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October 21, 2007


David Grande

In the same way Friedman proposed his ideas, Scott feels that the government should be handled with care as far as how remote and big their power should be. The government, while it is needed to promote foreign policies for the well-being of the people does not necessarily equate do doing “inherent evil.” Scott doesn’t address how evil the government is, but how it could become so if practiced incorrectly, such as “by utopian plans, and authoritarian disregard for the values” of the people. I agree with Scott’s argument as the government IS needed, regardless, but should be handled with extreme care.

Friedman and Scott’s argument go hand in hand in the sense that a large and aggressive state should be controlled and decentralized, to promote people to follow their paths and ideas, laying out their own future paths with no manipulation by the government. While I really do agree with Scott’s argument, he needs to realize that people, if uncontrolled, creates a lopsided level of equality, as competition, socioeconomic status take into account. That’s why personal knowledge is important, as this is an important determinant as to where the people would be placed if there was no intervention by the government. That’s why there should be an explicit agreement between the government and the people to ensure prosperity in the future.

Dorit Iacobsohn

I agree with Ellen. Scott is not saying that all government intervention is bad—he’s just saying that it should be used sparingly. Sometimes things are better left as is. What Scott is opposed to is governments using a high-modernist approach to fix what isn’t really broken. It doesn’t make sense, it’s a waste of resources, and it is destructive to the environment, to cultures, and to people. Who are governments to say that they know what people want? This is what occurred in the 19th century with the white man’s burden—the road to hell can indeed be paved with good intentions. And the road to hell can also be expensive, inefficient, and destructive.

Who is to say that governments know any better what people want or need? Without any metis, they make decisions for local people that never wanted any help to begin with. It is a despicable form of arrogance, disrespect, and oftentimes, bigotry. Some of the people in Tanzania didn’t even want to be “villagized,” and yet the bureaucrats said that if they pushed them to participate in the new system, they would soon be forced to see that it is a better way of life. And when it failed miserably, the bureaucrats got to go home. And it was the people who were supposed to be "helped" who suffered the ills of such poor high-modernist planning.

kieran m duffy

I disagree with much of Scott's opinions, and disagree most with his cases for getting rid of the big-bad government.

I first agree with Krista, and think his is foolish for picking a fight with German engineering in the tree case and ruining the forest. Germany throughout history has produced human capital in the from of thinkers and engineers that is unparralled. While he uses the case as a example of how the the government tries to do good and does bad is foolish. They made a mistake. They were trying to do something productive for society, and failed. Therefore, there is no need to bannish them.

I feel that Scott's ideas of this are also explicit in the Tanzanian case. He argues that Nyerere's plann to relocate everyone to villages to better utilize resources and educate the people, and cultivate crops under state supervision is wrong becuase the water was 2.5 miles away. I think that this was not good, but more of an oversight buy the state. I feel that the state had good intentions, and their intentions were not very differant from those of successful socities that they were modeled on.

Modernizing a place a backward place like Tanzania is no small task. And while Scott knocks Nyerere for modeling his model on successful models of the East, and for acting like a "father" to his people, and "streamlining" I think is stupid. It may have worked had things been a little differant.

Scott supports his arguments well, but like Friedman is off. Way off. They both pick and choose events when governments make an attempt to make society a better place and fail miserably to support their arguments. ANd use the arguments as a reason to abolish government.

These authors forget to make not of events in which the "big-bad" governments did great things for the world. Such as the Dawes plan that helped to fund the reconstruction of Europe after WWI, in a very Keynes-like way of "priming the pump"

Madeleine Dale

I think that Scott’s main point in Seeing Like a State about the role of government is that not all forms of government lead to evil (in some cases government is necessary to prevent people from exploiting each other in pursuit of personal interest) but that when a state is rapidly developed under an unstable government with an overly idealistic leader, it is destined to fail. Both Scott and Friedman see the danger in a large government and call for smaller and less powerful government. Scott believes smaller government is more efficient because they have a better knowledge of the immediate environment they are governing, while a large government loses local knowledge (metis). I do not agree that government is an institution that seeks to do good but always ends up doing evil. I think it is an overstatement to say that government always ends up doing evil, and I think that “seeking to do good” is very subjective – do authoritarian regimes always seek to do good? If so, what kind of good? Good for the leaders or good for the people or good for the state? I don’t think it is fair to say that just because governments and their leaders may fail to reach their utopian goals, or even if they fail completely (like in the Tanzania example he gives) they are not consequently evil. I think Scott’s argument is too extreme because governments are created to promote internal harmony and provide protection from external threats, and a small government or local institution would not have the capabilities to act internationally or protect itself.

Susanna Babos

I find Scott’s argument is quite plausible because it reminds me of the political situation of many contemporary countries, but I find it a bit stretched. The analogy about the forestry suggests that governments often fail to recognize the big picture because they are so caught up in focusing on the little details. Scott therefore argues that our governing body is caught up in creating utopian views, meaning that they do not take many other factors into account.
Scott therefore states that governments were supposed to do good, however, because of failing to take several factors into account, they most likely end up doing something evil. He actually supports this argument with the case study of the USSR, where Lenin’s intention was to do good: sharing responsibilities, giving voice to the masses, and so on and so forth, however, what Lenin created gave rise to terror later on.
Even though that I accept this, but what I also like to add is that the USSR reached an incredible level of industrialization under Lenin or Stalin, which allowed the country to be one of the most dominant powers in the world for many decades. I realize that this economic success posed enormous costs on Soviet society, yet USSR’s Politburo did reach what they have planned earlier, which elevated the country to a higher level. So what Scott says is a little bit too extreme, but I also have to admit that in most cases, governments often do fail to provide everything they promised to people. This is because they practice the politics that works for the moment, wishing for immediate results. However, government intervention is not always evil: it just often fails to provide everything that was promised (utopian promises).

Colin Zealear

I agree with the statement in the question that Scott is the monst intellectually honest book out of the readings, at least so far, for this semester. I found when I was reading Scott's "Seeing Like A State" that many of my own political ideals were being used for his arguments. Scott for the most part takes the stance that most government control is a bad ideas and shoot down Tanzania'a hopes of a socialist state, but also recognizes the pitfalls of a completely free uncontrolled market. He is aware of humans evil tendencies and fittingly coined the term Mephistopheles after the Greek term to describe lucifer, a man condemned to perform evil deeds although he is really trying to help. This is the way both Scott and I see government intervention. They may be trying to do a good deed but they are bad at implementing and performing the task only causing problems in the end. His concept of "high modernism" was interesting but what caught my attention was his quest for utopian societies and how they fall to disutopias when poorly attempted. He ends with a line that sounds like it came from my first paper topic that "progenitors of such plans regarded themselves as far smarter and farseeing than they really were, and at the time, regarded their subjects as far stupider and incompetent than they really were." This sentence summed it all up for me in a single phrase with which I agree very much.

Arsalan Mahtafar

James Scott's ‘Seeing Like a State,’ is a very interesting reading that points out the failures of bureaucratic central planning and the attempt to use high modernist principles and practices to build utopia. His points are simple and strong, and fortunately there are many historical examples and a plethora of empirical evidence to support his arguments. The interesting element is that these examples do not only pertain to central planned control economies, but also when capitalist market economies that delegate decision making to central institutions, such “high modernist” catastrophes can occur.
For instance, “The great leap forward,” which was a high modernist plan for industrialization in China during the 1950s, was one of the greatest economic disasters of the 20th century. The failure of this plan led to a famine which caused the death of more the 40 million people. But as I mentioned, this phenomena is not particular to centrally planned communist economies. The centralized decision making process in the United State’s pharmaceutical regulatory institutions today suffers from the same symptoms of high modernism. Many different types of medicine have been released to the public without their long term effects completely studied, just because the regulatory bodies are either not held accountable for their mistakes, or they lack the sufficient knowledge necessary, or they suffer from a form of arrogance that is created in such a social setting.

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