Reflections on the Worldwide Bureaucracy Indicators Database

The World Bank just released a new dataset on the quality of bureaucracy in 115 countries.  Pam Jakiela wrote a great summary of it for the CGD blog, noting interesting findings such as the fact that the size of the public sector doesn’t vary as much as one might expect between rich and poor countries.

Series of four graphs showing that the radio of public employment to all employment, and public sector wages to all government expenditures, are fairly consistent between high, middle, and low income countries

Ken Opalo also had a good take on the database, and the broader importance of understanding variations in bureaucratic quality:

Bureaucratic capacity is a critical component of government and stateness. Based on my experience so far studying the political economy of development, if I had to pick a factor that is absolutely fundamental for the realization of long-run economic development it would be stateness.

If you think about it, a lot of the low-hanging fruits in development that could get many countries to lower middle income status and beyond — for example, agricultural productivity, petty manufacturing, rationalized construction sectors, healthcare, education, and water and sanitation — require a modicum of political stability, security, and mere copying and pasting of policy ideas from elsewhere (with sensitivity to local conditions and with some scope for experimentation).

Strong states can do this. Weak states cannot.