Statecraft and Liberal Reform in Advanced Democracies

In his most recent book in English, Statecraft and Liberal Reform in Advanced Democracies, Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming 2017, Nils Karlson explains how liberal, welfare-enhancing reform may be promoted. He develops a general theory of reform based on a synthesis of previous research about institutional change and an extended comparative case study of Sweden and Australia over the last 30 years. It develops the concepts of the reform cycle, reform strategies and polycentric experiential learning in order to explain successful reform. Policy entrepreneurs, who introduce and develop new ideas, play a key role. Modern statecraft involves a combination of knowing what and knowing how.

Modern statecraft takes place within the reform cycle, where advanced political skills and Popperian, Kuhnian, and Machiavellian reform strategies are used, generating new policy ideas in a polycentric effort of experiential leaning involving a large number of actors, with a critical mass being intrinsically motivated, located in the central zone of the country.

Concrete experiences trigger reflective observation, which in turn leads to the search for new ideas and abstract conceptualizations of the problem, which then enable policy experimentation, in turn leading to new experiences informing the next cycle of learning. The combination of many distinct groups of actors, each with distinct ideas and power resources, often in partially overlapping areas, helped stimulate learning and policy innovation over time.

Modern statecraft, to govern well, is thus equivalent to polycentric governance of welfare enhancing institutional change. In the context of today’s Western democracies and welfare states this often, if not always, means liberal statecraft, i.e., policies or political developments that increase liberty and make society more free.

Such governance is a collective good. Due to the collective action problem, sustained reform, especially if it is to extend over several paradigm waves, requires a critical mass of intrinsically motivated actors. They must be unconditional cooperators, acting for what they believe to be the common good, even if they in the short term will lose from the desired changes.

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“Most developed democracies and welfare states are in need of liberal reform, and this book is the best guide I know on how to do it. It makes critical contributions to public choice, theories of institutional change and public sector entrepreneurship. Strongly recommended, I read it straight through.”

Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, USA