Reforming the State
How do you change the rules of the game? Of course, there is no answer to this question that can be unconditionally applied everywhere, but one common strategy consists of carving up parts of the state to take care of a regime’s patronage needs, while setting up streamlined, professional ministries to in charge of economic policy and reporting directly to the head of state.
In an authoritarian setting, we have the example of Park Chung-Hee’s South Korea (1961-1979). After coming to power through a military coup, he expanded the bureaucracy, instituting a ‘bifurcated’ system whereby certain ministries served political functions, while others were responsible for technical decisions on the economy. Among the latter were the Economic Planning Board (EPB), the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and an economic secretariat operating from the presidential residence.
But state reform is not only possible in authoritarian settings. Barbara Geddes discusses the efforts of Brazilian political leaders to reform the state since the 1930’s. At times, these leaders were highly successful, even under democracy, and the country was the first in Latin America to institute a meritocratic civil service. Geddes lists conditions that contribute to the creation of more effective states:
- Insulation of agencies responsible for economic development from the clientelist pressures of politics.
- A political environment where it is in the chief executive’s interest to implement programmatic policies, often against the opposition of the legislature, and a well-functioning bureaucracy will help him in this task.
- An executive well-endowed with political and financial resources.
However, a key challenge in democratic regimes is to ensure that even when there is a change in government, the competence of agencies established by the previous government does not get eroded to buy political support.
 David C. Kang (2002) – Crony Capitalism: Corruption and Development in South Korea and the Philippines, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
 Atul Kohli (2004) – State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
 Barbara Geddes (1990) – “Building State Autonomy in Brazil, 1930-1964”, Comparative Politics, 22(2): 217-235