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The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
Victor Boutros; Gary A. Haugen
Oxford University Press, 2014
368 pp., 27.95

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Robert Joustra

Gary Haugen Gets His Kuyper On

Why development without public justice is bound to fail.

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Just now, there is a small subterranean war in American evangelicalism about who Abraham Kuyper actually was. Jamie Smith, reporting from the front lines of James Bratt's magisterial new biography of Kuyper, cautions us to receive "Kuypers" with suspicion until we've read about the man's life and legacy. But while the bun fights of theologians and theorists go on, Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros have claimed and revitalized a very real Kuyper, in my opinion, with a practical, pressing theology of public justice. The Locust Effect yields the best of his legacy.

Like Haugen and Boutros, Kuyper wrote during a time of major social crisis, one characterized by not only an alarming and widening gap between the rich and the poor, but also the corruption and atrophy of institutions of public justice. Haugen and Boutros, in making their case that building those institutions out of the ash of corruption has been done before, cite almost entirely late 19th-century sources: Kuyper's world. And it was in that context that Kuyper developed what the English world has come to call his architectonic critique, writing in 1889: "we must courageously and openly acknowledge that the situation calls not only for the physician but most certainly for the architect as well."

Therein the parallel to The Locust Effect, which describes public justice as the "the most fundamental and the most broken system" in a developing world full of broken systems (p. 128; for a full primer see their 2010 Foreign Affairs article, "And Justice for All"). Haugen and Boutros hasten to qualify that they are not dismissing poverty alleviation, clean water projects, micro-finance, health care (etc.) as merely secondary concerns, or that these initiatives should receive less resourcing, but rather that the positive development these projects make cannot be secured apart from the rule of law. The non-governmental world has caught up with the fashionable ideas of When Helping Hurts, of the now well-aged debates over efficacy and models of foreign aid, but it has been slower to recognize that no kind of development can be secured, can last, if the poor live in fear of violence, and if even their modest gains can be ripped out from under them by systems of justice which not only fail to protect but all too often actively harass and destroy. What's required is nothing less than what some have called a "simultaneous realization of norms."

Paul Collier, the famous economist and author of The Bottom Billion, has already given us a reasonably readable and academically sound picture of what that package of norms might be. Public justice and the rule of law of is one of four critical pieces (his list comprises foreign aid, security, trade, and laws and charters). Any approach to development, argues Collier, that focuses solely on only one or two pieces of this package tends to fail. Hernando de Soto, another economist invoked in The Locust Effect, makes a long argument that no development can take place apart from the basic settlement of property rights, or the rule of law which tells you who owns what and how legitimate buying and selling can go on.

So we need special and sustained attention to governance, to the rule of law, which has been seriously neglected by the NGO community, according to Haugen and Boutros, but we do not only need such attention. Skimmers of The Locust Effect may find themselves alarmed that a more holistic approach is not foregrounded, but the book is meant to focus on one of those elements, what it calls the most fundamental, not dismiss the others. It is a call especially for the NGO world to recognize that although we may be turning the page on our helping hurting, we haven't turned the page on sustaining our helping, structurally transforming systems of gross injustice. We must, in other words, courageously and openly acknowledge that the present situation calls not only for the physician, but for the architect as well.

The Locust Effect does somewhat surprisingly run the risk of being overly technical at times, a technicality liberal political scientists can adore (pilot projects on how to build systems of justice, step-by-steps, empirical studies, etc.), but public theologians may find it a little lopsided.

The great and marvelous thing about developed public justice is not merely that it keeps my neighbor from stealing and raping; by far the greater and more marvelous thing about developed public justice is that such an inclination almost never passes my neighbor's mind. The astonishing metric of success is, in fact, not enforcement itself but the relatively thin level of enforcement needed. There is no police state large enough to coerce its citizens into moral behavior; coercive power is a blunt, last resort. If Canadians (or Americans) wanted to overthrow the police, we certainly could: our officers of the peace have neither the numbers, the mandate, nor the firepower to resist such an onslaught. No, what is marvelous is that we (or most of us, at any rate) do not want to overthrow our police; they are our public servants, and we respect and obey them not only out of "fear of the sword" but also a formed desire for peace, order, and good government (at least in her Majesty's Dominion). Therein lies a political culture that is the benchmark for highly functioning public justice.

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