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International development experts share their ideas on how wealthy countries can promote prosperity in developing countries. Follow at

Mar 14, 2011

Development is easy, right? All poor countries have to do is mimic the things that work in rich countries and they’ll evolve into fully functional states. If only it were that simple. My guest this week is Lant Pritchett, a non-resident fellow at the Center for Global Development and chair of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Master’s program in international development. His latest work looks at how the basic functions of government fail to improve in some developing countries (a dynamic he defines as a “state capability trap”). Part of the problem, says Lant, is that donors often insist on transplanting institutions that work in developed countries into environments where those institutions don’t fit at all.

Despite decades of development assistance, on a wide variety of indicators of how well governments provide certain services—policing, delivering the mail, building roads, etc.—some countries are simply stuck in the mud. Lant’s work meticulously illustrates the depths of the problem. “We thought we would be able to replicate the development process very fast. We thought, these [countries] are going to develop in about 10 – 20 years,” explains Lant. “At the current rate of progress, it will take literally thousands of years for many developing countries to reach Singapore’s level of capability. That’s the capabilities trap.”

Read a full show summary on the Wonkcast site: