Ideas, crisis, and institutional change

By Abdel-Jaouad Ouarraki

Blyth argues that Ideologies and ideas in general are important drivers of institutional change. He poses several hypotheses of which the first one is that “In periods of economic crisis, ideas (not institutions) reduce uncertainty”. Blyth argues that in periods of crisis, the existing institutions no longer provide for the right incentives to act in the interests of the actors, as crises are generally unexpected and the sources of crises unknown. Therefore, in times of crisis, Blyth argues, “agents cannot take institutions “off the shelf” to reduce uncertainty, as institutional supply would be random at best, and at worst impossible”. This is where ideas come in as they provide for a framework that makes it possible to interpret the situation at hand, as these ideas explain how the economy supposedly works and therefore provide for a basis on which to act upon.

The financial crisis of 2008 is a textbook example of a crisis that was anticipated by few, and properly understood by arguably even less people. To make sense of the financial crisis two narratives emerged. On the one hand, we have the “socialists” arguing that the banks were given free space to gamble and hence stricter regulations imposed by governments are the institutional solution to the crisis in the long term. On the other hand we have the “capitalists” who argue that the crisis is caused by “profligate governments” that bought votes with welfare spending.

Hence, one side argues for increased government regulations, while the other side argues for less government involvement in the economy. The two ideologies make a different assessment of the same crisis and the institutions that would emerge from either one of these assessments are radically different. Nonetheless, both of these narratives reduce the uncertainty of what to do as the existing institutions simply did not provide for the right incentives to prevent the financial crisis from happening.

Categorizing Rightful Resistance as a Type of Institutional Change Agent

By Abdel-Jaouad Ouarraki

O’Brien and Li define Rightful Resistance as “a form of popular contention that operates near the boundary of authorized channels, employs the rhetoric and commitments of the powerful to curb the exercise of power, hinges on locating and exploiting divisions within the state, and relies on mobilizing support from the wider public.” I would like to explore whether this definition fits in to one of Thelen and Mahoney’s four types of change agents, and identify where the definition of rightful resistance might deviate from these four types. I will do this by comparing Thelen and Mahoney’s definitions of the Change Agents to the Chinese case of Rightful Resistance described by O’Brien and Li.

A quick look at table 1.3 that Thelen and Mahoney provide for an oversight of the different change agents, points to the subversives as the type of change agent that most likely fits the definition of rightful resistance. As “Rightful Resisters” resist the elite and have an interest in changing the law, but during this process stay within the formal institutional constraints in order to prevent straight out persecution. Rightful Resistance seems to fit the definition of subversives and the context of strong veto possibilities and a low level of discretion (see table 1.4) as this context resembles the Chinese case, in which the multiple layers of the Chinese Party bureaucracy provide for many veto points while the local county officials do not allow interpretations of the law that would limit their powers.

Hence, Thelen and Mahoney’s types of change agents in this case seem to have succeeded in capturing a type of institutional change agent in one of their categories as both the context and the broad definition of subversives fit the definition of rightful resistance.

context change agents.JPG

Nationalism and statemaking

By Abdel-Jaouad Ouarraki

Herbst argues that together with fiscal reforms, the creation of a national identity is central for the creation of states in Europe since the 17th century. He claims that “there has ... been no way of generating a national identity in Africa such as wars forged in Europe” and a couple of sentences later concludes that “the result is the anomie in most African countries today”.

A swift comparison between a couple of European and African countries, however, shows that today there is a strong feeling of nationalism in many African countries, even more, than in for example Spain and Sweden. Herbst further seems to assume that a greater sense of nationalism would make greater extraction possible when he says that “Africa, precisely because there is no ... challenge that causes them to respond as a nation. ...  African state's clumsy efforts at greater extraction are met by popular with-drawl rather than by a populace united around a common identity”. Taking Morocco as an example, I argue that this approach is a simplification of the situation in many African countries.

The symbol of Nationalism in current-day Morocco is the King Mohammed VI, his image can be found in every government building and in many private corporate buildings as well. The King is very powerful in Morocco, as he presides over the council of ministers and is able to veto ministerial appointments. Nonetheless, this does not imply that the Moroccan population is feasting in the streets when a tax increase is announced; rather, people aim their grievances towards the government parties. This is illustrated by the reaction of protesters from the 20 February movement during the Arab Spring simply putting that “the king is not the topic, he is not the issue for the 20 February movement”. Hence, a strong national identity is not a sufficient condition to enable greater state extraction.

Image source:

Image source: