Timur Kuran writes,

A telling indication is that in their interactions with private or public organizations, citizens of Arab states are more likely than those in advanced democracies to rely on personal relationships with employees or representatives. This pattern is reflected in corruption statistics of Transparency International, which show that in Arab countries relationships with government agencies are much more likely to be viewed as personal business deals. A historically rooted preference for personal interactions limits the significance of organizations, which helps to explain why nongovernmental organizations have played only muted roles in the Arab uprisings.

Read the whole thing. Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

Kuran’s analysis echoes what I am reading in Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. This book has some important ideas embedded in a sprawling, time-wasting style of writing. I reacted similarly to an earlier Fukuyama work, The Great Disruption, which I thought could have been condensed by an economist into a two-equation model.

Ultimately, I think I will boil down Fukuyama into a “X good, Y bad” framework. For example, meritocratic appointments to positions of authority good, kinship-based appointments to positions of authority bad. He would agree with Kuran that the Arab world has not done enough to institutionalize the former and to limit the latter.

Another example might be “Law that everyone respects as coming from an impersonal higher authority–good; law that is whatever the rulers say it is–bad.” So he likes American Constitutional limits and dislikes the Chinese tradition in which rulers can make whatever laws they like.

Another example might be, “Institutions that encourage officials to focus on the general welfare–good; institutions that permit power to be used for rent-seeking–bad.” Thus, he defends celibacy rules in the Catholic Church on the grounds that they reduced the motive for priests to accumulate personal wealth to bequeath to families, because they had no families.

The Fukuyaman ideal seems to be a strong central state to enforce law but with a common understanding that officials are constrained by higher laws. The Fukuyaman fear is a breakdown of the authority of higher laws, leading to more primitive forms of authority based on kinship and violence.

Other reviews of Fukuyama’s new book are by Nicholas Wade and Michael Lind.