2000 William H. Riker Prize in Political Science
Awarded on March 17, 2000, to Robert H. Bates
Report of the 2000 Riker Prize Committee
The Award to Robert Bates
The initial Riker Prize Committee consisted of: Randall Calvert, chair; Richard Fenno; David Rohde; and Kenneth Shepsle. They have awarded the first Riker Prize to Robert Bates, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University, for his extended and remarkable series of books on the political economy of developing nations in Africa.
Robert Bates has transformed our understanding of the politics of developing nations. His corpus, remarkable for both its volume and range, establishes a rational-choice-based explanation of the problems of development in Africa. His early work challenged the contemporary development literature which emphasized the uniqueness of peasant communities and highlighted the historical and cultural aspects of each individual case. Bates departed radically from this approach by offering the possibility of a theory of development. Unlike most of his contemporaries and predecessors, Bates adopted the individual peasant, mineworker or industrialist as the unit of analysis. In developing a political economic approach to development, Bates offers a theory of individual choices that can be tested across nations. Yet Bates's rational choice political economy is no mere application of received neo-classical economic theory. His work is noteworthy in its sensitivity to politics. Unlike market-based approaches, Bates views politics as relatively autonomous. His theory acknowledges the importance of a larger range of motivations than the neo-classical model of development, and non-market institutions play a central role in his approach.
Bates has confirmed his place as one of the most astute observers of the complex relationship between politics and economics in the developing world. His mode of analyses and his arguments are transferable across developing nations, and even in the industrialized world. Over the course of the past thirty years, he has succeeded in creating a truly coherent, cumulative body of work. From his earliest book on the mineworkers of Zambia, he has been concerned to apply rigorous quantitative techniques to test his theories, an extraordinary feat given the paucity of data in developing nations. His careful studies of the political economy of developing nations serve as a model for other scholars and a cornerstone for generalization. His research methods ingeniously combine statistical analysis, archival research, and interview evidence to test his theories. The theme of his work, forcefully argued and tested, remains a critical one: that institutions are central to the political economy of development.
Works Specifically Cited for This Award Unions, Parties, and Political Development (Yale University Press, 1971) In his first major work, Unions, Parties, and Political Development, Bates explores development labor policy in Zambia. The Zambian economy is dominated by the copper industry, and this study examines the efforts of the Zambian government to use this resource as a means of developing the remainder of the country. In particular, the book examines the failure of the Zambian government to restrain the economic demands of the mineworkers. Mineworkers were reluctant to forego their own material benefits for the larger good, a problem exacerbated by the fact that, although the mineworkers were better off than the vast majority of their countrymen, they were relatively deprived when compared with the expatriate elite. In this study one sees the foundations for much of Bates's subsequent work on institutional structures and their impact on development. The failure of the government's labor policy was due not only to the material self-interest of the mineworkers, but also to the highly decentralized nature of the Zambian trade-union movement, which frustrated government efforts to gain acceptance for its policy through manipulation of the unions. Local branches and local leaders of the union had considerable autonomy and more faithfully represented the interest of the mineworkers than did union headquarters.
Rural Responses to Industrialization (Yale University Press, 1976) In his splendidly executed study of Zambian peasants, Rural Responses to Industrialization, Bates offers a rich analysis of a rural African economy and society. A logical extension of Unions, Parties, and Political Development, this book examines rural responses to the country's industrialization. In it, Bates moves elegantly from the concerns of a single village to those of the government using an impressive array of research tools, skillfully integrating archival work, secondary sources, national data and oral history to argue that there were three main rural responses to industrialization: migration to the Copperbelt, political protest, and development of cash crops. Bates demonstrates that the peasant is not reluctant to participate in the modern economy but rather is eager to do so given the correct incentives. The failure of the Zambian government to reduce the gap in incomes between rural and urban dwellers was not a result of a reactionary peasantry clinging to a traditional culture but rather of the government's failure to offer sufficient incentives to do so. In this work Bates develops the notion of the rational individual as the unit of analysis and focuses on the importance of institutional structures, in particular the importance of institutional structures that were established during the colonial era for post-independence policies.
Markets and States in Tropical Africa (University of California Press, 1981) The assumption of rational agents is further developed in Markets and States in Tropical Africa, where Bates addresses the question of why African countries cannot feed themselves and why, in particular, governments adopt policies harmful to the interests of most farmers. In order to appease urban dwellers and avoid unrest in the cities, the governments Bates studied artificially depressed prices in the market for agricultural commodities. Small farmers were largely unorganized and politically weak, and thus they could only respond by cutting production or migrating to the cities. This book highlights the political expediency of agricultural policies in post-independence nations. Typically, these policies discriminated against industrious but politically weak small farmers in order to appease the demands of more powerful industrialists and more concentrated urban dwellers. This penetrating analysis skillfully weaves together economic-based theory and multiple kinds of evidence to examine the interface between politics and agricultural policy, offering a convincing account of how political power is used to manipulate the markets that determine farm income.
Beyond the Miracle of the Market (Cambridge University Press, 1989) In Markets and States, Bates found that the Kenyan experience did not coincide with that of other African nations. Kenya did not encounter the food shortages of other states and it experienced comparatively rapid economic growth. In Beyond the Miracle of the Market, Bates addresses the question of Kenyan exceptionalism. This detailed account of Kenya's agrarian history seeks to reinforce the theme of earlier works: political institutions are the key to why an agricultural policy succeeds or fails. Public policies result from "a struggle among competing interests that takes place within a setting of political institutions rather than markets." Policy is the result not of an optimization process distorted by private interest groups but rather of the strategies of private interest groups, who use their resources to influence ambitious politicians and the political process. Kenyan exceptionalism lies in the fact that the Kenyan government was closely linked to the interests of a rural farming elite. This differs from other African countries, whose governments were tied to urban bourgeoisie.
Political and Economic Interactions in Economic Policy Reform (Blackwell, 1993) The question of why various developmental policies succeed or fail is continued in the edited volume Political and Economic Interactions in Economic Policy Reform. This work explores the varied outcomes of radical economic policy reforms in eight different countries. The general conclusion that emerges from these works is that good policies or commitment to reform is not a sufficient condition for economic success, but that the structure of political institutions is critical.
Bates has carried forward his research program beyond the specific works on African development, and the political economy of development, cited here, both in numerous journal articles and in his most recent book, Open Economy Politics (Princeton University Press, 1997), which represents a new geographic departure as well as a new emphasis on international political economy. In its emphasis on scientific generalization, its attention to theory building, and its devotion to empirical testing, his work reflects many of the best qualities of William Riker, making Robert Bates a most fitting recipient of the Riker Prize.