July 27, 2012 | by ADRIAN STEINERT
The magazine Der Spiegel recently singled out the Sustainable Governance Indicators as „the most ambitious experiment in comparative politics since Aristotle’s time“, Adrian Steinert from SGI Team reports.
Which form of political government is best? Political philosophers have been contemplating this question since ancient times. However, empirical studies analyzing the impact of governance and politics on policy output and quality only started a few decades ago. The new Spiegel series (26/6/2012-29/6/2012), “The Craft of Governing” (Das Handwerk des Herrschens), singles out ‘good governance’ as the central topic for policymakers and bureaucrats in these times of economic and financial crisis.
The concept of good governance originally emerged in development policy circles. Since the middle of the 1990s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have been promoting good governance policies as the key instrument for fighting poverty in developing countries. But, like a boomerang, the good governance agenda flew back to its inventors. And rightly so: bad governance and its consequences such as massive levels of public debt and unemployment can also be found in the highly advanced economies of the OECD world, as the recent global economic depression has shown.
In its introductory article, Spiegel describes the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) and the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) as the “most ambitious experiment in comparative politics since Aristotle’s time”. The SGI, which was first calculated in 2009, evaluates all 34 OECD member states with regard to their specific governance performance, while the BTI examines the state of democratic and economic transformation in 128 developing countries.
The 2011 SGI report contains surprising findings, as Spiegel notes. For example, France finds itself behind Turkey and Mexico on the SGI’s Management Index due to its low levels of accountability. Another SGI finding stresses that citizens’ trust in key political institutions is currently declining in countries such as Hungary, which were formerly forerunners of democratic consolidation. On the other hand, political trust is very high in Scandinavia. In the SGI’s Management Index, which assesses the political management capabilities of the OECD member states, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland hold the top four places.
What is the Scandinavian countries’ formula for success? Using the example of the growth of Danish wind energy, Spiegel’s authors identify three key factors that explain its economic prosperity and effective political operation. Denmark is portrayed as the model state because of its efficient administration, transparent judicial system, and high levels of governmental responsibility. As a result, political legitimacy scores high in the north, and the Danish welfare system, which is financed by heavy income taxes, creates a solid degree of social cohesion.
To sum up, it seems that the famous slogan by Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid” now sounds a little bit old-fashioned. It’s good governance, stupid, isn’t it?