Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blogging from Moscow: Waiting for the Revolution

I am live, from Moscow, Russia, blogging at the 8th Annual International Conference "Public Administration in the XXI Century: Traditions and Innovations," organized by the School of Public Administration, Lomonosov Moscow State University.

This is my third trip to Moscow, the second time attending this conference. The first trip to Moscow was in 2007, when I was teaching on my Fulbright at American University in Yerevan, Armenia. I wrote to the faculty at Moscow State and asked if I could take a quick trip from Armenia to Moscow (only three hours as opposed to 12+ from Minnesota) to give some lectures. The second time I visited was in 2008 to attend this conference.

The paper that I gave today was entitled “The Crisis of Public Administration in a Post-Global World.” The thesis of my paper was simple. As I describe it in the introduction of my paper:

Nearly a generation ago and soon after the collapse of Soviet Marxism, writers such as Francis Fukuyma proclaimed in The End of History and the Last Man [1] that western capitalism had won. More specifically, writers such as him and later Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat [2] heralded that free markets had emerged as the winner in the Cold War and that the future was one of less government intervention in the economy in an increasingly globalized capitalist economy. The winners would be those with flat economies fully integrated into the market, the losers those outside.

But the western banking crisis that began in 2008 and the global recession produced as a result is an historic event on two counts. First, state intervention to save the banks and the free market from itself undermine whatever remaining legitimacy there is in the intellectual foundations of neo-liberal ideology, setting the stage for a new vision of the world in ways that have not been seen since the 1930s. Second, the crisis and collapse of the financial sector challenge public administration, specifically the role that the government and government officials have in regulating the economy and in delivering goods and services.

Theories of the economy, state, and public administration are interrelated. As conceptualizations of how markets operate change, so do theories about the role of the state or government in relation to economic activity. This then demands a rethinking of the role of public administrators and government officials. The global recession of 2008 has challenged more than a generation of beliefs about free markets and global trade, thereby necessitating a rethinking about the role of governments in promoting policies such as deregulation and privatization. This article examines the role of public administration in a post-global world. Specifically it asks how prevailing public administration theory–at least in Europe and North America–is challenged and changed by a potentially new global economic order.
Simply put, the collapse of the global economy in 2008 brought with it the demise of the political-economic order of the world that had prevailed since the late 1970s-
80s. Ronald Reagan is dead, and the theory of politics, government, and economics that he and Margaret Thatcher represented, are also dead. The global economic collapse proved the bankruptcy and demise of the prevailing economic order and a new one is needed. Unfortunately, it is not clear that the powers to be realize Reagan is dead and real change is needed. This is beyond the change that Obama promised, it is a demand for a new global restructuring of the world economy to the degree not seen or needed since the Depression of the 1930s and the Bretton Woods Conference of the Post WW II.

My paper was part of a larger panel on public administration in crisis. I was the only American at this conference, with most participants from Russia and the former soviet republics. I find it absolutely interesting to visit this conference and talk to scholars who think about the world in ways so different from that in the USA. They talk of the unity of politics, economics, and public administration in ways that specialization in the United States does not allow.

My paper was well received on two counts. First, its content was provocative, challenging prevailing patterns and assumptions about how governments should respond to the global economic crisis. Second, my style of delivery was different. Most of the presenters use a style which I describe as “Soviet lecture”–straight lectures and little animation and discussion. I am much briefer, more animated, and do more to engage the audience. Their presentation style, much like the teaching I have seen here and in Eastern Europe, shares this lecture style. It is a style from the old Soviet era. After my talk several faculty from schools around Russia asked for my card and I was complimented on the talk. That was nice.

Moscow State is dear to my heart for many reasons. As an undergraduate one of my political science professors taught here on a Fulbright. Ever since then I was to teach or visit here. Moscow State was and is the flagship school of Russia. During the Cold War it was the intellectual center of Soviet science and knowledge. Today it is still the elite school of the country and the students here are the best of the country.

But Moscow State is also dear because while here I am assigned student translators and guides to work with. All have been female students here and the best time I have is walking and talking with them. They have shown me the hidden side of Moscow, told me about their dreams, and in general we have become good friends. Two years ago it was two students each named Anna whom I befriended, this time it is Dasha and Glbova who I spent two days with. After the conference we just sat drinking tea, discussing their views on Russia, America, and on pop culture and life. As I saw elsewhere in the former communist countries, the real revolution here is yet to come. When the older generation dies off and this new generation of those born after 1990 take power, the changes in attitudes and life will produce the real revolution here.

So to me, while my paper is about Reagan dying and the need for a global political-economic revolution, the real revolution emerging is the cultural-generational one. This is the one that I hope produces more change. Witnessing this revolution through the students is the real treat in visiting Moscow, and that is the most important thing I like about my trips here.

No comments:

Post a Comment