Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics

Maya Sen, Associate Professor of Public Policy; Avidit Acharya, Stanford University; Matthew Blackwell, Harvard University

The cover of Deep Roots by Maya SenMany studies seek to understand race relations and political attitudes by focusing on current demographics and efforts to persuade voters. Such analyses may yield valuable information, but they miss a crucial influence on people and communities: history.

The authors of Deep Roots draw on a concept called “behavioral path dependence”—ideas, norms, and behaviors passed down through generations of families and local institutions such as schools and churches—as well as empirical data to posit that the legacy of slavery still drives political attitudes in the South. They document that southern whites who live in communities where slavery was prevalent are more conservative and hostile toward policies designed to help African-Americans, shown, for example, in the differing attitudes within the cities of Greenwood, Mississippi, and Asheville, North Carolina—the former a town that once claimed the title “cotton capital of the world” and relied on slave labor, the latter a small trading town where slavery was a relative anomaly.

The divergent attitudes among southern communities first took shape during and in the aftermath of the Civil War, the authors write, when emancipation incentivized the economic and political suppression of African-Americans, who formed a large portion of the labor force. Even though the civil rights era led to a narrowing of the equality gap between whites and African-Americans, these political attitudes persist, they say. Although some may be skeptical that the institution of slavery continues to have such a lasting effect, the authors write, contemporary factors can go only so far in explaining the differences on the basis of region. Indeed, they note, the differences have remained consistent for the past 150 years: “This is an example of how an institution can lead to a political geography that remains long after the demise of the institution.”

Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action

Matt Andrews, Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International Development; Lant Pritchett, Professor of the Practice of International Development; and Michael Woolcock, Lecturer in Public Policy

The cover of Building State Capability by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett, and Michael WoolcockThe authors argue that not even the best policy prescriptions will alone spur sustainable development. The process of implementing those policies is too often overlooked, they say, leading, for example, to building a school without ensuring that a high-capability education system has been established. To spur more effective functioning, they propose an approach called problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA), which begins with “generating locally nominated and prioritized problems” and proceeds “iteratively to identify customized ‘best fit’ responses.”

Constructing problems out of conditions is the first step in PDIA, they write, which forces policymakers and reformers “to ask questions about the incumbent ways of doing things, and promote a search for alternatives that actually offer a solution.” In a novel introduction to the potential uses of PDIA, the authors cite Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition to traverse the United States westward. In that case, the approach succeeded by focusing on the problem of establishing an all-water trade route to the Pacific and iterating by adapting the explorers’ path along the way.

The authors advocate “experimental iteration,” a process of identifying and putting into action multiple ideas to solve problems. In addition, they advise on where and how to get the needed authority to build state capability through the PDIA process, including adopting a communications and persuasion strategy. Mobilizing agents to build state capability may not be easy, they say, but many people seek a new way of doing development and are eager to embrace the challenge.

Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy

Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy

The cover of Straight Talk on Trade by Dani Rodrik

For Rodrik, the straight talk begins with a rebuttal of the nearly unanimous credo of his fellow economists that untrammeled free trade is a universal good and anyone against it is a protectionist “barbarian.” Their reluctance to acknowledge any negative consequences of trade has hurt their credibility, he writes, and has helped opponents seize on an alternative narrative that is itself often wrong. In response, the author promises a balanced perspective on trade and other areas.

Arguing for the relevance of the nation-state rather than the “global commons,” he contends, “We need a pluralistic world economy where nation-states retain sufficient autonomy to fashion their own social contracts and develop their own economic strategies.” He discusses the problems of Europe when it sought to implement a single unified market and how the demands of a global economy have affected countries with lagging economic performance, such as Mexico.

Rodrik differentiates between policies that don’t spill over national borders, such as those relating to education, and those that do demand global rules because the outcome is shared by all nations—such as policies on climate change. And then there are policies somewhere in between, which may need to be regulated at the international level depending on whether the costs are borne primarily domestically or across borders. He also advocates for growth policies for the future, including increased public investment and green industrial policies, that will be sustainable in a global environment. Economists have underestimated the fragility of the current form of globalism, he writes, and new solutions are needed to help those excluded by it.

Professionalizing Leadership

Barbara Kellerman, James McGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership

The cover of Professionalizing Leadership by Barbara KellermanThe longtime author and expert on leadership has in recent writings critiqued both leadership and the leadership industry. In her new book, Kellerman homes in on a problem she argues shortchanges people learning to lead: Leadership is treated as an occupation as opposed to a profession or even a vocation. She points out that leadership has no widely recognized body of knowledge, and no core curriculum or skill set considered essential. Moreover, unlike the professions, it has no generally accepted metric, no clear criteria for qualification, and no license, credential, accreditation, or certification considered by consensus to be legitimate. The result is that we “cannot distinguish those who are qualified to lead from those who are not.”

Kellerman finds most American leadership programs are “hasty and superficial” with one outstanding exception: the military. The American military educates its leaders, trains its leaders, and develops its leaders. This triad Kellerman concludes is key—and in this sequence. First leadership education; then leadership training; and finally, leadership development.

Kellerman acknowledges that most groups and organizations are not positioned to replicate military pedagogy. However, she writes that every group and organization can adapt and adopt some of its core principles. These include: making explicit the connection between leadership theory and practice; developing a logical pedagogical sequence; creating a core curriculum; integrating followership and leadership; distinguishing between leadership and management; crafting a code of ethics; and providing certification of competence on completion of the program—after a high standard of competence has demonstrably been met. Kellerman writes that “professionalizing leadership is not rocket science.” But it does require that we reconceive leadership—start thinking of it as a profession that entails proper preparation as necessary precursor to unremitting dedication.

Can We Solve the Migration Crisis?

Jacqueline Bhabha, Professor of Health and Human Rights, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School; Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, HKS

The cover of Can We Solve the Migration Crisis by Jacqueline BhabhaThe global population of people forcibly displaced from their homes now exceeds 65 million. And every minute, driven by a mix of forces that include conflict, natural disasters, and economic privation, 24 more people join them.

This is unquestionably a crisis, both for those caught in the wave and for those on whose shores it is breaking. But before she asks whether, and how, we can solve this crisis, Bhabha asks what kind of crisis it is. Sweeping through history recent and ancient, Bhabha establishes the relative frequency—if not normalcy—of these great dislocations. As recently as the 1970s, more than 10 million were displaced by civil war in Pakistan and 3 million more following conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In the 1990s, 2 million were displaced following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

Bhabha examines the deep drivers of this great movement of people, and possible solutions, such as a $100 million violence-prevention program in Honduras supported by the United States—a relatively inexpensive but effective way to reduce the violent crime driving so many people northward.

However, a crisis cannot be viewed through a single lens—“the perceived threat to the already present community”—and Bhabha underlines its moral and ethical dimensions. “Because we share not only the surface of the earth but a common, deeply intertwined set of interests and an ultimate dependence on each other, the duties we owe strangers have to be capacious, clear, and sustainable.”