Chris Blattman in reflecting upon James Scott's latest book, Two Cheers for Anarchism, argues that viewing the puzzles of development through the eyes of an anarchist opens up the analyst to ideas that otherwise would be passed over. The anarchist thinker will see the wide scope for mutuality and cooperation, and also have a tolerance for the confusion associated with social learning. This provides an entirely different perspective to the field of development than the dominate way of thinking permits.
For those who have read Elinor Ostrom's work on common-pool resources, this scope for mutuality and cooperation, as well as the confusing process of social learning, will be evident in her studies of self-regulating systems of governance. The argument that Lin had to deal with early in her career in the context of the metropolitan reform debate that the consolidationists saw lots of governance, but little government is true of development economics as well. The consolidationists were wrong in that debate, and they are wrong when it comes to development economics in general.
As Blattman states: "Probably the biggest problem in international development is that it is not anarchist enough. The impulse of virtually every UN, World Bank, and NGO project or manager I’ve seen is to plan and order. But growing wealth and freedom is inherently messy, and the small NGOs and the bureaucrats that recognize this are the more successful (or, at least, the least disenchanted)."
This problem has been recognized by many researchers over the past decade or so. Ragu Rajan, when he was at the IMF, wrote an important note on the problem of assuming working western style institutions in addressing the problem of development. His paper, "Assume Anarchy?" was extremely important in getting economists to consider the problem of endogenous institutions in the process of development.
In my own work, I wanted to move the discussion from the earlier discussions in libertarian political theory of anarchism as a normative exercise to the positive political economy of anarchism in development and transitional political economy studies. The emphasis in this work was on a plea for mechanisms that explain the operation of self-government. Follow up papers were written on the shift to studying endogenous institutional design and Austrian economics, and also a reflection on Scott's previous book The Art of Not Being Governed.
These themes have become common in the research of many of the folks I have worked closely with here at GMU over the past decade -- Ed Stringham, Ben Powell, Scott Beaulier, Virgil Storr, Chris Coyne, Peter Leeson, and David Skarbek (to name a few). Pete Leeson, for example, has written papers on "Two-Tiered Entrepreneurship," "Anarchy and Development" as well as "Better off Stateless". Also look at the work of Claudia Williamson on "Informal Institutions Rule" and "Securing Private Property Rights."
Blattman's post is very important to get people thinking about the intellectual productivity of the anarchist perspective. It opens up a new window for understanding in development studies. It is, as Schumpeter argued, a pre-analytic cognitive act, which gives us raw material upon which we can engage in economic analysis. This is what we have been doing at GMU in our research group since the early 2000s, and in some instances going back much further into the late 1980s.