Summary: Social cohesion - that is, the inclusiveness of a country's communities - is essential for generating the trust needed to implement reforms. Citizens have to trust that the short-term losses that inevitably arise from reform, will be more than offset by long-term gains. However, in countries divided along class and ethnic lines, and with weak institutions, even the boldest, most civic-minded and well-informed politician (or interest group) will face severe constraints in bringing about policy reform. The authors hypothesize that key development outcomes (particularly economic growth) are most likely to be associated with countries that are both socially cohesive and governed by effective public institutions. They test this hypothesis for the sample of countries with available data. The authors develop a conceptual framework based on the idea of social cohesion, then review the evidence on which it is based. While several earlier studies have shown that differences in growth rates among developing countries are a result of weak rule of law, lack of democracy, and other institutional deficiencies, the authors focus on the social conditions that give rise to these deficiencies. They also seek to establish empirically a causal sequence from social divisions to weak institutions to slow growth. The essence of their argument, supported by new econometric evidence, is that pro-development policies are comparatively rare in the developing world less because of the moral fiber of politicians (though that surely matters) than because good politicians typically lack the room for maneuver needed to make desired reforms. This lack of maneuverability is a product of insufficient social cohesion and weak institutions. The authors also explore the determinants of social cohesion, focusing on historical accidents, initial conditions, and natural resource endowments. Social cohesion should not be seen as a concern primarily of developing and transition economies. Indeed, it is important in the United Kingdom as in Ukraine, in Canada as in Colombia, in the Netherlands as in Australia.
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