Diffusion everywhere: dumb and dumber edition

In an article on national tax blacklists recently published in Governance, J. C. Sharman has the brilliant idea of looking at the replication of errors as evidence of diffusion. The best example involves Venezuela literally copying and pasting Mexico’s legislation:

[T]he Venezuelan legislation made reference to the wishes of the Mexican legislature and the need to be consistent with the Mexican constitution. Worse still, the original Mexican list had included Venezuela, and thus by copying the Mexican list, Venezuela succeeded in blacklisting itself.

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Diffusion everywhere: climate change policy

The NZZ reports:

Die brasilianische Regierung hat einen einen Erfolg im Klimaschutz vermelden können: Die Rate der Entwaldung im Amazonasgebiet ist dieses Jahr auf ein rekordtiefes Niveau gefallen. Die Nachricht fiel mitten in die erste Woche der Uno-Klimakonferenz, die dieses Jahr in der mexikanischen Stadt Cancún stattfindet. Und so wurde Brasilien von hier zahlreich anwesenden Nichtregierungsorganisationen zum Musterknaben im Klimaschutz erklärt und den anderen grossen Schwellenländern sowie den Industriestaaten als Beispiel empfohlen.

Two observations for the policy diffusion literature:

– There can indeed be quite clear indicators of success to which policy makers and other political actors actually pay attention (in this case, deforestation rates). So some of the strategies used to operationalize learning (e.g. here or here, and here for an overview) are quite plausible.

– Political actors can use information about success to push their agenda. Duh. But there is not enough work on this issue.

Diffusion everywhere: Cameron’s “Big Society”

David Cameron’s “Big Society” is a project aiming to reinvigorate British civil society in the context of drastic cuts in public spending. In the October 25 issue of the New Yorker, Lauren Collins writes:

Francis Maude [the Minister for the Cabinet Office] was unconcerned about the unevenness of services that the Big Society is likely to entail. In his view, one of the program’s key virtues is its potential for heterogeneity. “People will associate to form a bigger, stronger society in many ways which will be random,” he said. “It’ll be fantastically different in different places.”

“What if it’s fantastically better in some places?” I asked.

“The advantage of where we are with technology is that it becomes much easier for the ones where it isn’t fantastic to look a what’s going on where it’s fantastic and draw from it,” he replied.

This is a standard argument in favor of decentralization. The idea that it fosters innovation and the spread of best practices was famously formulated by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis as follows in 1932:

It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.

However, the diffusion literature teaches us that learning is only one possible way in which policies spread, and even when it happens, learning needs not lead to normatively desirable outcomes. So Francis Maude’s hopes may well be exaggerated.

Diffusion everywhere: free Wi-Fi

Since 2005, access to Wi-Fi hotspots in Italy has been subject to very restrictive rules that require users, ostensibly as an anti-terrorism measure, to present an identity document and fill in a form that is then sent to the authorities. Mercifully, this will change from the 1st of January 2011. Here is how Beppe Severgnini commented the news in the Corriere della Sera:

Le ansie per la sicurezza nazionale che avevano spinto all’approvazione del decreto Pisanu nel 2005 non sono scomparse: i malintenzionati, purtroppo, sono ancora tra noi. Ma si è capito che non li si ferma bloccando il wi-fi: gli strumenti sono altri. Al procuratore nazionale Antimafia, Piero Grasso, secondo cui l’accesso libero porterebbe a “ridurre la possibilità di individuare coloro che commettono reati attraverso Internet” chiediamo: perché Paesi più esposti e guardinghi di noi (Usa ed Egitto, Gran Bretagna e Israele, Libano e Cina) offrono da tempo hot-spot gratuiti?

This is a nice example of least-likely case reasoning in the context of policy diffusion: if Wi-Fi is free even in the countries that are most exposed to terrorist threats and that deal with terrorism most aggressively, then a fortiori it should be free elsewhere.

Diffusion everywhere: Stuttgart 21

Stuttgart 21 is a major project involving the construction of a new underground railway station below the existing one. It has been highly controversial and has been contested in street protests that have sometimes turned violent. In this context, Switzerland has been mentioned as a model, as the NZZ reports:

Die Gegner wurden vertreten durch den Tübinger Oberbürgermeister Boris Palmer (Grüne). Er versuchte ein Pro-Argument der Bahn nach dem anderen zu widerlegen. So bedeute das Projekt tatsächlich eine Schwächung des Schienenverkehrs, sagte er. Bei seiner Darlegung fiel auf, wie stark er die Schweizer Verkehrspolitik als leuchtendes Vorbild hinstellte. Das wichtigste europäische Bahnprojekt sei nicht «Stuttgart 21» sondern die Neat, welche mit dem Durchbruch letzte Woche im Gotthard ihrer Vollendung entgegensieht. Notwendig sei ein Anschluss an diese Achse.

Palmer stellte zudem die Leistungsfähigkeit des Zürcher Hauptbahnhofs, der ebenfalls ein Kopfbahnhof ist, heraus. Die Art und Weise, wie die Schweizer Bahnen ihr Netz laufend optimierten, sei die richte Vorgehensweise. «Wir wollen das Schweizer Modell», sagte er. Der zweite Redner für die Sache der Gegner, der Stuttgarter Stadtrat Gangolf Stocker, fügte anschliessend hinzu, man wolle auch in politischer Hinsicht das Schweizer Modell der Partizipation der Bürger.

It is interesting that not only the outcomes in Switzerland are taken as a reference point, but also the decision-making process. This is relevant for newer research efforts focusing on the political dimension of policy diffusion, a point that we already mentioned in a previous post.

Diffusion everywhere: Berlusconi’s immunity

From a recent interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

FAZ: Welchen Schutz wollen Sie für sich selbst?

Berlusconi: Ich habe noch nie irgendeinen Schutz beansprucht. Meine Partei hat einen Gesetzentwurf eingebracht, wonach Prozesse gegen den Präsidenten und den Regierungschef während ihrer Amtszeit suspendiert werden; auch die Verjährungsfristen laufen während der Amtszeit nicht weiter. Ein solches Gesetz gibt es in vielen Ländern.

Now, if only he could mention a couple of examples…