On Road Blocks and Parenting

Governing a country is a lot like raising children. You have to make sure your subjects are kept safe and healthy and receive a useful education they can live on in the future. You also have to teach them what is right and wrong, and what are their rights and obligations. You should abstain from violence, but still be very clear about what kinds of behaviors are unacceptable.

Good parenting will lead to responsible, independent citizens who contribute to society, whereas bad parenting will lead to spoilt, immature, dependent and/or corrupt citizens who constitute a liability to society.

Everybody hates when a spoilt child throws a tantrum in the supermarket because his mother won’t buy him the box of candy he has put his eyes on. The child has learnt that the tantrum is a very effective way of getting what he wants as the mother gets so embarrassed by his behaviour that she quickly gives in to his demands. She has repeatedly permitted, and even rewarded, bad behavior. If she instead the very first time had made clear that such behavior is unacceptable, she would never again have had that problem.

In Bolivia the adult equivalent of the spoilt child tantrum is blockades. Every time somebody wants something in Bolivia, they block the roads thus causing great inconvenience, economic losses and even danger to other citizens. This has proven a very effective way of achieving things in Bolivia, as the government usually gives in within a day or two.

In the short run it makes sense to give in as the costs to society of a continued blockade are generally much higher than the costs of complying with the specific demand. In the long run, however, it just means a never ending series of blockades and demands.

Unfortunately blockades have been permitted for such a long time that it will be very difficult to suddenly turn around and say that now it will no longer be tolerated. Certainly Evo Morales cannot be expected to be able to do that, as he was the one who perfected the art of road blocking. But hopefully the next government can convince the population that the social costs of blockades are much too high, and that road blocks should not and will not be tolerated.

Have any other examples of governments rewarding bad behavior? Leave a reply below.

(*) Director, Institute for Advanced Development Studies, La Paz, Bolivia. The author happily receives comments at the following e-mail: landersen@inesad.edu.bo.


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