Institutional Reforms: The Case of Colombia

In This Review

Institutional Reforms: The Case of Colombia

By Alberto Alesina
MIT Press, 2005
420 pp. $75.00

A prestigious team of U.S., European, and Colombian social scientists apply standard economic analysis and public-choice theory ("new political economics") to Colombian institutions with disappointing results. The contributors' declared pragmatism is overwhelmed by the impulse to prescribe laundry lists of ambitious proposals too often lacking in organic connections to local history or politics. In the extreme, pure economic logic can lead to outlandish notions, such as that the government should offer subsidies to guerrillas to discourage kidnappings. Less excusable is the book's preference for industrial-country models over successful Latin American innovations (although the more sensible recommendations have provided succor to reform-minded Colombian technocrats). Among the features analyzed are the Congress, electoral systems, law enforcement, budget procedures, local government, education, social welfare, pensions, and the central bank. Such a comprehensive treatment would have benefited from an overarching vision, an effort at setting priorities, a timetable, and more transparent estimates of impact.

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