes that “implying that there is one underlying model for success when there plainly is not” is bad advice to give developing countries or to enforce through constraining aid and development investment.
Tags: economy, law
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Harvard Kennedy School study "Good Government Means Different Things in Different Countries."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article " World Bank Faults Itself for East Timor’s Struggles."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.