Developmental states in the new millennium: concepts and challenges for a new aid agenda

Developmental states in the new millennium: concepts and challenges for a new aid agenda

How can the aid community help build effective developmental states?

The developmental state is back at the centre of the international policy debate, yet policy-makers still have much to learn from the large research-based literature on the subject. This article, which introduces a special theme-based edition of Development Policy Review, discusses some of the concepts and challenges surrounding the developmental state and its incorporation in the aid agenda. Along with the other articles in this edition, it aims to stimulate debate and to encourage a re-thinking of the developmental state within development policy and practice

The authors begin by descirbing the recent shift towards a general agreement that better and more effective states are key to achieving development in the world’s poorest countries. However, there is still disagreement regarding what exactly that entails, how the challenges are to be met and what the contribution of international actors and policies might be.

The article explores these questions through an overview of three central topics:

  • the relationship between the project of building or rebuilding effective states and the ‘good governance’ agenda, including democracy and democratisation. The authors argue that the developmental state agenda is both less and more demanding than the good governance agenda.
  • the role of the international aid community in stimulating or hindering state-building. This includes a discussion of shifting donor thinking on the role of the state and current efforts at making the aid system more effective in supporting key aspects of state construction
  • the search for a way forward which incorporates awareness of the variety of successful
    development models and of the role that aid inevitably plays in the incentive structure of state elites in poor developing countries.

The article concludes that a new interpretation of the developmental state could serve as a powerful vision for reconfiguring current development and aid policies. However, it highlights that donor efforts must take seriously the uncertainty about what institutions are necessary at different stages of development. It also recommends a focus on lessons and options from real-life experiences rather than ‘ideal-type’ solutions and more intensive engagement with politics both within donor agencies and between donors and recipient countries.


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