The Consequences of the four pests campaign

By Rachel Knibbe

 In Pierson's book Politics in Time, he describes the limits of institutional design. These limitations have implications for theories of institutional origins and change. On of the problems is that political actors usually have short-time horizons, while their actions have short and long-term effects. The institutions are not designed in a way that the long-term outcomes that are produced are functional due to short-term political reasons.

The four pests campaign of Mao illustrates this limit to institutional design. During the Great Leap Forward he introduced a new hygiene initiative, which targeted sparrows. Sparrows were considered a pest since they ate all the grain of the land, which was need by the farmers. Mao implemented a policy that ordered the entire sparrow population to be culled so the crops could not no longer be damaged. Moreover, the sparrows did not only eat crops, they also ate grasshoppers. Due to the culling of the sparrows, grasshoppers were no longer eaten. Consequently, they ate all the crops. This can be seen as a long-term effect, due to the culling of the majority of the sparrows, the grasshoppers stayed dominant. This had an unintended effect, which was starvation of the population.

Mao had a small time horizon, by implementing the culling of sparrows he only considered the effects it would have on the grain. However, it turned out that the long-term consequences had a more negative effect than the original situation. This is an unintended long-term consequence and this is due to the social complexity that creates interaction effects.

Hence, when designing institutions there will always be some sort of uncertainty may it be long-term effect or interaction effects. This means that corrections need to be implemented in reaction to these effects. This can only be done when thinking of institutional development as a process unfolding over time.

Modern-day slavery: The result of informal institutions.

By Rachel Knibbe

Slavery has existed for many centuries; however, case studies are not similar as they happened in various forms that differ from place to place and from colonizer to colonizer. Moreover, during the 16th century, the British intensified slave trade and made slaves a product that could be sold on the global market. Although slavery was abolished in the British Empire early in the 19th century, which, according to Acemoglu and Robinson in Why nations fail caused the external demand for slaves to be reduced. Moreover, African societies had organized themselves around slave trade, so they redeployed the slaves on the African continent until late into the 20th century. It will be argued that where slavery still exists, it is the result of removing formal institutions but holding onto  informal institutions.  

Slavery still exists in the present day in different forms in every country. Asia and Africa have the highest prevalence of forced labour. Hence it is still frequent today due to the continuation of slave trade in Africa after the British abolished it. Slavery can be seen as a formal institution that was set up by the British, when they left the indigenous population continued with the formal institution. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibited slavery. However, it is hard to abolish a formal institution completely if it is embedded in the informal institutions.

This is due to the economic demand for African slaves, which altered African practices of slavery. Hence it became a structural part of African life. It is argued by Roitman that traditional affiliations are resurfacing in the informal sector. Hence it can be said that slavery is one of those traditional affiliations. It is hard to change informal institutions when they are embedded in society.