Monday, April 1, 2013

Approaches to political reform

Daniel Triesman, on the three main approaches to political reform used in 1990s Russia:
The first approach might be called the cavalry charge. Plunging headlong at the enemy, the reformers sought a breakthrough by force of will, speed, and concentration. Such tactics worked wonders in postwar Japan, where General MacArthur, U.S. troops at his back, broke up the business empires of the prewar zaibatsu and imposed a democratic constitution. With similar cavalry attacks, Ataturk carved a modern Turkish state out of the Ottoman ruins, closing religious schools, suppressing opposition parties, and imposing European legal codes. General Pinochet crushed the Chilean labor unions to impose macroeconomic stability. Cavalry charges make for rousing theater and— sometimes— stunning victories. They make less sense when the valley one must charge down is surrounded by cannons. 
The second approach— the war of attrition— involves neither speed nor surprise, nor overwhelming force, just a patient search for incremental gains. What victories occur result from painstaking preparation and periodic probing of the opposition’s defenses. Reformers exploit moments when the opponent is distracted to make technocratic advances, which add up over time to more substantial change. In such a war, persistence is key. “Many of our decrees were overturned three or four times,” Chubais later recalled of 1993, “but we would remake them phrased slightly differently.” The war of attrition can work well when time is on the reformers’ side. Often it is not. 
Finally, reformers may seek progress through creative recombination— dividing and conquering their opponents, coopting some by designing reforms in ways that benefit them, while isolating others, who can then be crushed or ignored. Reformers help potential beneficiaries to organize, building a support coalition. Victories, in this approach, are always relative and costly, and to keep reforms moving the reformers must be ready to make sudden turns, striking out against their erstwhile allies. The timing of such reversals can be crucial. Too soon, and the first reform crumbles; too late, and the reformers end up hostage to their creations.
That's from The Return, his terrific, narrative-busting book on Russian politics of the past 30 years.

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