TCS Daily – Nation-Building or Gene-Splicing?
Without Britannia — with it’s free-trade policies and its Common Law legal institutions — Hong Kong might have remained a rather desolate rock. In other words, it took the forceful British territorial annexation of Hong Kong after the First Opium War in the mid-1800s to create a major center of commercial activity by 1900, and one of the world’s most prosperous cities by 1997, when it was returned to the Chinese.
Institutions are like the DNA of a society. Healthy DNA, when expressed, serves as the blueprint for a healthy organism. Likewise, healthy institutions, when in place, allow millions of individual actors to engage in cooperative, mutually beneficial behaviors, the stuff of peace and prosperity. But mutant DNA can create cancer cells. Saddam’s Iraq, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Stalin’s Russia have (or had) mutant institutions. And pathologies can threaten to spread.
If Iraq is conceived as a pity party that requires more resources, more shiny new schools and more dependency, the effort will fail and its new leaders will be corrupted. But if Iraq focuses on incorporating simple systems like security, titled property, and dispute resolution, among others, then they may yet have the ingredients for success.