Business is not the bad guy. Then again, sometimes it is.

[By Ashley Nichole Kolaya]

AT NYU WAGNER, WE SPEND a lot of time discussing topics like urbanization, infrastructure, social policy, and citizen security.  We usually leave the business talk to the folks at Stern.  Eduardo Moncada of Rutgers University (and formerly of Wagner) would say that omission  is exactly our problem.

Latin America has two unique distinctions in the world of geopolitical statistics: first, it is the most urbanized region in the world.  Second, it is the most violent.  Organizations like the UNDP and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme release flurries of reports about these topics on an annual basis.  What we don’t hear about, however, is the role that business plays in all of these development concerns.  Eduardo Moncada is on a mission to change that.

Moncada argues that prevailing research in particularly violent urbanized areas focuses on the role of police, political will, and civic society.  He points out that business, as such, is rarely brought into the conversation.  When it is, the imagery depicts “business” as a monolith: one actor, with one purpose and one consistent message.  According to Moncada, “This image misses the point entirely.”

In his research, presented last Tuesday during the ongoing Conflict, Security, and Development series (Tuesdays from 12:30-1:30pm in the Rudin conference room of the Puck Building, 2nd floor), Moncada finds that local businesses often play a strongly influential role in shaping a government’s policy response to urban violence.

Eduardo Moncada

Eduardo Moncada

Moncada focused his talk on the Colombian cities Cali, Bogota, and Medellin specifically.  In this particularly violent region of the world, says Moncada, governments tend to respond to citizen security issues with two types of policy: reactive and reformist.  Reactive policies are typically more hardline and, at times, rely on the use of coercive measures.  Rerformist policies focus on socioeconomic investment and political empowerment.  Different types of businesses, with different types and levels of interest, favor different approaches to security policy.

In Latin America, the role of business in citizen security policy has been at times, hugely beneficial.   In Bogota, for example, the Chamber of Commerce helped to lay the foundation and build the support for a string of reformist mayors who oversaw a decrease in overall violence in the city.  In this instance, local businesses, specifically those in the service sector, favor reformist policies that make a city more marketable in the tourism industry.  “Come visit City X: we’ve got the most murders per capita!” has never looked all that enticing on a brochure.  In this case, says Moncada, “business was a catalyst to urban reformist policy and an increase in citizen security.”

On the other hand, business can also play a detrimental role in the creation of reformist policies.  In the practice known as clientelism, politicians promise various forms of political favors in exchange for political support.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, thanks to drug lords like Pablo Escobar, clientelism dominated regional political systems, and Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  Moncada points out that during this time, industrialists with ties to the drug trade joined with clientelistic mayors to discredit would-be reformist policy makers.  Through media manipulation (i.e. tying reformists to known terrorists, etc), industrialists and clientelistic politicians effectively squashed a push for reformist policies in Medellin.

Fortunately for the city, business also played a large role in the recent rebranding of Medellin, which goes to show that, under the right circumstances, business can play a hugely beneficial role in developing policies that promote citizen security.  “It’s no panacea,” says Moncada, “but it’s more significant than the credit we’ve been giving it.”

You hear that, Stern?  Maybe we should talk….

One thought on “Business is not the bad guy. Then again, sometimes it is.

  1. Pingback: Business is not the bad guy. Then again, sometimes it is. « IPSA @ Wagner

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