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Prof. Wade on Life (Pt. 2 of 2)

March 17, 2010

After hearing about the first half of Prof. Wade’s Life story, here is the 2nd half:

“Although the system was well institutionalized it had never been described in print before, complete with details about prices and procedures.  The three resulting papers, though published in academic journals, became widely known in India (Wade, World Development, 1985).   Later, when I worked at the World Bank in Washington the Bank’s India Irrigation Division refused to allow me to set foot in the country, on grounds that my safety could not be assured. It did not help that the Bank’s resident representative in India at the time was surnamed Waide, and he wanted to minimize the alarm among politicians and officials when told that Mr Waide from the World Bank wished to speak to them.  In the intervening years the Andhra Pradesh irrigation engineers (who  were my prime focus) have adopted my name into the codes with which they conduct conversations about corruption, as in “the Robert Wades [mid-level staff] divide up the maintenance budget in such-and-such a way”.  Most of them have no idea where the name comes from.  This is immortality of a sort!

Meanwhile, a side study of how some villages co-operated to provide themselves with village-level public goods (including ‘village irrigators’ to spread water evenly over the land at times of scarcity, taking this critical decision out of farmers’ hands), while other villages nearby did not, yielded the book Village Republics: Economic Conditions of Collective Action in South India (Wade, 1988,1994, 2007).

I moved from irrigation in India to irrigation in South Korea in 1979, and a study of a parastatal agency which operated one of Korea’s biggest canal irrigation systems. I was amazed by the Korean passion for organization, expressed in a whole array of collective and individual incentive mechanisms, in contrast to bureaucratic stasis in India. This became a study of the role of the Korean state in agriculture and by extension in industry — a study of how capitalist Korea could be seen from another perspective as ‘one farm’ and ‘one capital’. A book with the clunky title, Irrigation and Agricultural Politics in South Korea (Wade, 1982) was one product.

From South Korea to Taiwan in 1983 and 1988, and — always moving up scale — a study of industrial development and the organization of the state for promoting industrial growth and diversification, with a particular interest in the trade and investment regime — a distinct move back to economic questions but using a rather non-standard approach.   At this time Taiwanese and foreign scholars were banging the drum about Taiwan being an exemplar of how almost all societies could achieve rapid economic growth if they invested in education and adopted ‘neoliberal’ free market policies (though the term was not yet in use). Ian Little, Hla Myint, Gus Ranis, John Fei, Shirley Kuo and many others pumped out this message, and government officials handed out copies of their books and articles to visitors. I realized that these scholar-advocates were exercising  selective inattention to data which would upset their way of seeing, and declared, ‘The Emperor’s wearing no clothes!’. This research came together in the book Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asia Industrialization (Wade, 1990). At a time when the neoliberal current was in full flood I was all the more delighted that the American Political Science Association awarded it the prize for Best Book or Article in Political Economy for the three years 1989–91. Taiwanese government officials have never handed out copies of the book — a nice irony, because it says that government ‘intervention’ had a strongly positive role. They prefer visitors to believe Taiwan’s success was all down to the free market and ‘fair’ competition, a belief which defends them from accusations of government intervention and unfair trade practices.

In the meantime I joined the World Bank as an economist in 1984 to research and advise on institutional aspects of irrigation systems. The research was semi-aborted when the Research Committee declined to fund it until I had demonstrated, quantitatively, that organizational variables mattered for irrigation performance, as compared to soils, climate, prices and the like — a requirement which the Research Committee knew was impossible to meet. The committee was influenced by the Bank’s irrigation engineers, who did not like my emphasis on ‘institutional factors’, especially ‘corruption’, a subject  the Bank still refused to talk about, and by the Bank’s neoclassical economists, who had heard — by corridor whispers — of my positive findings about East Asian industrial policy and thought I should be encouraged to seek employment elsewhere. I later moved to the Trade Policy division to write a study of East Asian trade regimes, in order to draw lessons about how other economies could emulate East Asia’s trading success. But that too was semi-aborted when it became clear that the division chief — who went on to a very successful career in the Bank, achieving vice president rank — wanted me to write only on export promotion and keep silent on import controls, and I insisted that the two sides of the trade regime were like the two wings of a bird. In 1988 I left the Bank for the more honest atmosphere of the US Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment.

Then to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School to teach for a year, back to IDS Sussex, next to MIT’s Sloan School to teach for a year, then to the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton for a year, back to IDS Sussex, next to Brown in Political Science and the Watson Institute of International Studies, then the Institute of Advanced Study in Berlin in 2000/01, and finally, LSE in 2001.  Whew!


Robert Wade is Professor of Political Economy and Development. The author of numerous books and articles, he also teaches DV423 – Global Political Economy of Development I.

You can watch Prof. Wade in action at IFI Watch, talking on ‘A Change of Financial Regimes’ – Interesting stuff.

Not sure what to do in London over the Easter break? Robert has some handy tips for London living:

“High points near LSE include Regents Park/Primrose Hill, the best city park in the world… especially Inner Circle; the twin “Japanese” bridges near Regents Park mosque; and Primrose Hill for the view over central London; and nearby Camden Lock Market, like Venice & Istanbul combined.”

And remember: Regular exercise will help keep you alert and healthy (strengthens immune system); but you have to make special effort to do it in middle of London.”

Prof. Wade also has some advice for all of you who struggle to remain alert during your 15-hour stints in the Library:

“Power nap: It’s not just folk wisdom; recent research shows that a nap after lunch does wonders for concentration, problem-solving, and general get-up-and-go, even late in evening. According to one study, optimal time is 26 mns.  From my experience, not less than 20, not more than 30 mns. Prostrate on floor, or head on desk. ”

His middle name is Hunter.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sophie Stevens permalink
    May 8, 2010 3:19 pm

    The most entertaining ten minutes I’ve spent in quite some time!

    Prof. Wade, you’re a hero.

    This could also explain why I’m having trouble understanding all aspects of 423… 40 years of wisdom in 10 weeks??? Surely that’s impossible.

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