Saturday, November 27, 2010

James C Scott and Standards (again)

Aid Watch referred a while back to a post by Cafe Hayek about how the state imposed last names and how this represented a major institutional advance, featuring an essay on Cato Unbound by James C. Scott. I read his book on Seeing like a State some time ago and was struck by a number of things. It is clear that imposing last names on people does impose some kind of order, but there is an important balance here. In a similar way to imposing an address system, or standards for export products, the system is useful in facilitating communication, business, justice systems, access to public services among others. However, there is clearly a point where this goes too far.

In fact this is all about standards. Is EU policy to "harmonise" standards and to promote "legal approximation" facilitative for trade and development as it is defended and seems plausible, or is it a state control thing where those who provide or impose the standard then get to police it. Certainly in the case of product standards, this is policed and can be used as trade protectionism. Similarly, your name can give away all sorts of information about you which may be to your detriment.

Where does this leave us? Carrying out a major balancing act it seems but if you have a feeling that we live in times of neocolonialism then standards are likely to be part of it.....

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