How to govern well
What do Singapore, the United States, Canada, Denmark, and England all have in common? At first glance, not much. One is an oligarchic city state, two are parliamentary democracies, another is a Scandinavian social democracy, while the United States supposedly represents the laissez-faire extremes of the developed world.
But we intuitively understand there are certain important commonalities, which is probably why all five are ranked as some of the best governed countries on the planet (as Erik notes below). So what do these countries have in common? Why do they work? And what can we do to replicate (or sustain) their success?
As I’ve written elsewhere, the economic and political ascendancy of a select few countries – despite political, economic, and social differences too numerous to mention – strikes me as a fundamental point in favor of small-c conservatism. What important features do the United States, Sweden, and Hong Kong share? Very little, it turns out, aside from a common cultural and political inheritance that can be traced back to Northern Europe. But that shared inheritance seems to be the critical factor when it comes to economic and political development. Northern European countries – and a select few former colonies (and, in the case of Japan, one extremely successful emulator) – function incredibly well despite a host of small-bore policy differences. The rest of the world, not so much.
Because we know so little about the cultural and social norms that make things work, I’m extremely suspicious of efforts to export the Western model. But I’m also suspicious of ambitious, technocratic governance at home, particularly when political ambitions collide with established interest group politics. Erik suggests that the index of global governance vindicates liberal-tarianism, but I think that’s a rather strained reading of the results. Germany, Japan, and France don’t strike me as bastions of neoliberal thought (neither does the United States, for that matter), but they’ve managed to keep chugging along. Instead, I think the results should be read as a sort of cautionary tale for would-be pols. To quote Socrates by way of Operation Ivy, all we know is that we don’t know nothin’. And I think that knowledge should inform a certain ideologically modest view of public policy.