Is Language a Determinant of Reform Success?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 12 14:48:05 UTC 2006

 Does Culture Matter for Economic Development?

Is Language a Determinant of Reform Success?

Last week Graham Scott gave a lecture on public sector management and
governance at the Mercatus Center. Dr Scott was the Secretary of the New
Zealand Treasury between 1986 and 1993, which was a very important
position at the time of the NZ reform process. Dr Scott had an enormous
influence on the evolution of NZ economic policy and he was one of the key
people behind the public sector reforms. The State Sector Act in 1988
created the State Services Commission. In 1989, parliament adopted the
Public Finance Act, and, before the 1993 election, Finance Minister Ruth
Richardson, introduced the Fiscal Responsibility Act. The first act
removed the power to manage public administration from the hands of
government and created an accountability mechanism that imposed a higher
level of discipline on government departments and their CEOs. The second
act focused on how government departments spend money. The third act
provided rules for the conduct of fiscal policy, establishing principles
of fiscal management and reporting requirements.

During his lecture Graham Scott remarked that the word accountability has
no translation in many languages. For instance, it has no direct
translation in French and Spanish. I presume it is the same with other
Latin-based languages, such as Italian or Portuguese. While the word
responsibility is Latin in its origin (and thus has equivalents in French
and Spanish and other languages), it encompasses more than just
accountability and, for that reason, is much less precise. In Scotts view,
the concept of accountability is at the core of the public management
reforms in New Zealand. But its absence in many other languages may limit
(and perhaps has already limited) the adoption of similar reforms
elsewhere. Or it may lower the quality of their results. This would show
the power of language in shaping institutions. An interesting

Posted by Frederic Sautet on December 11, 2006 at 08:39 AM

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