What I’m reading this month: January 2019 edition

Tube journeys (blogs/policy briefs/podcasts)

Rema Hanna & Vestal McIntyre, New possibilities for cutting corruption in the public sector

This short article deftly pulls together some recent experimental research on public service values and ‘corruptibility’ (including this research on Zambia, funded by DFID). While more research in a variety of contexts is clearly needed, the article points to potentially exciting findings about whether psychological screening can weed out ‘goodies’ from ‘baddies’ (their words, not mine!) in public sector recruitment in order to reduce susceptibility to corruption and other unethical behaviour, such as moon-lighting. The article does note the importance of systems, as well as the potential for unintended consequences, both of which are important – and under-researched – caveats.

Southern Rail journeys (papers/journal articles/longer thought pieces)

Roel Dom, Taxation and accountability in sub-Saharan Africa: New evidence for a governance dividend

Roel is a researcher with the International Centre for Tax & Development (ICTD), and this paper (published while he was an ODI fellow with the MoF in Burundi) points to a potentially fruitful new area of research for ICTD. Combining econometric analysis of large-N governance datasets with small-N case material (albeit the latter is underutilised here), Dom tests the standard taxation-governance hypothesis but adds a twist: rather than using the usual democracy data, he instead focuses on accountability. He finds that the hypothesis holds for direct taxation but doesn’t hold for taxes on goods and services (including VAT). He suggests that this is good news for donors’ increasing emphasis on domestic revenue mobilisation, though he points to his study’s limitations in terms of understanding the specific contextual mechanisms and conditions.

Long-haul flights (books/longer papers)

Henry Timms & Jeremy Heimans, New Power: How it’s changing the 21st century – and why you need to know

new powerLink is to a review from Duncan Green. I’m not going to pretend to have done more than skim read this, having spent my holiday getting my crime fiction fix with Christmas present books (Ian Rankin’s ‘In a House of Lies’, Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s ‘Lethal White’ & Andrea Camilleri’s ‘Death at Sea’), but this is top of my list for a more in-depth read this week. The authors are both tech/social entrepreneurs and claim that the ‘new power’ of the future is different from ‘old power’, which they claim is exclusive and hoarded by the few; new power instead is about distributing power through the many. NP (as they say) is best when it’s ACE (I just report it, folks…): Actionable, Connected (people together) and Extensible (customisable). So, for example, a telethon = OP while the Ice Bucket Challenge = NP. Guess which one made more money for its cause? There are some worrying thoughts here on strongmen/extremists, and I’m going to hone in on this for my reading. I was thinking I’d torture myself by reading it alongside Christopher Hayes’s ‘Twilight of the Elites’ from 2012, with its cheery message about the ‘crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives’.




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