Seth Kaplan

About Seth Kaplan

Seth Kaplan is a Professorial Lecturer in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. He teaches, writes, and consults on issues related to fragile states, governance, and development. He is the author of Fixing Fragile States: A New Paradigm for Development (Praeger Security International, 2008) and Betrayed: Politics, Power, and Prosperity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). A Wharton MBA and Palmer scholar, Seth has worked for several large multinationals and founded four companies. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.

Can Empowered Cities Save Fragile States? My article on Lagos in the NYT

Lagos,_Nigeria_57991Nigeria is arguably the worst run of the world’s seven most populated countries. Despite earning hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue over the past decade, it is expected by 2015, by some calculations, to have the second-most destitute people in the world after India. But its largest city, Lagos, which until recently was known as one of the world’s most difficult cities to govern, seems to have turned a corner. As I argue in a recent article in the New York Times, one of the chief reasons for this better performance is the nature of incentives that elites and politicians face: Continue reading

What Have We Learned About Institutional Change?

institutional changeA number of noteworthy reports on institutional change, development, and foreign aid have been published recently. There is much agreement between them, suggesting that we have reached a tipping point in knowledge in this area. I will briefly summarize the results here and provide links for those who want to explore the subject further. Continue reading

Seven Scenarios for the Future of Syria

Syria conflict war scenariosAs the war in Syria drags on, it is becoming ever more vicious. Militias kill hundreds of civilians, ethnic cleansing large swaths of the country in the process. Rebel groups fight among themselves for territory and even assassinate each other’s leaders. Prisoners are regularly tortured. Millions have fled their homes in fear. 100,000 are dead. Extremists now hold the upper hand on both sides. In the latest outrage, the Assad regime has apparently used chemical weapons, gassing hundreds to death.

Where will all this misery lead? What does the future of Syria hold?

As I warned in 2011, Syria is a complex mosaic of different ethnic, religious, and ideological groups, a tinderbox that was destined to explode if the fragile peace that the Assad regime enforced was disturbed. Now that the country has imploded, there is no easy way out. Continue reading

Are the g7+ and Donors Heading for a Clash?

g7+ donors foreign aidThe g7+ group of 18 fragile and conflict-affected states has joined together to share experiences and promote a new development framework in what are the most difficult of circumstances. Supported by the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, the group achieved a major breakthrough at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in November 2011—an agreement on a New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. A major part of this is a new orientation to the relationship with donors.

The New Deal priorities what fragile states themselves think are the most important issues to building peaceful and prosperous societies by identifying five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs):

  1. Legitimate politics – Foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution
  2. Security – Establish and strengthen people’s security
  3. Justice – Address injustices and increase people’s access to justice
  4. Economic foundations – Generate employment and improve livelihoods
  5. Revenues and services – Manage revenue and build capacity for accountable and fair service delivery

These are meant to frame a country-led, inclusive way of setting national goals and establishing a national development plan. This, in turn, is meant to increase country-donor harmonization and donor co-ordination. Continue reading

Power and Politics in Pakistan: A Limited Access Order

Pakistan Political Economy Foreign Aid

The Limited Access Order (LAO) conceptual framework is an excellent way to understand why developing countries work the way they do, analyze their political and economic dynamics, and formulate policy ideas appropriate to their context. Its focus on power, violence, rents, and elite bargains provides far greater explanatory and predictive power than the standard template that uses developed countries as a model for how countries ought to work. As such, everyone in the development field working in a policymaking role should make use of it.

Created by Nobel Prize winner Douglass North, John Wallis, Steven Webb, and Barry Weingast, the LAO framework argues that:

No one, including the state, has a monopoly on violence . . . An LAO reduces violence by forming a dominant coalition containing all individuals and groups with sufficient access to violence . . . The dominant coalition creates cooperation and order by limiting access to valuable resources – land, labor, and capital – or access [to] and control of valuable activities – such as contract enforcement, property right enforcement, trade, worship, and education – to elite groups . . . The creation and distribution of rents therefore secures elite loyalty to the system, which in turn protects rents, limits violence, and prevents disorder most of the time. Continue reading

What the World Bank Does Not Understand About “Doing Business”

World Bank Doing Business

In its 10-year history, the World Bank’s Doing Business Report has achieved enormous influence. The annual study, one of the flagship knowledge products of the World Bank, is the leading tool to judge the business environments of developing countries, generating huge coverage in the media every year. Several countries—such as Rwanda—have used it as a guide to design reform programs. For its part, the Bank has advised over 80 countries on reforms to regulations measured in the DB. Its influence stretches even to academia, with over 1,000 articles being published in peer-reviewed journals using data in the index.

But does it focus on the most important issues for companies in less developed countries?

Based on my own almost 20 years of experience doing business in places such as Nigeria, Turkey, and China, the answer is no. Continue reading