The Development in a Box Discussion: Two Commentators Who Get it

Stephen DeAngelis

April 18, 2006

I’ve already mentioned that my article on Development in a Box at Tech Central Station provoked some negative commentary — mainly, it seemed, from libertarians who misunderstood the framework as a recipe for top-down, rigid corporatism or militarism.  In fact, Development in a Box is the opposite — a flexible, market-driven framework for stabilization and post-conflict reconstruction that represents the beginning, not the end of an ongoing solution-development process.

Now, speaking in defense are two commentators who get it.  Mark Safranski (ZenPundit) posts this at Tech Central Station:

…the author of the article isn’t advocating Fascism, Swedish social democracy or some kind of military-industrial complex conspiracy straight out of an Oliver Stone film. It’s about having some systemic, real-time, coordination and coherence to efforts aimed at bringing order out of chaos…

The free market is an absolutely wonderful engine of positive change but it can’t flourish under the rule of the gun, endemic corruption or a collapsed financial system. You need basic governance…

And at ZenPundit, he writes:

DeAngelis was talking about the principle – encouraging a resilient, connected, system- on which state building or what Dr. Barnett refers to as System Administration intervention, should be premised. There would be an enormous range of application in practice. Somalia’s problems differ from Bosnia’s which are not the same as Iraq’s; hence the stress by DeAngelis on flexibility and private sector entities which are more nimble and adaptive than are government bureaucracies acting alone…

In a critique of classic libertarianism, he continues:

Most TCS readers are libertarians or conservatives with libertarian leanings who have great affection for free market economics( a position I generally share) but the response of that reader comes from libertarianism’s older, darker and reactively purist traditions… this is not a very constructive political stance for libertarians to take. One they still take all too often, rather than pragmatically influencing the political process (or the world, in the case of Development in a Box) to move further in the direction of freedom.

Exactly.  Development in a Box is not driven by ideology, nor is it meant to establish a system based on ideology.  Development in a Box is a pragmatic solution — or, more precisely, a framework within which pragmatic solutions can be developed.  Those solutions can and should draw on the best practices of the private and public sector, applying both global and local insights, approaches and techniques.  The goal is not to impose an ideology, rather, the goal is to create stability quickly and efficiently in a way that meets needs and balances interests.  Although the framework is consistent, the solution it creates will vary greatly from country to country and region to region.

Shawn Beilfuss also understands.  In his Tech Central Station post, he writes:

The dynamic database of best practices that Mr. DeAngelis describes is not a one-way street–it is a two-way dynamic, shaped in real-time by global performance standards regularly adapted to local requirements. Although the initial database effort will rely on well-known, best practices in the “Functioning Core” and “New Core” (to use Barnett’s language), these best practices through DeAngelis’ concept would be highly adaptive to new challenges and before-unexperienced adversity on the ground. Thus, a country like Iraq is as likely to export best practices during its conflict/post-conflict/post-disaster phase as it is likely to import “baseline practices.” Such a system would wholly exclude any “Core” best practices that were deemed/proven unsuitable for the region of concern–DeAngelis is not suggesting we force pegs into square holes….

Shawn, who reprints his comments at his excellent blog, Asia Logistics Wrap (which as of today joins our blogroll), also is aware that:

This article is the start of a positive dialogue. If we want to shape it with the value of our own experiences, constructive, reasonable, well-thought criticism is absolutely necessary.

Yes.  At the risk of repeating — the goal is not to propose a self-contained program, but rather to start the discussion about better systems and practices for establishing stability in post-conflict and failed states, drawing on more of our resources.  The discussion — like the framework itself — should be open, flexible and evolutionary.

Thanks, then, to Mark and Shawn for moving the discussion forward.  Working with smart colleagues is always a privilege, and a pleasure.