Jun 04 2009

Technological links in a repressive society

by at 3:29 pm under Uncategorized

The role of technology in network development is crucial to fashioning a self-sustaining economy. Technology can cut down on transaction costs, bounded rationality (North) and can forge cross-cutting ties (Narayan) that will strengthen the network. It also supports bridging capital (Narayan), in that the up-front costs of implementation then fall to zero when more people are added to such a network. As a development strategist, it is therefore crucial to measure the potential gains of a technological enhancement for a region even at a high implementation cost.

Technological enhancements are especially important for isolated communities or nations with restrictions on free press. For example, consider Belarus, a country that has floundered under autocratic rule for the past one and a half decades. As a land-locked country (Collier), Belarus also is challenged by reliance on neighboring countries for markets, some of which have had their own share of economic stagnation. The current government has imposed limitations on free speech, free press, and peaceful assembly and religion. When these forms of social capital are denied, it is risky for communities to provide the checks against the government that would enhance welfare and opportunity for all and limit exploitation (Greif, 2005).

"Cut Phone Cord" from The Boston Phoenix

"Cut Phone Cord" from The Boston Phoenix

Technological advances for community-based, “underground,” information-sharing devices would be ideal, but would be at-risk for governmental intervention. The element of trust in this kind of situation is most important for strengthening the market economy both within the country and with neighboring nations. As a country with a relatively low population density (Source: Wikipedia), the formation of weak ties is crucial to sustain long-distance communication. However, repeated technological use of email or database sharing could provide the frequency to establish “best business practices” for both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Athletes during a Day of the Republic celebration in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, July 3, 2008 from Boston.com

Athletes during a Day of the Republic celebration in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, July 3, 2008 from Boston.com

The level of government restraints on information-sharing technology can hinder significant market growth. However, there are ways to build a civil society that reinforces a balanced “micro-market” within the culture as it exists. As Avner Greif details in his essay titled Commitment, Coersion and Markets, “the more communalist a society is in the initial stages of market development, the more, ceteris paribus, its organic CEIs [contract-enforcement institutions] will be based on each intra-group’s economic and social sanctions among its members” (2005, 36). Utilizing technology in a new way may build community and serve to both strengthen regional markets and – perhaps down the road – counter an authoritative governing body.



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