Thoughts on improving governance in developing countries

by kewlcats 1 min read16th May 20203 comments


The recent EA podcast on charter cities made me think about this question--these are just my very rudimentary thoughts on the subject.

The problems that governments in developing countries face are quite fundamental. I’ll use Tamil Nadu (a state in India) as an example, as that’s where my parents are from. Corruption is rampant at all levels of government, even for village leaders elected democratically. The government often ignores problems until they become too dire, such as neglecting the management of watersheds until there was a drought.

I also don’t think this is an isolated thing. I’m not able to find quantitative data on this subject, but from what I’ve read, these general patterns appear to be common throughout developing countries. There are pockets of great governance from some motivated individuals but that appears to be in the minority. This summer, I’ll be doing COVID coordination work with a country in South America and another in Africa, so I’ll get a more first-hand view.

There appear to be three sources of bad governance:

  • Apathy (i.e. not doing a job one knows one should do)
  • Malice (i.e. stealing money, corruption)
  • Ignorance (i.e. not knowing one should do the job)

Each of these sources would have different solutions.

Or one could look at it through a different lens:

  • A people problem
    • Solution: research into better recruitment strategies
  • A culture/incentives problem (i.e. people get corrupted)
    • Solution: modify culture/incentives using behavioral science

I’ve looked into some academic literature on this subject, but I haven’t found papers that try to isolate the cause. There’s an EA problem profile on improving institutional decision-making, but it seems to focus on prediction calibration and rationality techniques. I’d appreciate any thoughts or resources on the subject.