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Book Summary

Tendler, Judith (1997). Good Governance in the Tropics. Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

The purpose of Good Government in the Tropics is to highlight examples of good government in developing countries, especially Latin America. The literature on government in developing countries is full of examples of self-interested government servants, clientelism, and bloated and inefficient bureaucracies. This has led most think tanks and donor institutions to advise developing countries to trim their government size, privatize, contract out and subject public agencies to market-like pressures and incentives.

Tendlers work is grounded in observations of good government. She critiques mainstream development thinking, as perpetuated by the mainstream donor communities, because it is most often based on observations of bad government practices. Tendler lists seven flaws that taint the advice of mainstream development thinking:

  1. Advice arises from looking at poor performance
  2. Advice suggests importing ideas from industrialized countries
  3. Entire country is considered an example of good or bad government local successes and failures are overlooked
  4. Advice is often based on a strong belief of market superiority
  5. Advice ignores Industrial Performance and Workplace Transformation (IPWT) literature
  6. Advice is grounded in excessive faith in actions of the user or client of public services
  7. Advice does not acknowledge the need to develop a good labor-management relations system.

Tendler's book looks at what makes public sector workers dedicated. She examines four cases of good performance by a reformist state government in Ceara, Brazil in the late 1980s under Governor Tasso Jereissati. She focuses on four programs: rural preventative health care, business extension and public procurement from small firms, employment creating public works construction and energy relief, and agricultural extension and small farmers.

Tendler identifies five central themes behind the successes:

  1. Government workers demonstrated an unusual dedication to their jobs.
  2. The government made efforts to instill a sense of mission in the workers.
  3. Workers were more flexible and responded to the perceived demands of the clients.
  4. Both workmanship pride and increased community pressures limited corruption and malfeasance.

A three way dynamic between the state government (central government), local government and civil society that did not fit the stereotypical roles in terms of building civil society.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Preventative Health: The Case of Unskilled Meritocracy

Chapter 3: The Emergency Employment Program and Its Unlikely Heroes

Chapter 4: Frontline Workers and Agricultural Productivity

Chapter 6: Civil Servants and Civil Society