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Political Conditions for Agrarian Reform and Poverty Alleviation

Ronald J. Herring1 Summary The purpose of this piece is to explore how we might go about understanding the political conditions for poverty alleviation via agrarian reform. It argues that the traditional conceptualization of agrarian reform and its politics -- which presents a near impossibility in typical political configurations -- is too limiting. The traditional economic focus on intersection of landed rights, agriculture and poverty needs broadening to incorporate technological change enabled by the biological revolution and the importance of ecological systems that support both agriculture and survival strategies of the poor. The traditional political focus on agrarian classes needs broadening to incorporate new social forces interested in the correlates of agrarian inequality and the social correlates of land-based inequality -- "new social movements" and their domestic and international allies. The argument nevertheless reaffirms the importance of classic agrarian reform in its dual contributions to direct relief of poverty and democratizing effects which enable other pro-poor reforms to work more efficiently. The surest way to poverty reduction in most rural societies is reformation of the property system. Though there are other roads to government action to alleviate poverty, all are subject to distortions induced by inequality, a major component of which is skewed distribution of property. Asset redistribution also enables social democracy, and even populist distributive programs work better with social democracy than without. Social democracy is, however, not a direct policy choice; there is much historical contingency at work. A conundrum of land reform policy generally is that it is a statist project -- as all policy is -- and as such has often increased state power and patronage in ways that are inconsistent with reform objectives. Without reform of the state, its alleged beneficiaries are seldom the driving force and may become its victims. Yet it is agrarian reform, particularly in its expanded conceptualization, which enables more broadly based rural power vis-a-vis the state by changing the incentive structure of state operatives through altering the rural distribution of power. Thus, a policy agenda for pro-poor reform must retain elements of the venerable core of the agrarian project and yet recognize the potential of larger coalitions for the poor. These elements include environmental integrity and regeneration, women's rights, human rights, cultural survival and democratization. This analysis is not meant to replace class with postmodernist identity politics, but rather to emphasize the reality of new coalitional possibilities.

John S. Knight Professor of International Relations, Professor of Government and Director, The Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA l4853 USA (internet: [email protected]). Prepared for the DFID Conference on 2001 World Development Report on Poverty, Birmingham, England, August 16-17, l999. I am indebted to Dia Mohan and Malinda Seneviratne for invaluable research assistance and discussions. This draft also benefits from comments of Manoj Srivastava.


2 Reconceptualizing Agrarian Reform The traditional study of agrarian reform presents an apparent political impossibility. Land confers power in agrarian systems; reform policy must then work through a system of power to overthrow its base (Herring l983: Ch 8). Not only would one predict little policy, but as importantly little implementation: power is expressed at various levels of the political economy, from agenda setting to administration. This model is certainly accurate for most of the history of agrarian reform. Exceptions have occurred through communist revolution (China), external intervention (Japan) or social democratic mobilization of the poor majority (Kerala in India). In the classic landlord-tenant system, in which land is held by a small minority of the population and the landless are economically dependent and politically powerless, the model holds remarkably, but not surprisingly, well. Moreover, with commercialization of agriculture, dominance of agrarian systems by what the Rudolphs (l987) call "bullock capitalists" -- substantial family farmers who actively participate in agriculture -- renders a political coalition against a minority land-owning class even more difficult to conjure. For these and other reasons, poverty discourse within powerful institutions has moved to expanding the pie rather than redistributing it. William Thiesenhusen (l995) notes the impact of debt crises and restructuring as reasons for dropping agrarian reform from the development agenda. Market solutions to poverty in general replaced concerns with redistributive policy in the l980s. Certainly the waning, then end, of the Cold War -- reducing the urgency of efforts to remove the agrarian base of communist movements -- had much to do with the shift. The architect of many agrarian reforms in poor countries, the United States, has moved in its external agenda from fighting local communisms to conditionalities of market promotion, human rights, gender equity and democratization (McHugh, Forthcoming). But political conditions are not so hopeless as the landlord-dominance model suggests. This is true for a number of reasons. First, there is the declining importance of agriculture. Particularly in Latin America, but throughout the poor world, urbanization and the growth of service sectors has reduced the political salience of agricultural land ownership. Marketization has meant that lease agreements more common to urban economic relations have become more common in agriculture. Part of this move is motivated by the political controversies surrounding land reform in many parts of the world; it is prudent for agrarian elites to diversify, even divest. In Jeffrey Paige's model of agrarian conflict (l975), the necessity of political control of land was rooted in the absence of alternatives for landed elites, resulting in conflictual structures. Secondly, land as anchor of natural systems forces reconsideration of property distributions. A great deal of nominally state property in nature is ripe for distribution to the poor, who may prove to be better managers than the state in terms of both preventing environmental degradation and preservation of biodiversity (A. Kothari l997; Kothari et al. l996). A coalition of movements and international actors interested in both "deep" ecology and social ecology is structurally enabled by environmental crisis and new recognition of both services of ecological systems and the public goods entailed in biodiversity. On the latter, advances in biotechnology enable new forms of ownership to arise; a global system of property rights in biota is in formation. For this system of rights to support

3 the poor requires a property reform similar to that of traditional agrarian reform. Third, recognition of gender-differentiated deprivations opens a new policy space for considering control of rural assets (Agarwal l992, l997). Increased mobilization of women potentially adds a political force for redistribution (Deere l997). International and domestic NGOs committed to this cause could and should recognize the roots of gender disability and powerlessness in property distributions. Fourth, democratic transitions, though often fragile, open new possibilities; in cases such as South Africa, post-Marcos Philippines or Zimbabwe, agrarian reform emerges as a pressing political agenda.2 New nations, such as Eritrea (Joireman l996), consider alterations in rural property from the perspective of nation building and economic growth. Fifth, technological change in agriculture should in principle continually lower the subsistence threshold size of holding while expanding options for small farmers (Conway l997); one result is that the scale of necessary redistribution may be smaller and therefore more politically feasible. An enabling sixth factor affecting all of the above is the proliferation of NGOs, including international NGOs, and their legitimation by the international development assistance community as players. These actors represent a force for exposing the abuses of human rights and political freedom which have often repressed agrarian movements.3 It is so numbingly consistent how often human rights abuses involve those without standing or economic autonomy in the agrarian underclass that the phenomenon is almost naturalized. This list of factors altering the potential balance of power in the politics of reform is by no means exhaustive. To take one example: the New York Times of December l8, l996 printed an article "Turning Colombia's Drug Plots Over to Peasant Plowshares," by Diana Jean Schemo. Alba Ortilla Duenas, the Colombian Minister of Agrarian Reform, was reported to be sanguine that a law passed by Congress the week of December 9, 1996, authorizing the seizure of drug dealers' assets, will ease the plight of landless peasants. The article noted as well that about 250 people who had been forced off their plots of land "at the behest of a nearby landowner and drug dealer are camping at government agencies in Bogota Colombia, seeking protection, after several of their number were killed and others threatened." Seizure of assets of criminals engaged in any land-based illegal activity offer an untapped pool of resources; international pressure on such

The Philippines presents an important caveat: weak political parties organized for patronage with few local organizational roots proved ineffectual in carrying out the land reforms after the fall of Marcos (Riedinger l995). Nevertheless, the politics of the transition put land reform back on the national agenda. Steven Hendrix (l996/97) argues that the causes of many domestic conflicts and human rights abuses which land in the lap of international agencies seeking reconstruction and reconciliation reside in land tenure conflicts, but there are typically ignored by international agencies.



4 activities as drug trading adds to the political weight of redistribution. It is not that drug growers are always rich and powerful, nor that the power of those who are is easily broken; it is the accumulation of similar pressures that suggests a need to reconceptualize the political possibility of agrarian reform. To argue that new coalitions are possible and new conceptualizations useful is not to bury the honored tradition of land reform as an intellectual and political project. So long as there are regionally concentrated incidences of increasing landlessness, land concentration, under-utilized land and underemployed rural people, the traditional model will ring true.4 Indeed, the forces which historically have moved agrarian reform persist, with their familiar regional and temporal spottiness, intermittent character, uneven results; likewise, land reforms of the past remain foci of contemporary politics. Despite slippage in the development policy world, land reform is not dead. Reports of the Demise of Agrarian Reform are Premature : In a short space it would be impossible to survey the contemporary spread of agrarian politics surrounding land reform. But the issue is by no means unimportant in the politics of rural -and urban -- people demanding redistributions of property. First, even dead land reforms are not dead. Promises unkept keep the movements alive; past misdeeds are not forgotten. Both become nodes around which politics precipitate. Nancy Abelmann (l996) examines the social and political activism of the 1980s in South Korea through the lens of the Koch'ang Tenant Farmers' Movement. In the turbulent "summer of protest" of 1987, North Cholla province farmers organized to protest against the Samyang Corporation's ownership of tenant plots never distributed in the 1949 land reform. Deborah Potts and Chris Mutambirwa (l997) document the continuing conflicts in moral economy caused by promised land redistribution and pressures for commercialization of redistributed plots in Zimbabwe. Nicaragua's tumultuous land reforms under the Sandinistas redistributed more than one million hectares to about 200,000 families -- about a third of the nation's arable land -- setting in train controversies over permanent titles resolved only in December l997 with conferment of rights to beneficiaries.5 Vietnam's land reforms were the core of controversy in the civil war6; reconstruction continues to rearrange landed M. Riad El-Ghonemy (l990) makes the general case that rising land concentrations and rural poverty, growing landlessness, and the rise of sub-subsistence farms -- agrarian degeneration in general -- still necessitate land reform. Moreover, he argues that land-reformed countries do better on a range of development indicators than unreformed countries (Chapters 6-7). James Putzel's work on the Philippines (l992: Chapters 1, ll) makes an archetypal case for one society. For an excellent analysis of process, and the collapse of the rural economy following land reform, see Enriquez l991.The Economist of December 28, l997 (31-32) reports that titles will be conferred on urban dwellers who received 100 square meters or less, rural people who received 35 hectares or less. Larger properties are subject to review before title is granted. See Bethell's quirky "Land Reform Lost Vietnam" (l995) for a view of antagonists in the United States policy world.

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5 rights in the direction of longer-term security of holdings for individuals and groups (Haque and Montesi l996). State socialism's global collapse has introduced a "third wave" of land reforms. Here the issue is restructuring land rights long held by non-democratic states (Swinnen et al l997). Donald Williams (l996) argues that land reforms in Africa have likewise often increased state power and patronage in ways that are inconsistent with traditional reform objectives. Powelson and Stock (1990) make the claim globally (and too harshly, with insufficient attention to positive effects of reforms). Probably the most difficult dilemma in land reform policy generally is that it is a statist project; without reform of the state, its alleged beneficiaries are seldom the driving force or priority. Writing on South Africa, Henry Bernstein (l998:28) warns against "the seductions of voluntarism, whether of statist (substitutionist) or populist (`communitarian') varieties." Bernstein here captures the central dilemma of advocacy of agrarian reform: popular forces are seldom sufficiently formed, or powerful, enough to drive political change and yet substitution of the state may result in either despotism, complicity with local elites or irrelevance for lack of local roots. My brief explication of the case of former slaves in the United States below both confirms and modifies Bernstein's caution: without the substitutionist power of the state, beginnings of agrarian reform may subject dependent populations to continued or enhanced oppression. It is wrong to write off the central state, whatever its class composition.7 Agrarian reform opens one more dimension of the urgent reform of the state, and offers one mechanism. South Africa offers a case of cumulative political pressures for agrarian reform driven both by traditional agrarianism based on dispossession and reverberations of political pledges during mobilization. Land control issues overlap significantly with gender inequalities (Meer l997). As in Zimbabwe, promises of land reform in past mobilization present current political and economic dilemmas for newly democratic governments. The difficulties are familiar: using market criteria and mechanisms halts the pace and limits the effects of reform, uncertainty for current holders depresses investment, communal arrangements and chiefly prerogatives present political contradictions8 and it is not clear where the money to finance compensation will be found. But not all contemporary politics of agrarian reform are based on residues of past failures and mobilizational promises. New peasant movements are born; James Petras (l997) writes of "the resurgence of the left" generally in Latin America, particularly in the countryside. New peasant movements use different idioms, and have more ambiguous ties with established political parties, but Bernstein is very much concerned with "decentralized despotism," in consonance with Mamdani's (l996) work on "citizen and subject." The pernicious effect of celebrating the local will be discussed below. The Economist of June 24, l995 quoted Nelson Mandela -- who had received some land in his own village -- as saying: "You have to be on good terms with your chief, and fortunately the chief in my home is my nephew." Not everyone is so well connected. The ANC has been understandably reluctant to tackle the issue of "traditional" forms of authority and their concentrations of political and economic power locally.

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6 exhibit continuities of analysis and personnel with previous struggles, even while representing creative political practice under new circumstances. Henry Veltmeyer (l997:139) in his survey of resistance to neoliberal policy in Latin America concludes that "new peasant movements" constitute the "most dynamic forces." "In Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, and other countries in the region, peasants have likewise constituted themselves as the principle subject of the class struggle. In many contexts peasants are of indigenous origin, giving their struggle a national and ethnic character, but the cause of the struggle can be found in their relationship to the means of production and to the State (Veltmeyer l997:154)." Armed struggle in Chiapas illustrates Veltmeyer's point; putting agrarian reform back on the policy agenda was a predictable response by the Mexican state (Johnson l995). Less dramatic but powerfully organized is the Movimento dos Trabalhodores Rurais Sem Terra (movement of rural landless workers) in Brazil. The MST "has generated a nation-wide political discussion about the issue of land ...[and] is the most dynamic social movement in the country, the best organized, and the most effective, with a record of concrete achievements and considerable support (Veltmeyer l997: 154). James Petras (l998) argues that the initial concentration of the MST regionally was explained by proximity to urban areas with sympathetic political networks and the availability of large tracts of uncultivated land to serve as targets for mobilization. The movement was thus able to transform itself from a sectoral agrarian reform movement of the classic sort to a national movement with broader, national, political objectives ("Project Brazil").9 Decentralization of political authority -- very much of the development agenda of the aid community -- thus offers, as illustrated in this case, more potential for agrarian reform movements and their success. Likewise important for the dynamism of the MST -- and for understanding the new coalitional possibilities for agrarian reform -- is the "eruption of a new generation of young women militants (Petras l998:132)." Both Veltmeyer and Petras analyze the impact of neoliberal policy as a background condition for new political movements in Latin America. Alison Brysk is even more explicit. She illustrates the new opportunities of identity politics in the face of deprivations of structural adjustment in Ecuador, with mixed results in terms of success, in her tellingly titled "Indian Market (forthcoming)." As mandated cuts in the social wage threaten progress and security in rural areas, specifically agrarian issues are joined to and expanded by concern with national development strategy writ large, built on a mobilizational base of "Indian" ethnicity. Since the growth discourse has silenced the redistributive discourse in many parts of the world, including the development assistance institutions, it is useful to consider the arguments for letting the market do more of the heavy lifting in alleviating poverty. Neo-liberal policies produce (unevenly) new grounds for mobilization at the same time that growth seems to offer a plausible substitute for direct poverty-alleviation policy.


See also Petras l997, pp 23-25.

7 Why Redistribution? Social Democracy, Growth and Poverty Traditional agrarian reform has then not exited the political agenda; this section argues that it should not disappear from the policy agenda. The surest way to poverty elimination in rural societies is redistribution, though there are other roads to government action to alleviate poverty. Social democracy provides both the political space and the political energy to effect changes in property systems. There is a serious chicken-and-egg problem embedded in this assertion: asset redistribution also enables social democracy. Social democracy is, however, not a direct policy choice; there is a lot of historical contingency at work (e.g. Herring l987). It is always best to begin where one's knowledge is surest; in my case that is the Indian subcontinent. The recent pre-eminence of neo-liberal views of development casts doubt on previous genres of poverty literature. If a rising tide raises all ships, the legitimacy of politically difficult, fiscally burdensome and administratively complex schemes for the poor is called into question. This challenge for students of the South Asian subcontinent -- which contains a large share of the world's absolute poor -- was recently posed by the World Bank study: India: Achievements and Challenges in Reducing Poverty (l997). That study concludes that economic growth has been the major factor reducing poverty, despite a complicated array of schemes to "uplift weaker sectors." Secondly, liberalization is held to be the major reason for growth. Growth will provide the needed resources for public safety nets and investment in human capital which round out the desirable poverty-reduction scenario. The clear prescription is growth encouragement as the major antipoverty mechanism; the rest (safety nets, human capital) is desirable if affordable. Though India is often considered a failed development state, there is enormous regional variation, and variation is important in searches for effective poverty policy. Inter-state comparisons within India indicate that Kerala has been especially successful in reducing poverty. Though the percentage of poor in India's population has declined by various measures since Independence, in absolute numbers, the long trajectory has been an increase in poverty, with strong regional variation. Consistent with contemporary celebration of the "Kerala model"10, the Bank notes (p v): "The range in poverty reduction among states is so wide that Kerala's progress in lowering the headcount index of poverty (2.4 percent per year, on average, between l957-58 and l993-94) is more than 120 times that of Bihar and more than four times that of Rajasthan." One implication is that we should understand Kerala better: what, for example, separates it from Bihar and Rajasthan? One curiosity given the Bank's overall emphasis on growth is that Kerala does so well given that its growth rate has been quite anemic (Kannan and Pushpangadan l988; Tharamangalam l998). Its agrarian organizations have historically been well developed, in contrast to most of the sub-continent and

The literature is large; for a representative range of positive and critical commentary, see, for example, Dreze and Sen, l989, pp 221ff et passim; Parayil l996; Heller l994 Chapter 1; Mencher l980; Herring l980; Tharamangalam l998; Jeffrey l993. The "model" has become so ubiquitous that Vice President Al Gore of the United States called Kerala a "stunning success story." On disaggregating states in terms of their growth performance, see Aseema Sinha's dissertation, Divided Leviathan, in progress.


8 much of the poor world. Kerala produced what was arguably the first elected communist government in the world in l957, and remains -- contrary to the global pattern -- an electoral stronghold of communism in a nation of decidedly centrist political tendencies. Its agrarian reforms have been radical, abolishing an especially oppressive rentier landlordism integrated with agrestic serfdom, in a period of Indian history dominated by inaction on the agrarian question. Agrarian labor legislation establishes entitlements anomalous for the poor world and radical by the standards of rich nations. The clear implication is that social democracy works well in poverty alleviation. The conditions include mobilization of the weakest sectors of society, a political party with roots in those movements and sufficiently adaptive strategy to ride the whirlwinds of political conflict successfully and the integrity to stay the course. Atul Kohli (l987) finds similar conditions in his comparative study of Indian states. Though the Bank is ambivalent about agrarian reform in India, and gives it only passing reference, about 80% of India's poverty is rural poverty (World Bank l997: xiii). By class, agricultural workers are especially likely to be poor; landlessness remains the major cause of poverty. Kerala's comparatively good performance in poverty reduction certainly could not have happened without land reform and the correlates of land reform (rural worker organization, rights and policy protections) -- which collectively make up agrarian reform. The absolute numbers of poor continue to increase in India as a whole: by World Bank estimates, from l64 million in l951 to 312 million (about 35% of the population) in l993-94. Indonesia is taken as a contrasting model: an annual decline of 10% between l970 and l993, from 58% to 8% of the population. The Executive Summary of the Bank report begins with a common comparison: India has fared badly in growth and poverty reduction in comparison with South East Asia (p xiii). Yet the Asian collapse beginning in July l997 -- that struck particularly hard in Indonesia, but ramified throughout the region -- clearly had a more dramatic impact on nations following the neoliberal path than on India, where there has been significant backsliding and halting compliance on reform (Herring in press). Poverty is created very quickly in general economic collapse. What we still do not know is the tectonics of macro-economic change: the extent to which unfettered liberalization of financial markets in particular is responsible for both rapid growth and vulnerability to dramatic collapse -- much as rapidly moving plates in the earth's crust create greater potential for catastrophic earthquakes. Whereas transnational actors are largely bailed out by global damage control through the Fund and bilateral transfers, the collapse of household economies is no one's responsibility. Much information is lost in the aggregate view. What is not clear is how long the newly poor in Indonesia will remain so, nor how far back along the historical line of poverty reduction the current situation has moved because of economic collapse. Such comparative arguments are often made, but the causality remains murky. In crossnational macro comparisons that dominate the development literature, it is difficult to know when the pseudo-precision of our measures outruns their validity and reliability for finely tuned conclusions about poverty. In the United States, where data collection is an obsession, the Census still undercounts minorities in cities but admits to being incapable of solving the problem; much of our data is quite bad, particularly on matters of low commercial importance -- the number of homeless, for example. Michael Lipton notes (l997: 1004) that "disparities between successive PPP

9 [purchasing-power parity] measures, and between all such measures and national-accounts data, are sometimes huge and unexplained."11Errors of the magnitude Lipton discusses -- exceeding three times the poverty rate by adopting alternative PPP deflators -- seriously undermine the confidence we can place in the macro-comparative literature on relationships between development strategy writ large and poverty. The ethical implication is that policy which produces direct and knowable results in poverty reduction -- agrarian reform, for example -- should have precedence over methods whose effects are indirect, uncertain, difficult to assess12 (Herring l983:Ch 9,10). The "new consensus" on growth and poverty is not without dissent.13 To the extent the consensus concentrates on labor-intensive growth from relatively equal asset distributions, it is not inconsistent with agrarian reform but works better with it. To the extent it assumes safety-nets and pro-poor programs from the surplus of aggressive capitalism, it is naive political economy (cf. Dreze and Sen l989). Though there are many technical and conceptual problems with the new consensus, the most important for this section is inattention to political economy. Growth which alleviates poverty works better in relatively egalitarian settings, which are themselves more amenable to growth (Lipton l997). Growth alters the distribution of political power; advocates for the poor are probably ill-advised to lean on the reed of altruism of the new rich. Secondly, whatever the effects of growth, there will be a role for public intervention to alleviate particular forms of poverty and to address concentrations of people passed over or harmed14 by growth processes; public intervention by states catering to For example, Lipton notes:"An extreme case is China: the move from Penn 5.1 to Penn 5.6 conversions drastically cut the estimate of China's purchasing-power, so that the estimate of poverty incidence ... in the early l990s tripled overnight, from about 9% of the population to 29%. China's estimated poverty reduction record, too, is made to look worse: economic growth since l980 on PPP 5.6 is about half that recorded in the national accounts." See Herring l983: Ch 9,10 for the logic. Timothy Besley and Robin Burgess (l998) present the evidence that land reforms explain some differences in poverty reduction across states in India, but their data and method are not convincing, though they get what seems to be the obvious right answer. See Michael Lipton's "Editorial: Poverty -- Are There Holes in the Consensus?" World Development 25:7 pp 1003-1007. On India specifically, and the Bank's l997 report, Gaiha and Kulkarni, l998. Though the World Bank study of India (l997) concludes that their results "clearly refute any presumption of 'immiserizing growth,'" Gaiha and Kulkarni's panel data from Maharashtra (l998: Table 1) indicate significant fractions of village population who either were poor and became poorer or were non-poor and became poor despite aggregate growth. It seems unlikely that the Bank position has sufficiently disaggregated and reliable data to make the sweeping claim above. Of course the Bank's position cannot be literally true; there are always victims of economic change, whatever the net vector sum: cf John Sidel on violence against the poor who stood in the way of expansion by agents of capitalism in growth sectors of the Philippines (l998).

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10 unreconstructed elite dominance are less likely to play those roles well compared to states reacting to a field of power in which there is more voice among the weakest sectors. The notion that growth creates the financial conditions for "safety nets" presupposes a political morphology sympathetic to those needing nets; rapid growth may produce a political economy with other priorities and vested interests opposed to redistribution via transfers. Given these uncertainties, direct and knowable results should have precedence over speculation and hope; agrarian reform has a strong track record in terms of the trajectories of states which have grown rapidly and with some equality (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, for example). Within the South Asian region, exceptional progress on providing basic human needs has historically been made both in Kerala and in the nation of Sri Lanka. Both are strikingly above the level of physical quality of life that would be predicted on the basis of per capita income. Kerala is sufficiently anomalous for its very high levels of life expectancy and literacy and very low infant mortality rates despite aggregate poverty that it is widely considered a development model. Sri Lanka occupied a similar position before civil war in the l980s produced social catastrophe (Herring, forthcoming). A major difference between Kerala and Sri Lanka is that agrarian mobilization was extensive in Kerala but lagged in Sri Lanka (see Moore l985; Herring l988, l994). A highly mobilized democracy in Sri Lanka extended the welfare state on residues of colonial rule, driven by tightly competitive left-populist and conservative political blocs; even liberalization and adjustment from l977 onwards protected public entitlements to a significant degree. But in both cases the driving engine was a highly politicized public which demanded protection of the weakest sectors within a competitive democracy that made votes count. In both cases the historical process of mobilization was long. Colonial rule aided both early democracy and welfarism in Sri Lanka, premised on a rich plantation export economy. In Kerala, it was mobilization against an especially oppressive local manifestation of the colonial state that created both institutions of grass-roots democracy and the welfare state. In both cases, poverty as measured by income alone is inadequate without taking into account the social wage which separates destitution from a minimal basic needs provision. Given the historical antecedents of basic human needs development in these cases, it is clear that social democracy is not a policy choice in the ordinary sense. Contemporary Kerala has precisely the type of political institutions that are often desiderata but seemingly impossible choices for other societies. The electorate is informed, extraordinarily participatory, alert and assertive; political parties are representative and competitive; political behavior matters. As a consequence, political institutions work (Heller, In Press). Yet these parameters of the political system are the product of long evolution, of struggle, and of reforms -- social and economic. They were born not entirely of policy choice but through popular reaction to repression and exclusion: landlordism, casteism, degradation of women, slavery and untouchability. One has only to look to Haiti or Somalia to note how unrealistic it is either to assume that outsiders can engineer effective political institutions or that democracy created internally without significant shifts in political power. The policy choice field is therefore limited. Yet policy choices do matter. One of the means through which these institutions were

11 developed in Kerala was popular responses to state initiatives and state failures on the ground in agrarian reform (Herring l987). A reach exceeding the state's grasp encouraged mobilization of newly benefitted groups seeking to obtain their de jure rights; creating coalitions of the poor necessitated reaching across traditional social barriers and extending the scope of reform. In Kerala, this process was began by a colonial state traumatized by insurgency -- the Mappila rebellion leading to the Malabar Tenancy Act of l929 -- and continued through abolition of tenancy altogether in the l970s (Herring l983; l988). More generally, one can conceptualize a range of anti-poverty and other policies from the least enabling to those which strengthen the political capacity for further reform (Echeverri-Gent l993). Clientelism does create constituencies, as the Sri Lankan case illustrates concretely. But welfarism without a class base is inherently fragile. Some policies empower classes more than others. It is in this set of desiderata that the optimal policy mix is to be located. It is difficult to imagine an optimal set that did not include agrarian reform. Path Dependency, Poverty and Democracy: A Comparative Illustration That there is a reciprocal relationship between agrarian reform and democratic development seems almost self-evident. Barrington Moore, Jr. (l966), in his Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy -- a book significantly subtitled "Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World" -- made sweeping claims about the political importance of breaking landed aristocracies for democratic development -- in opposition to dictatorships. In Capitalist Development and Democracy by Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Huber Stephens, and John D. Stephens (1992), Moore's early findings are confirmed across a broad range of cases (though with little attention to Asia). Prosterman and Riedinger (l987) make a sustained argument on the relation between land reform, citizenship and democratic development. This literature depends on an essential tenet of political economy: concentrations of economic power enable, sometimes necessitate (Page l975), concentrations of political power. Landlessness as a reciprocal dynamic enables dependency, therefore subjugation and unfreedom. John Stuart Mill suggested that tenants for this reason should not have the vote, as they were unlikely to be free political agents. These dynamics are illustrated by the divergent paths of agrarian underclasses in the United States -- a successful pluralist democracy -- and Kerala State in Southern India, a successful social democracy. Comparing Kerala to less effective states within India -- Bihar15, for example -- is one way to highlight the potential effects of agrarian reform on governance and poverty, but it seems more telling to compare the historic failures in the United States. Promised land reforms in the United States after the War of Secession (l860-65) did not become a part of the process known as "Reconstruction." The comparison to contemporary India, or other parts of the poor world may

On failure, Jannuzi l974. As I was considering this issue, Manoj Srivastava, an IAS officer from Bihar (then at Cornell) recounted a cause of failure of the Total Literacy Campaign in Bhojpur district of Bihar. The most powerful landlord of one block simply rejected the idea and decreed that nothing happened in the block, no one entered the block, without his approval. This outcome is inconceivable in Kerala.


12 seem strained, but is not16; our propensity to think in static categories (e.g. "third world") misses some interesting longitudinal comparisons. Emergence of the United States from its underdeveloped agrarian origins is historically recent. The fallout from failures in Reconstruction suggests reasons for the positive effects in Kerala. The period after the Civil War in the United States (1865-1877) is called "Reconstruction," reflecting (in retrospect) more the pious hope of reformers than capacity. The greatest challenge was to reconstruct social structure. Though some political leaders wanted to punish the southern landholding aristocracy for instigating war, others saw land reform as the only realistic means of creating citizens from slaves. The rumored/promised land reform came under the slogan "forty acres and a mule." That amount of agricultural capital would in many parts of the South have afforded subsistence. But no bill survived politics in the Congress. To the contrary, experiments in land redistribution in the South under martial law were dismantled after military occupation by federal troops ended. Land reform under martial law -- which worked fairly well in Japan after World War II -- was abandoned as an option. Not only did redistribution not become law, but even preferential distribution of public lands in favor of freedmen (as opposed to railroad companies) failed as well (Foner l989:451). With the departure of federal troops, Southern elites re-established rule with terror, fraud, intimidation and economic power. In the aftermath of failed reconstruction, backsliding in land policy -- then entirely in the hands of the state governments -- reduced the limited gains of reform and produced for blacks in particular an agrarian system rivaling that of the more extreme cases of landlord rule in the South Asian subcontinent.17 Because the (white) landed elite retained economic power, and eventually returned to rule, efforts to resurrect a subject class had no base. The failure of "reconstruction" left in place an agrarian political economy of bimodal subjugation and dominance, largely coterminous with race, but affecting the white agrarian poor as well. W.E.B. Du Bois remarked that "the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery" (in Foner l989:602). When radical agrarian populism of the l890s subsequently swept through the South, blacks were not politically available for a biracial coalition that might have altered the national distribution of power For a reasoned comparison of the agrarian structure of rural India to that of the American South, see John Echeverri-Gent l993; on agrarian structure in the South more generally, see Goodwyn l976. Echeverri-Gent notes that Southern United States, particularly in the l930s, exhibited social-structural similarities with rural India: a caste-like system political-economic oppression and marginalization, high rates of dependency of laborers, share-tenants and marginal farmers, severe primary commodity price cycles, small-scale labor intensive agriculture, extortionate sharecropping, credit exploitation and extensive poverty. Likewise, politics was characterized by "elite domination, intraparty factionalism, agrarian populism" (p 76). For example, North Carolina's Landlord and Tenant Act of l877 gave the landlords so much unilateral power that one former slave complained that the landlord had been made "the court, sheriff and jury." Likewise, policy toward the commons restricted access by the landless, a policy first invoked in areas of greatest black concentration of population (Foner l989:594-595). See Echeverri-Gent (l993) on the general analogues between India and the South.

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13 (on which, Goodwyn 1976). There are macro-implications for the politics of dealing with poverty. Eric Foner (l989:604) argues that the failure of reconstruction led directly to one-party (and white) dominance in the "Solid South" which "helped define the contours of American politics and weaken the prospects not simply of change in racial matters but of progressive legislation in many other realms." The failure in political terms meant that the Thermidor period following Reconstruction saw steady erosion of black rights: restrictions on the rights of former slaves to vote, be admitted to equal public schools or fully participate in dominant institutions of public or civil society.18 Prosterman and Riedinger's comparative study of land reform concludes more generally that reforms "provide a village-level underpinning that reinforces the national-level freedoms rather than contradicts them (l987:232)." Of special importance for the long trajectory of poverty, human capital development was restricted; social safety nets and educational facilities remained comparatively underdeveloped in the South generally, and especially for blacks, into the contemporary period. Land policy from Washington failed as a lever in reconstructing the South but left behind antipathy to intervention by the federal government so severe that military force was required in the l950s to enforce court orders to enroll blacks in public schools. To the extent that racism (or caste19) explains some share of poverty's persistence, the implications of Reconstruction's failure are profound. Eric Foner (l989:604) writes that "Reconstruction's demise and the emergence of blacks as a disenfranchised class of dependent laborers greatly facilitated racism's further spread, until by the early twentieth century it had become more deeply embedded in the nations's culture and politics than at any time since the beginning of the antislavery crusade and perhaps in our entire history." Land reform by itself would not have solved the economic, much less social and political problems of former slaves, but there is evidence that it would have made a difference. Foner (l989:l09) notes that "well into the twentieth century, black who did acquire land were more likely to register, vote, and run for office than other members of the rural community." But "as things turned out, blacks lacked even the partial shield against economic exploitation afforded by ownership of land (p l10)." Subsequent evidence from the differential trajectory of different classes of black farmers likewise indicates that the counter-factual argument is strong. Lester Salaman's (l979:129) For a sustained argument on the relation between land reform, citizenship and democratic development, see Prosterman and Riedinger (l987). On the political consequences of this period in the United States, see Richard Bensel's Yankee Leviathan; on the failure of reconstruction, Eric Foner's magisterial Reconstruction (l989).For an argument linking land ownership to independent social activism among Southern blacks in the l960s, Salamon l979. Gaiha and Kulkarni found in their empirical work (l998) in India, that caste was (not surprisingly) important: "a significant effect on movement out of poverty" (p 17). They attribute this result to discrimination in specific markets or weak motivation (internalized identification); it may also, I would think, reflect the variable distribution of connections; it is easier to get a job, a loan, an advantage if one has caste fellows in positions to help.

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14 work on the effects of "New Deal" experiments in land distribution indicates the consequences of missing this historical moment in the South. Landless black tenants who benefitted from very limited and truncated land distribution in the l930s created "a permanent middle class that ultimately emerged in the l960s as the backbone of the civil-rights movement in the rural South." The failure to break local landed power in the South had the further pernicious consequence of creating suspicion in voting publics policy from Washington and a blind allegiance to local rule. The irony of contemporary development thinking is that a premature celebration of the local [the product of what Pranab Bardhan (l995) calls the "anarcho-communalists" -- displacing responsibility from bad states to good communities -- reinvents precisely the scale structure that kept racial dominance alive in the Southern United States (Herring l998). The effects were not merely economic, but linked to systematic oppression. Education was systematically denied blacks and educational qualifications were used as tests for eligibility to vote. The World Bank's World Development Report of l990 rightly stressed the importance of education as one means of promoting opportunity for the landless to escape poverty. More generally, Eric Foner notes (p 110) that "fulfillment of blacks' non-economic aspirations, from family autonomy to the creation of schools and churches, all depended ... on success in winning control of their working lives and gaining access to the economic resources of the South." Kerala's long historical struggles for agrarian reforms likewise confronted extraordinary subjugation in the form of agrestic slavery and serfdom, persisting into the l960s in local perceptions. Agrarian reform had a significant impact on citizenship -- the transformation of subjects to citizens. This transformation puts pressure on political systems for redistributive public policy -- not all of which is unambiguous in terms of long-term poverty-reduction.20 Kerala is a social democracy on a sub-national scale, with all the warts and messy politics of any democracy, but without the control of policy that nation-states have. That democracy owes its form in large part to decades of pursuit and final implementation of fairly radical agrarian reforms. The core of the Kerala's agrarian reforms -- legislated in l959, then defeated by machinations in Delhi, and finally implemented in the l970's -- was the abolition of landlordism as a system of social control and exploitation (Herring, forthcoming). The long process in many ways began with ratcheted episodes of reaction to agrarian reforms beginning with the Malabar Tenancy Act of l929. It is this long process -- not simply the effective date of land to the tiller in l970 -- to which the argument of this paper refers. The experiences of Kerala State have been celebrated as a purposive, direct, policy-driven poverty-reduction success story, in contrast to much of the subcontinent. The outcome of the long process of mobilization that produced both land reform and labor reform in the 1970s is by

Subsidies are the most obvious problem. The World Bank's report on poverty in India (l997:xvi) notes the crowding out of social welfare spending by subsidies. Reforms after l991 slowed the rate of growth in subsidies, but the political structure of federalism allowed constituent states to substitute their own subsidies.


15 objective measures of human welfare -- mortality, longevity, literacy, male-female population ratio -anomalous for the level of per capita income (below the mean for India) and for the rate of growth in agricultural production (below the mean for India).21 Poverty reduction has been achieved via land reforms, labor reforms and transfer payments. All three presupposed an effective political and administrative system and popular pressure on the state. For reasons now quite familiar22, redistribution of land rights (not necessarily patches of soil) should have positive effects on growth and justice. Food security via public means -- e.g. ration shops, WICs, etc. -- complements agrarian reform as anti-poverty policy in Kerala. A relatively extensive welfare profile by sub-continental standards complements food security more narrowly conceived. Such programs presuppose a political system with both capacity and will. Anti-poverty values are embedded in real institutions and guarded and refreshed by participation. Otherwise public programs turn into boondoggles for the middle class, rent subsidies for the bureaucracy and patronage for politicians (cf Bardhan l995). We have long understood how the redistributive policies required extraordinary public support. The operation of ration shops and feeding programs in Kerala reinforces the conclusion that popular participation and consciousness are necessary conditions for a effective pro-poor distributive public policy. What the Kerala experience underscores, and does not really resolve, is the problem of the most awkward class -- the agricultural laborers.23 Income gains from more rapid growth are uncertain, lagged and unevenly distributed among households and over time. Problems of the laborers in Kerala were addressed through distribution of homestead plots for many, which are intensively used and quite important both nutritionally and commercially, through limited distribution of surplus lands from the land reform, and from limited distribution of public lands (a pervasive phenomenon -- the erosion of the public commons via populist patronage). Where there is a great deal of low-productivity, or degraded, land in either public or private hands, this strategy is a good one; but, where the sheer numbers of landless are overwhelming, it may not prove feasible. If it is politically impossible to redistribute land, it is still possible to formalize the obligations that traditionally legitimated landownership (the obligation to take care of the landless) and This claim is not meant to ignore the points about history raised in the debate between Amartya Sen and Surjit Bhalla (Srinivasan and Bardhan l988); certain improvements in social welfare predate land reform. It is more useful to see land reform as the culmination of a process that spawned caste reform, educational reform, altered priorities in social welfare spending and labor reform. See, e.g. Michael Lipton, "Land Reform as Commenced Business: The Evidence Against Stopping," World Development vol 21 no 4 l993 pp 641-658. My own arguments are developed in Chapters 9 and 10 of Land to the Tiller (Yale/Oxford l983.) On Kerala, e.g. Mencher l980, Herring l980; l989. McReynolds l998 finds unambiguously that beneficiaries of land reform in El Salvador hired in more labor, improving rural job prospects in the aggregate, as the economic theory of land reform expects.

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16 redistribute the product of the land via higher wages and pensions. In Kerala, old-age pensions from farmer surplus were mandated by the Agricultural Workers Act of l974. When this proved politically and administratively impossible, the state took up the fiscal burden.24 Security of employment ("permanency") was the second method, and tough minimum wage legislation the third. Together, these rules of agriculture, and the accompanying conflict over their enforcement, convinced many farmers (at least in the short run) that they should exit food production and/or move to less laborintensive crops than paddy. At least some of the subsequent stagnation in Kerala's agriculture can be attributed to these dynamics (Herring l989). Models and Specifics: As in much policy talk, models and analogies become important parts of the persuasive apparatus in discussions of agrarian reform. For years, reforms in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea held the high ground and contributed to the impossibility theorem discussed in the next section. That is, all three reforms took place under extraordinary circumstances difficult to replicate. Their relevance to the poor world was thus suspect. To some extent every case is sui generis. Because there is now much talk of the "Kerala model," it is useful to examine where the land reform specifically fell short. In terms of democracy, reforms were both a response to and a deepening of democratic process and institutions. But there were economic costs as well, and some lessons learned in that process might provide food for thought in those cases where political coalitions for reform are feasible. The variability of both agronomic, legal and political conditions surrounding land control render any simple transfer of either lessons or policies unwise. Nevertheless, there are lessons of some general applicability. The Kerala reforms can be criticized on a number of grounds. First, absentee rentiers with tenants were dispossessed (on about 42% of the non-plantation arable), but de facto functionless owners who hire and supervise labor indifferently (holding land for security or speculative value) were not. Many of these owners have other jobs or income sources (Herring l989). If land is to be rationed, their claim is weak. Taxation policy should be able to move land into more intensive use; a further formal redistribution may not be so necessary as adjustments in tax rules. Secondly, the land ceiling was both too high and too restrictive (excluding plantation crops, for example) to yield much land for distribution (though the threat of a ceiling induced some market redistribution). Thirdly, too much of the redistributed land was of poor quality and recipients had too little credit to improve it. Special efforts are necessary to provide economies of scale in provision of inputs and marketing of outputs for tiny holders. Rather than worrying about whether this is a public or private responsibility, much more effort should be invested in ensuring that existing public sector institutions work as they should; there are strong political compulsions for working through the state. Also, as Bina Agarwal (l992) stresses more generally, land reforms in Kerala were not sensitive to the effects of patriarchy on land control, which reforms must address.

Herring, l989; Gulati, l990. Old age pensions also improved intra-household income distribution for the most vulnerable sections of the most vulnerable class, as families recognized that non-working members were an economic asset, even if a small one.



Productivity consequences of actual land reforms inevitably diverge from theory; in Kerala, there is cause for concern. The process through which redistributive reforms in particular are achieved accounts for much of their impact on growth. Radical land reforms in a democracy require an extraordinary political mobilization. In Kerala, that mobilization took decades and assumed the form of a class coalition of tenants and landless laborers. Tenants got the land when absentee rentiers were dispossessed; the payoff to the more numerous landless laborers was limited distribution of tiny household plots (about 0.1 acres) and labor reforms granting security of employment, ratcheted wages, a pension fund and other benefits anomalous for the landless poor. Such mobilization may well produce conflicts over distribution of the spoils of reform. In Kerala, these tensions produced a stale-mated class conflict in the late l970s and early l980s which reduced both production and on-farm investment.25 Newly landed farmers were reluctant to pay double the wage rate of surrounding states and resented having a permanent labor force working at administered wages. Despite long-standing economic theory validating reform (Herring l983: Ch 9), land reform mays have serious disruptive effects on production for some time, depending on the social process of reform and how it is handled politically. There are other grounds for concern. The Kerala reforms abolished landlordism as a social system. Economists in particular worry that criminalizing sharecropping has negative effects in terms of insurance and risk-sharing. Again, a staging argument about historical change is necessary: abolition of landlordism breaks social structures that perpetuate poverty and disenable the state. States respond to fields of power; an unreconstructed agrarian system of dominance reduces the degrees of freedom for the state in pursuing less controversial propoor policies such as transfer payments, education, labor reform. Re-introduction of lease arrangements among equals after a transition period should redress any negative consequences of a restricted land market. But without the abolition of landlordism, agrarian systems in which oppression is a major part of social dynamics perpetuate poverty. Land reform policy must distinguish between socially oppressive and exploitative landlordism and frictional tenancy arrangements among near-equals, the latter being conducive to efficient agriculture. Kerala's remarkable record in terms of social indicators has largely been viewed as a human welfare success story, as publicized by Amartya Sen and others, and a disaster in terms of agricultural production and productivity (e.g. Tharamangalam l998; Kannan and Pushpangadan l988). If the World Bank's (l997) view of poverty in India is correct, sacrificing growth reduces the rate of poverty decline and depletes the resources for safety nets. I know of no convincing way to parse the trade-offs if they exist. It is possible to stress the effects of a stale-mated class conflict in agriculture (Herring l989) as a source of disinvestment or to see institution building as the source of

See Ronald Herring, "Contesting the 'Great Transformation:' The 'Factory Acts' in South India," Program in Agrarian Studies Paper Series, Yale University February l993 and Herring (forthcoming). On the longer history of reform and provisions of the Act, Herring l983 Chapters 6,7. Patrick Heller (l993, and In Press) argues that new social energies generated by this process have worked class compromises which augur well for future growth.


18 new forms of investment (Heller l994). The World Bank's l997 report on India argues that there is no trade-off; retargeting programs can simultaneously create growth and human capital/safety net development. In ethical terms, the Kerala model is quite defensible; assuming growth will trickle down, and elimination of popular-sector entitlements will accelerate growth, together put the burden of risk on the poor, and this generation over the next. It is hard to mount an ethical defense of so risky a strategy. The Impossibility Theorem The most common response to calls for agrarian reform is that, however desirable in theory, it is politically impossible. The first response is that no policy offers a full menu of desirable outcomes. Indeed, different sources of poverty, each with competing normative justifications, require different and flexible state responses as fickle politics redefine the line between the deserving and undeserving poor: the idle are contrasted with the unfortunate, unwed mothers with widows and orphans, the physically handicapped with the mentally disturbed. Some poverty is episodic -- what Agarwal (l992: l87) calls "troughs and calamities." Some poverty is perpetual, some frictional. Public moral economies differ across time and space on constructing the relative deserts of different classes of poverty and the poor. Neither growth nor agrarian reform offers any panacea. And yet opposition to agrarian reform, or radical redistribution in general, makes the debatable assumption that pro-poor policy in general is somehow less politically fraught than property redistribution. Non-redistributive solutions make strong assumptions about either effective and autonomous states or, increasingly, "communities (Bardhan l995)." Since virtually no one advocates complete laissez-faire treatment of all classes of poverty, most anti-poverty positions -including the battered "Washington consensus" -- imply an effective state. The World Bank's World Development Report for l997 makes the case for centering governance issues in development, but offers not much in the way of feasible mechanisms. The overtly political problem is disagreement on the extent of market failure and what to do about it. If growth itself is dependent on the capable state, so much more so is poverty alleviation which is efficient and effective. Getting to an effective and representative political structure has a lot to do with historical junctures and the development of political morphologies over time. Path-dependency then introduces one set of analytical problems for understanding either governance or poverty. A second set is introduced by the Archimedes problem of public policy: what assumptions do we make about the scope and limits of public authority and the malleability of political morphology.26 Think of three classes of strategies for poverty alleviation: transfer payments, public works and asset redistribution. For poverty resulting from individual infirmities -- debilitating illness, mental

For an ethical argument, see Herring l983: Chapter 9; on the enabling effect of public policy toward political potential for alleviating poverty, Echeverri-Gent l993. In the l960s, the left in the United States used to answer arguments for compromise with the electoral system with: "if you always choose the lesser of two evils, you will never have anything but evil to choose from."


19 incompetence, age, physical disabilities -- public works or asset distribution would be inappropriate but transfer payments certainly work. The only question is their fiscal implications, which drives straight to the first consideration: a political economy of the state and the moral economy of mass publics. It is easy, and common, to say that welfare programs are unsustainable in poor societies. So, too, is a nuclear arms race, but political coalitions are clearly capable of sustaining alternative priority regimes. Welfare confronts the political problem of justice: the perception in mass publics that open entitlements encourage cheating, dampen incentives, reward unacceptable behavior. The fallback position in the subcontinent since colonial times has been need-tested assistance in the form of public works (Herring and Edwards l983). Yet one of the more effective of these -- the Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra State -- was an open-ended entitlement which had to be rationed after its costs escalated beyond 15% of the state budget. Moreover, as the program became more attractive, there was significant replacement of the very poor by the not-so-poor in the ranks of beneficiaries (Gaiha et al l998). What is the scope for supplemental public intervention assuming that the first public responsibility is to ensure the World Bank's preferred "broad-based, employment-intensive growth" in rural areas? Rural public works have taken up a lot of the entitlement slack in India at considerable cost and indifferent results. Rural public works are politically easy: they promise something for everyone, so that elites have no reason to dismantle or obstruct the program. For this reason, Maharashtra's Employment Guarantee Scheme is an archetype: developmental public works provide wages for the poor, means-tested by the difficulty of the work and distance from the village, and capital-assets and infrastructural improvement for those who own rural Maharashtra, financed by the convenient cashcow of Bombay in a reversal of "urban-bias" dynamics (Herring and Edwards l983). Though substantial landowners reap the lion's share of benefits, and there is significant corruption, benefits to the poor are considerable: not only a guarantee of employment, but such rarities as on-site child care, as well as maternity leave and allowance. John Echeverri-Gent's (l993) critique of the Employment Guarantee Scheme is that from a political developmental point of view it fails to mobilize and involve the rural poor to the same extent as the public works programs of West Bengal (under the National Rural Employment Programme), where local governmental institutions rather than line departments formulate and execute projects under a leftist government. The Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra was a model founded in the crisis of drought relief and political agitation; it was subsequently extended as national policy in India. Useless projects and extensive corruption were bought at a high cost (Herring and Edwards l983). The poor were to some extent "crowded out" by those with higher incomes and better connections (Gaiha and Kulkarni l998:28; Gaiha et al l998). It is crucial to realize that some of this fiscal burden could be alleviated through agrarian reforms and that the political results of reform are often important for sustaining and energizing complementary social policies.


Universalistic entitlements generally have the problem of sustainability as costs escalate, as the backlash against welfare expenditures in the United States in the last two decades illustrates. The political problem is sustaining a public belief that the deserving are benefitting, the undeserving are not, and a public norm of capitalist society is not too far undermined: if you don't work, you don't eat (absent inheritance). For a univeralist welfare scheme to work, the moral economy must be solidly supportive (the blind are deserving) or encompass a general interest in the form of widespread benefits across classes (public works) or empathetic possibility: it could happen to anyone (disaster relief, unemployment insurance). Agrarian reform decisively fails this political feasibility test unless one can argue, as Nehru did in India, that the agrarian structure is a drag on modernization of the whole economy, or, as seems more feasible for the future, that peasants are better environmental stewards than transnational timber firms. The interventionist alternatives to asset redistribution seem to fall into two broad categories: market rigging and political rigging. Market rigging (price supports, minimum wage legislation, "handicraft" subsidies, etc.) has its place, and has been so extensive in the currently rich nations that it is naive or simply ideological to argue that growth cannot be built on a political economy. Yet there are observable problems with market rigging, from enforcement costs and consequent rentseeking to distortion of incentives with unintended consequences. Political rigging assumes that the poor will not fully benefit even from targeted programs, nor get their share of general entitlements and development projects absent reconfiguration of local power. Political rigging in India takes the form of quotas for the traditionally disadvantaged; India's revision of its rules for local governance (panchayati raj) in l993 (the 72nd amendment to the Constitution) represent one end of the political rigging continuum: mandated special representation for traditionally outcaste groups and tribals and a quota for women. 27 As for market rigging, there are good historical examples of positive effects from purposeful intervention, but we also know that in power structures of marked inequality, the ability of the poor to function autonomously is limited. Reconstruction in the southern United States attempted political rigging without redistributing economic power and largely failed. In India, panchayats (village councils) still often represent the interests of the locally affluent, who use poor retainers as pawns through the formal institutions (Gaiha and Kulkarni l998: 34, 43). That is, capture of local institutions is a common outcome of devolution and decentralization, now almost totems of development praxis (Herring l998; Uphoff l998). Accountability, transparency, and alert activism among the citizenry all presuppose the social bases for independent action, something a serious agrarian reform facilitates in a way few other

Disaggregation of poverty too often fails to disaggregate along gender lines. The experience of the United States is that feminization of poverty produces among the most intractable poverty problems: if women work, their children are of necessity looked after in some institutional setting, which eats a high percentage of low-income wages, but if they nurture their children, they are severely restricted in employment opportunities for spatial and other reasons.


21 policies can. Representation of "communities" in quotas ignores the significant vertical elongation of communities economically; Gaiha and Kulkarni (1998:40) seem surprised to note that "a Scheduled Caste [former "untouchable"] Chairman did not transfer land to a single poor person during his tenure" under a program in Uttar Pradesh inaugurated by Chief Minister Mayawati, designed exclusively for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe families. The program was explicitly aimed at aiding weaker groups though the leasing of panchayat land. Rigging on the basis of primordial loyalty, discounting elongation of ascriptive groups by market dynamics and interest differentiation, inevitably faces this prospect. Unlike universalistic entitlements, land reforms can be targeted to those with the strongest normative claims -- typically share-croppers or permanent field laborers. Rapid growth may be a solution for the poor with some assets, contacts, mobility, energy and low risk aversion -- whose numbers should increase with reform, but do nothing for the most intractable poverty absent redistribution. The more macro issue is Atul Kohli's important point in The State and Poverty in India: cohesive parties of the left are the guardians of policies that protect the poor (notwithstanding Mallick's l993 dissent on West Bengal). Such parties form around and sustain themselves on redistributive policies. Agrarian reform can over generations form a flexible goal for mobilization of the poor, as has been the case in Kerala. Because it is the consequences of poverty -- not simply some numerical measure of income -- that should be of concern, the social wage may be more important than the market wage -- and easier to manipulate. For these reasons, agrarian reform which ratchets up the demand for poverty alleviation at the macro level is important. It is at the macro level that social wage policy is formulated. At this level, performance is more important perhaps than mere existence of legislation. Policies providing a social wage are indifferently implemented in the absence of social energy; the state needs goading, monitoring, oversight. Transfer payments, public works and anti-poverty programs in India frequently engender corruption and miss their targets, or approach them inefficiently (World Bank l997:xix, passim). A large part of this problem is lack of accountability of state to citizenry. This suggests that policies which directly reduce poverty -- such as land reform -- are superior to policies which require significant continuous intervention and indirect effect or potential for diversion. Alternatives to land reform for alleviating the plight of the rural poor are then neither certain in success nor costless. In any of the scenarios above, coping with poverty presupposes governance. One way of thinking about governance is to consider the preconditions for mass citizenship. Kerala state is often considered a model for its success in human welfare, but as importantly is a political system that works. Education and ration shops are two examples often cited. Dreze and Sen, for example, note that in India generally "... it is quite possible for a village school to be non-functional for as long as ten years (due to teacher absenteeism and shirking without any action being taken and any collective protest being organized." In Kerala, however, "... a comparable state of affairs would not be passively tolerated (in Gaiha and Kulkarni l998: 24)." Ration shops are far more successful in Kerala

22 than in most other states precisely because both politicians and bureaucrats know they face retribution from an anomalously alert and active citizenry rather than abject dependency of a large fraction of the population. In general, a state which must respond to a landed population of some rough equality in rights is less able to perpetrate or ignore malfeasance and irresponsibility in its operations. Citizens with such rights are more likely to demand results. Alternative Sources of Pro-Poor Policy There are many political motivations other than concern for the poor or dependence on a political base of poor people which may be consistent with poverty reduction. This is fortunate, since regimes dedicated to the poor are rare and the poor lack the resources and political space to make their agenda policy. Reform may come from other sources. Conservative elites fear mass unrest; modernizing elites consider "feudal" agrarian relations a drag on the economy (Herring l983: Ch 8). Concern with poverty has resurfaced at the World Bank; though there are remnants of the conservative view that growth alone will generate a tide which raises all ships, the "Washington consensus" seems in special disarray after the Asian collapse which began in July of l997. Domestic motivations for pro-poor political initiatives may include legitimation of governing elites, shifts in public moral economy -- often driven by international forces -- and product differentiation by political parties or leaders seeking to establish new political space for themselves. On the latter, consider Indira Gandhi's l971 campaign of garibi hatao (abolish poverty). This initiative, which despite its largely symbolic nature did have some effects on the ground, was an effort to differentiate her break-away Congress party from traditional bosses. It redefined the dimensions of political space in ways favorable to the new political formation. The effective Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra built on residues of colonial distress relief works and fear of the crime and disorder of desperate landless people, but performed new political functions. It allowed party bosses of the Congress to utilize state revenues collected from Mumbai (Bombay) city to legitimate rural rule and create assets for the rural elite with public works on demand. Both poverty reduction and legitimation of rule were accomplished, though inefficiently, by a regime with no definable base among the mobilized poor (Herring and Edwards l983). In more general comparative terms, Kimberly Niles (l998) has argued for an understanding of poverty alleviation as a "political survival strategy," based on cases from Southeast Asia. In her analysis, elected authoritarian regimes (Indonesia and Malaysia) do more in terms of targeted social spending on the poor than do democracies with "fluid and fragmented" party systems such as the Philippines. This outcome reflects the short time horizons of fluid and fragmented parties, their narrow constituency bases and the absence of much prospect that the party will be identified with progress on the poverty front over time -- i.e., there is not much reason for investment for the long haul. This phenomenon -- the dilution of anti-poverty programs in favor of patronage and particularism among multiplying parties -- is represented broadly in the South Asian subcontinent, even in post land-reform Kerala, though not in strong form. As the major leftist redistributive project in Kerala came to an end, politics of particularism strengthened, but the dominant blocs of left and

23 right remained largely dominant. Nevertheless, abolition of landlordism as a social system created a crisis for politics on the left. In the absence of a clear class project with plausible objectives, individual's objectives of dignity and material progress may be better served through the mobilization of alternative identities. Aggregate ethnic/communal politics began to fill some of the vacuum left by the withering of a coherent class political project in Kerala. There were no longer issues of class conflict, imperialism or sub-nationalism which have politically or economically plausible solutions comparable to the abolition of landlordism and colonial rule. Moreover, the shift in public moral economy from class redistribution to general distributive politics undoubtedly contributed to the resurgence of alternative identifications for political action. The number of political parties contesting in Kerala expanded in the decade after land reform; many were self-evidently political organizations aimed only at the re-assertion of primordial loyalties -- caste and community -- as unifying factors. But the pendulum does not stop its swing. As a consequence of the cul-de-sac of redistribution as political project, the communists' new project became one of balancing class redistribution and a shadow of revolution with strategies for economic growth: a productivist class compromise. Patrick Heller (In Press) argues strongly that the strength of highly mobilized civil society and the institutions of class compromise in Kerala augur well for the economic future of the state. The ruling CPI-M, currently in power, has staked a great deal on utilizing the strengths of social democracy to institute a bold project for decentralized planning and resource mobilization, building up from local bodies to state managers rather than the other way around (Tornquist and Tharakan l996). Whether or not these efforts to add dynamism to a welfare state succeed is of course of great importance in assessing the Kerala model. But it should be stressed that even the possibility for these bold democratizing developmental initiatives was laid by the redistributive politics of social democracy. Celebrating decentralization and devolution in the absence of redistribution of political power runs the risk of further empowering local elites. If the public-choice account represented by Niles (l998) is accurate, or more generally applicable, the implication is that premature conditionality by international developmental institutions for democracy may be counter-productive. Party system matters more than regime type, but party systems are least amenable to policy influence. Secondly, elections matter more than parties; if there is choice, accountability of even authoritarian regimes through elections may prove superior for the poverty agenda in comparison with insistence on multi-party democracy. Fragmented parties of the ephemeral type are not necessarily conducive to poverty alleviation and may indeed represent little more than organized primordial conflict over scarce resources (Esman and Herring, forthcoming, Ch 1). The least conducive regime type in Niles' analysis is closed authoritarian, particularly of the military variety. Even there, conditionalities of transparency, accountability and human rights may prove more important for the poor than demands for multi-party democracy. Policy analysis that seeks to be normative inevitably confronts the Archimedes problem: given a long enough lever and a place to stand, a single person could move the mass of the earth. But what levers do we assume, and what place to stand? To assume that any existing political system is in some sort of equilibrium, from which budging is impossible, is to assume a conservative stance that prescribes doing nothing -- or tinkering at the margins. To assume that political systems, institutions and patterns of behavior are infinitely malleable certainly yields a wide range of policy

24 options, but has little relevance on the ground. Political pessimists concerned with poverty may conclude that growth is enough because responsive states and coalitions for the poor are rare. There is a better frame of reference: instead of seeing public policy as captive to existing structures and political dynamics, and thus constrained severely, analysts need to see that pro-poor policy has a strategic element in which much that is assumed constant in most analyses is subject to policy choice and thus change. Universalistic and expanding sum programs are more politically feasible than redistributive policies. They are also wasteful and inefficient. Political sustainability in the absence of bottom-up mobilization is suspect. External policy advice has made some impact in moving universalistic entitlements -- which are politically popular -- in the direction of targeted programs (Bardhan l995). Land reforms are especially appropriate for this purpose, as they can be targeted to those with the strongest normative claims -- typically share-croppers or permanent field laborers in traditional agrarian reform, the poor generally in expanded notions of reform. The enabling effects of property reform augur better for subsequent targeting of expenditure programs for those most in need. In sum, the search for feasible and sustainable political coalitions for poverty alleviation requires attention to coalitions in situations which includes condition which are not immediate policy choices. It raises important questions of sequence and coalition formation. The following two sections illustrate unconventional possibilities for creating pro-poor coalitions. The Distribution of Property Rights in Nature: The traditional agrarian reform narrative rightly expands beyond land per se to consider a full range of relations and transactions which affect poverty and growth: access to markets, extension services, credit, infrastructure and so on. This discourse is, like land reform narrowly conceived, redistributionist; power-driven distortions require correction if conditions of the poor are to be addressed. It is now a cliche of agricultural policy that land reform without reforms in broader support services will result in little improvement in efficiency or justice. Yet the focus is on agriculture is too limiting. As we think of conditions for agrarian reform in the contemporary world, we return to land, not as agricultural capital, but as landscape, as a component of ecological systems. This refocus is necessary because environmental degradation produces and is fed by poverty (Blaikie and Brookfield l987) and because a number of public goods beyond production and justice are at stake. Nature policy is fundamentally about property. Since Polanyi's (l957) "great transformation," ownership of nature in a macro sense has seemed normatively bizarre to whole populations (Cronon l983) and politically contested. Public objections to private ownership of nature are often deeply ethical, rooted in a variety of religious and cultural traditions. Privatization of landscapes has historically spawned significant conflict between states pursuing developmental objectives and marginal peoples whose livelihoods are premised on access to nature and its products (e.g. Peluso l992; Guha l989). Property is inherently complex: a "bundle of rights" embedded in public law, continually renegotiated through court cases and legislation, disentangled and rebundled in fluid ways. Access

25 and control only begin to describe the dimensions. Property rights in nature inevitably raise questions of nested sovereignties, particularly given the simultaneous pressures to globalize intellectual property systems through the World Trade Organization, the political pressure to decentralize and devolve authority below the nation-state level and the Convention on Biodiversity's vesting of rights in nations. Karl Polanyi concluded presciently in the pre-ecological age of l944 (l957:184): "The economic argument could be easily expanded so as to include the conditions of safety and security attached to the integrity of the soil and its resources -- such as the vigor and stamina of the population, the abundance of food supplies, the amount and character of defense materials, even the climate of the country which might suffer from the denudation of forests, from erosions and dust bowls, all of which, ultimately, depend upon the factor land, yet none of which respond to the supply-and-demand mechanism of the market. Given a system entirely dependent upon market functions for the safeguarding of its existential needs, confidence will naturally turn to such forces outside the market system which are capable of ensuring common interests jeopardized by the system." "Such forces outside the market system" typically means the state. Just as the embeddedness of local commons logically necessitated a larger scale of authority in the "tragedy of the commons" model (Herring l991), only cooperation at the international level would address the potentially global tragedy of the commons. A species-level learning process has dramatically expanded not only the scale over which control of environmental processes must be exercized, but the breadth of implications for economic life. The institutional problem is not only that authority on a scale equal to the scale of ecological processes is difficult to manage -- there is no global state -- but also that governance within such structures as exist -- essentially international soft law regimes -- is undermined by its unfairness. This point is clear with regard to international environmental protection, where the North-South divisions etch the justice arguments sharply, but applies equally to intranational disparities between centers and peripheries. Emergence of a global nature regime with statelike properties is a genuinely new manifestation of Polanyi's "double movement." It co-exists uneasily with a global neo-liberal economic regime. There is a contradictory dialectic in the global demand that the international system become more a market, absent state meddling, and the simultaneous global demand that market failures and externalities (of which ecological integrity is perhaps the most egregious) be considered in global terms (Herring and Bharucha l999). Part of the justice discourse in the South constructs environmental protection as a "luxury" which poor nations and people cannot afford; in a hierarchy of needs, human welfare comes first. This construction is counterproductive. More often than not, environmental protection is crucial to the poor, who are more primary-product and natural-resource dependent than the rich. Fishermen, loggers, peasants, hunters and gatherers -- all are less able to escape environmental degradation than are the well off; moreover, all are better able to take advantage of labor-intensive nature-based opportunities than are the rich. The stake of the poor in environmental protection is fundamental. Kishore Saint (l987:57) notes: "The wildlife-loving environmentalists have found that there are people in and around the

26 sanctuaries and wildlife habitats they wish to protect. The `people-wallahs' or `poverty alleviators' have discovered that environment is nothing other than the primary, productive resource base of the poor and that poverty is aggravated by the degradation of this resource. It is also being realized that this deterioration is often the consequence of development activities such as mining, industrialization and dam construction." Here the question of property rights goes to the heart of the developmental state, which claims by eminent domain extraordinarily broad proprietary scope. Likewise, much degradation follows from a concentration of property rights in destructive private hands. Nevertheless, it is precisely an uneven distribution of resource control and opportunities that makes global or even national solutions problematic in terms of justice. If the consumption of the center -- globally and nationally -- creates crises which force sacrifices from the periphery, constituting public authority to mandate and enforce those sacrifices will be impeded, often defeated. Thus justice is not simply the first principle of social systems, as a Rawlsian perspective would have it, but also a necessary condition for efficacious policy. Forest policy in India illustrates these dilemmas. Unfairness undermines conservation of the resource base (Kothari and Parajuli l993). Despite official gestures toward participatory or joint forest management, policy to ensure "sustainable use" remains controversial. Politically, the contradiction is between centralized bureaucratic control and devolution to States and communities. Normatively, there is conflict over conceptualization of forest dwellers' daily practices as "concessions and privileges" (granted by the state) as opposed to rights inherently vested in local people. Environmentally, the conflict is between preservationist "deep ecology" and the social ecology of development favored by most activist NGOs (Herring l99l). Empirically, in terms of forest conservation, there are no easy conclusions and deep disagreements. Conflicting claims to resource stewardship, conservation values, employment and social justice are no easier to resolve in poor countries than in the old growth forests of the United States; the normative and political issues are homologous. Reform means redistributing state monopolies of land control without enabling degradation. This macro controversy over landscapes is now joined by a growing conflict over the distribution of property rights in biota (e.g. Dawkins l997). Biotechnology enables ownership of the building blocks of life itself, and the power to create organisms not found in nature. Increasingly, self-interested fear of consequences of genetically modified organisms joins strands of opposition long premised on indigenous rights in landscapes. Because of the scientific dominance of the North, ethical and safety issues have largely been dominated by Northern practice, to which there is growing resistance in the South. A great global public good is at stake in development of biotechnology. The list of remarkable medical and agricultural advances is large and growing rapidly. Natural systems have historically provided living laboratories, counter-intuitive insights and raw materials for innovations (Weiss and Eisner 1998). Yet just as advances in biotechnology increase the payoffs of discoveries from wild biota, declining biodiversity threatens depletion. There is then a pressing question of the appropriate balance of public interest and distributed rights in these resources.


Any list of serious obstacles to sustainable development will include a number of intractable problems which can -- in principle -- be engineered around, provided adequate safeguards and means of technology transfer at reasonable cost (Reid l996). Moreover, biotechnology offers significant prospects for conserving biodiversity by limiting destructive practices while obtaining higher and more stable yields on less land (Horsch and Fraley l998). In contrast to traditional breeding technologies, genetic engineering now allows transfers of characteristics across species boundaries; the consequences entail both opportunity and risk (e.g. Pimentel et al l989). Genes conferring drought resistance, for example, might promise alleviation of the politically conflictual and developmentally crippling issues of water control and access which drive both small and large-scale conflict in many parts of the world. Improvements in non-commercial or subsistence crops (often termed "inferior grains" despite their nutritional characteristics) do not attract corporate research efforts but offer great potential for food security (Lipton, l989). Pest-resistant strains can reduce damaging application of toxins that leak to ground water and affect agricultural workers. Engineering for nutrition could provide enhanced health to poor people. Gordon Conway (l997) refers to this potential as a "doubly green revolution." With appropriate targeting of research and solution to property rights questions, the developmental consequences for the poor are profound. Realizing these developmental gains presupposes both evolution of appropriate property systems28 and the continued operation of global science, as well as retargeting research and applications to problems of the poor. Yet precisely because this process has been global, conflicts of interpretive systems in the "North-South" frame abound. Fundamental differences between a conceptualization of science in the public interest and political interpretations centering on "biopiracy" (Guha and Martinez-Alier 1997) increasingly restrict basic research in poor countries. There are demands as well for repatriation of museum collections and herbaria located in parts of the world other than their origins. The root of these conflicts is the belief that globalization forces are fundamentally unfair in their distribution of benefits and potentially harmful to ecological systems and human health.

At least three conceptual systems are in contest globally around ownership of nature. At a recent conference at Cornell [April l999], Henry Shands, who manages the United States Department of Agriculture's germplasm bank, argued for a trusteeship notion of property: biota are the "common heritage of mankind." USDA maintains the bank and releases new varieties in the hundreds annually at no cost to anyone in the world who wants them; "we even pay the postage." Bernard LeBuanec, who directs an international consortium of seed companies, argued that such a common-property system was inconsistent with progress. No rational firm will invest in innovation and development without secure property rights to insure a return on investment. T.P. Sreenivasan, a diplomat who put together India's team for Rio, saw such repositories as artifacts of colonial appropriation of the earth's biota. His preferred model was that established at Rio: nation states own biota. Subsidiary rights in biota are then dependent on national policy; there is no "common heritage of mankind" in any meaningful property sense.


28 Though concern for biodiversity is often termed an elitist enterprise,29 the first victims of environmental degradation are the poor. Disappearing forests cost not only species but livelihoods and cultural identities. Environmental integrity must then be a central developmental concern, neither a separate desideratum nor a luxury. New organisms create risks. Genetically modified organisms are tested in temperate conditions, but deployed in a wide variety of ecological settings. The environmental consequences are simply not known, but may entail harmful consequences, including the generation or strengthening of new weeds, new viruses, alteration of ecological dynamics, increased resistance of pests to pesticides and harmful effects on organisms not targeted by the technology. The long-term effects on whole systems are simply not known, nor easily knowable under current test regimes. Moreover, given the distribution of scientific expertise and technical capacities globally, biotechnology has the potential to become yet another sphere in which choices in people in poor places lack autonomy (Burgiel and Wagner l999). There are complicated ethical dimensions to trade-offs involved in genetic innovations that enable crops to grow in more adverse environments but with a reduction in biodiversity or with unknown risks. What level of risk is acceptable given the advantages in terms of production or avoidance of toxic alternatives? What are the ethical considerations in delegating such decisions to national-level bodies as opposed to local communities? By what ethical calculus does policy value future generations' interests in biodiversity above current needs for livelihoods? These questions need to join the traditional agrarian questions of justice in distribution of the agricultural means of production. There is no space in this brief intervention to cover adequately the intense debates around poverty, property and environmental protection. There are some areas which deserve more policy attention for poverty alleviation: 1) resurrection of the commons: experiments in creating governance through restructuring of command-and-control systems to include joint-property and state-society linkages at a very local level may overcome some of the political inequality that corrodes governance of nature; eco-restoration projects with direct benefits to the poor promise justice with greening, but are administratively difficult. 2) establishing and distributing intellectual property rights in biota: as biotechnology enhances the prospects of commercializing biofunctions and genetic materials, those who have foregone the opportunities of exploiting through destruction of their environments need intellectual property rights and the benefits that flow therefrom (Gupta l996; l998). The alternative of vesting these rights in nation states, as the biodiversity treaty does, raises difficult questions when the state is neither representative nor pro-poor. 3) ecologically-sensitive land reform30: Pressures for cultivating ever more marginal land can be alleviated by rationing Kishore Saint in Agarwal et al eds l987:57 states in fairly typical terms: "Despite our lofty sentiments about Chief Seattle and Mahatma Gandhi, contemporary environmental concern is elitist in its origins. It has arisen out of reduced opportunities for enjoying nature and an increase in discomfort and danger due to pollution and the depletion of natural resources." Adger (l997) argues the feasibility of this approach with empirical evidence from South Africa, but it must be noted that the usually sanguine view of sustainable developmentalists of multiple-use lands comes into conflict with the views of many ecologists.

30 29

29 productive land and redistributing away from rentiers and speculators toward farmers; justice in land systems coincides with environmental protection. When these issues are taken into account, the coalition for considering redistribution of property rights in land expands considerably, and with it the potential for reform. Gendered Property: Traditional land reform literature, as well as policy discussions, have been typically blind to the gendered nature of property and its consequences. Bina Agarwal has brought the attention of the policy world and academia to the inadequately gendered view of property in the traditional literature (e.g. l992, l994, l997). In her l992 piece she argues that not just land reform, but poverty programs generally assume that money or benefits going to the male "head of household" reach the household. She analyzes the family as a bargaining arena: what resources do individuals bring to the table? To the extent that women have resources outside the family -- in civil society and economy -- their position inside the family in terms of security is improved.31 Agrarian reform that is gender sensitive could thus improve intra-family outcomes and improve the inter-temporal variations in both intrafamily and external power vis-a-vis the market. "Empowerment"is therefore more important than "entitlement,"(p 202); entitlements are subjects to shifts in the public moral economy. Property ownership in increasingly marketized societies is a more solid foundation for reaping both private and public benefits. Agarwal also reflects a growing recognition (e.g. 1992:186; l997) of the intersection of common property institutions, nature and poverty: she also concludes that the commons provides a source of income, and thus bargaining strength, independent of men for women and children. [In general the typical commons -- providing low value, labor intensive products -- is a resource for everyone who has a low opportunity cost of labor]. Therefore, the privatization of commons, which is a global phenomenon, reduces the supports -- and bargaining power and reservation wage -- of the most vulnerable. Privatization of the commons means that contemporary agrarian reform cannot be limited to reversing distortions in existing property systems, but must address prevention of privatization or degradation of common lands -- or , more proactively, resurrecting the commons as a property form (Herring l990) and regenerating the commons as a natural resource base. The world is full of "wasteland": we as a species waste a lot. Regeneration of wastes is both labor intensive and restorative of security and opportunity for weaker sectors, within households and across classes. Mere recognition of gendered property is not enough, however. Ambreena Manji's (l998) treatment of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters in Tanzania beginning in l991 confirms She takes this analysis further by looking at four factors that affect female bargaining power and finds that Sri Lanka and Kerala do better on these measures and also have the highest ratio of females to males. This ratio discrepancy is especially marked in comparison to Northwest India where the females are notoriously missing from the demographic data (pp 201-202).


30 concretely Agarwal's generalizations about deeply embedded gender bias even among reformers. Carmen Diana Deere's (l997) study of 14 Latin America countries indicates significant progress in gaining access to land through agrarian reform legislation influenced by activism of women's groups. Whereas it would seem that women's groups would be allies in the struggle for land reform, Manji's treatment illustrates the political obstacles that preclude assuming that effect -- including "urban bias" and class divisions in activist groups (l998:664-5). Manji's analysis also demonstrates that there is no necessary connection between progressive stances on women's issues internationally and within the domestic state. Nevertheless, it seems clear from everything we know about oppression, exclusion and opportunity that redressing gendered inequalities in much of the world must include reform of property relations. Reciprocally, allies of women's rights domestically and internationally ought to be in the land reform coalition. Ethics and Empirics The most difficult problem for normatively justifiable prescriptive policy analysis is parsing the effects of any discrete change on the consequences of poverty amid the myriad of factors affecting household well-being. If we could be confident that a rising tide would raise all ships, promotion of growth alone would be among the most effective anti-poverty policies. There are two problems. First, it seems that no one really knows how exactly to promote rapid and sustainable growth with significant security. Second, it is difficult to know under what conditions growth produces not just a vector sum of poverty reduction but inflicts little economic harm to the least adaptable and least secure. The usual answer is cross-national and time-series studies. Poverty comparisons cross-nationally or even inter-temporally are inherently difficult (Ravallion l992). Governments often prefer self-serving methodologies with deep ecological fallacies: ie, if region x is mostly poor, and resources move into region x, poverty is being alleviated. Or, worse, the alleviation of poverty is measured by the number of poor people in region x, assuming that everyone benefits and there is no elite co-optation of resources, leakage into corruption or waste, patronage politics or any of the other dynamics that we know to undermine the effectiveness of the state (Gaiha and Kulkarni l998). Alternatively, expenditures by agencies and programs with pro-poor mandates are measured as an admittedly problematic proxy for progress in poverty alleviation. Though serious attempts are made (e.g. Sahn et al l997), students of the same regions often differ fundamentally on the methodological and empirical problems of assessing the effects of changes in macro-policy on discrete alterations in the poverty ratio. These methodological problems are especially important because of the ethical implications of uncertain knowledge. The prime directive is to do no harm. As a consequence, direct and knowable results should have ethical precedence over indirect and hypothetical. The effects of growth at the macro and aggregate level are too uncertain to sustain an ethical argument for poverty alleviation if significant sacrifices are entailed in the process. For these reasons, the contributions of agrarian reform to both poverty alleviation and democratic development make it a preferred policy choice under conditions where it is feasible. Social democracy came under pressure because of the presumed difficulty of marrying

31 growth and justice without incurring trade-offs. That debate seemed won with the triumph of neoliberal economic theory in the late l980s, early l990s. There are second thoughts among poverty analysts, however; market distortions may indeed harm the poor with particular force, but obsessive and exclusive attention to fixing markets is no help for the poor (Lipton l995). This debate is important, but too often assumes that the democratic part of social democracy is less problematic that the issues of growth and social justice. At least in agrarian societies, the answers seem clear: the land question is fundamental for enabling social democracy in both its political and economic sense. Though no longer fashionable, in part because its Cold War roots shriveled with the declining need to defeat communism, agrarian reform still offers significant poverty-reduction advantages in comparison with alternatives. Though of immediate and direct benefit to the rural poor, more importantly it is capable of altering the path of societal development, and therefore sturdier and more enduring than many alternatives; it takes a longer view. This argument is buttressed by the comparative consideration of the historical experience of the United States above. Aggregate wealth multiplied in abundance but persistent poverty is glaring; growth has not been enough. Promised land reforms to rehabilitate former slaves as citizens after civil war in the nineteenth century ("forty acres and a mule") were abandoned to political opposition; the result was an agrarian structure, and attendant political economy, which perpetuated abject dependency. Poverty not only persisted in the population of former slaves over generations, but remains disproportionate. In contrast, Kerala abolished an agrarian system based on agrestic serfdom and slavery in a compressed time period and has been notably successful in reducing the incidence of poverty despite income and growth rates well below the Indian mean. Whether policy promotes more or less state intervention, agrarian reform remains a means of restructuring the field of power to which state functionaries respond, and therefore enables more possibilities for building an effective and responsive state, without which all other anti-poverty options -- including growth -- are reduced in efficacy. But suppose we were to agree on the conditions for verifiably pro-poor policy and they were historically rare or fragile -- as seems to be the case? If it is true that competitive social democracies hold the most promise for poverty alleviation, the policy community is left with a gap between what is desirable and what is subject to policy. Social democracies have long developmental trajectories. Moreover, if the notion that fragmented, poorly institutionalized political party systems are not very friendly to the poor -- and indeed may raise primordial grounds for competition in ways that reduce political stability -- then pressure for premature elections of the Western European sort may prove counter-productive. Hothouse democracies levered by conditionality may then be the worst possible outcome. The research agenda then turns to determining what sets of policies combine poverty reduction with some package of broadly acceptable outcomes given political dynamics of particular polities. There will be no easy answers; the ethical position is to proceed with humility, caution and careful empirical work rooted in particular places. A separate research agenda is to determine those levers and conditionalities which are both normatively acceptable and effective. Unfortunately, there are again likely to be trade-offs. Everyone would like to believe that all good things come in the same package -- policy reform, growth, poverty alleviation, democracy, environmental

32 sustainability, human rights protection, gender equity and ethnic peace. Conditionalities as desiderata have multiplied over time and at some point become mutually exclusive or contradictory (McHugh forthcoming). Moreover, conditionalities encroach on sovereignty. The final set of political conditions for poverty alleviation is then in the hands of international and bi-lateral development institutions: what are their priorities and how far are they willing to commit themselves to insistence on particular change in order to achieve them? To the extent that poverty alleviation is at the top of the list, an additional coalition partner with clout makes agrarian reform more feasible than the impossibility theorem suggests.

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