Daron Acemoglu says ready to advise, but cannot draw blueprint for Armenia’s change

Daron Acemoglu, a Turkish born Armenian economist says he would be happy to do whatever he can to help Armenia, but cannot draw a blueprint for the process of change.

“I would be happy to do whatever I can because this is a historical opportunity for Armenia. This is really what we all have wanted to see, and I cannot imagine a better beginning as the first chapter of a new era. What I can do is only advisory, and there is no blueprint. If it was a bridge or dam, I could draw the blueprint and say this is how you should do it, Acemoglu said in an interview with Salpi Ghazarian, director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies.

Unfortunately, he said, social change does not work that way.

“Unless you understand the details of the conflicts within the society, unless you understand how the corruption, media manipulating, exploitation, vote buying, patronage work, an outsider like me cannot come up with the right compromises and the rights strategies and the right tactic so dealing with the process of institutional change. I’m happy to share what I know, because in this exciting time this is the least I can do, but I think that at the end of the day it is, it is the Armenian people that need to step up, not the Prime Minister, not the MPs, not the bureaucrats and judges, certainly not me and not the Diaspora, It’s the Armenian people, the youth, people that have been silent and sidelined for so long, they are getting involved in politics, the economist said.

He described the transition in Armenia as a “turning point,” but added that “there is no blueprint for any country to follow.” According to him, change has two legs.

“The first leg is that you need to have a peaceful political transition, meaning that you actually require that there is a beginning of a process of political change and that it does not spin out of control, turning into a huge civil war, a mortal combat between different factions. Armenia miraculously managed that. We are in the midst of a process of political change, at least temporarily the old guards are out, new faces, new blood, new perspective are here, and more importantly there is a broad enthusiasm in the society, civil society, government, business, Diaspora all that we need change, and this is the right time for it. This is an amazingly fortuitous set of conditions for us to get going,” Acemoglu noted.

He added, however, that the second leg of this process is no easier. He emphasized the need to create a system, in which there is a level playing field, there are incentives, there are opportunities and people are encouraged to participate productively in the economic and social environment of the country.

“We know that this requires us to get rid of the corrupt elite, it requires us to bring new institutional elements so that the new system doesn’t turn into one in which other individuals, other groups become the beneficiaries of corruption,” Acemoglu added.

He stressed the need to keep on building human capital, and exploit the good beginning. “Instead of trying to find ways of punishing your opponents or even people who were corrupt previously, just look into the future. The point is not to get revenge against, but to found an institutional backbone so that the same things don’t happen again. This applies not only to the political realm, it applies to the judiciary, the bureaucracy, as well,” the economist stressed.

One of the reasons why Armenia could be so kleptocratic? Because ethe judiciary did not work. A country with independent judiciary, judges and prosecutors who are hones and dedicated to their work, and are not influenced and manipulated by politicians.

Daron Acemoglu attached importance to carrying out fundamental judicial reforms. “That does not mean you have to fire everybody. You have to change the rules of the game, perhaps encourage retirement, so that the worst offenders, who are political appointees retire and new blood comes in. It can happen very quickly and that’s the real dilemma, you cannot fire 5,000 judges and prosecutors and bring new ones. We have an inspiring Prime Minister, but the worst thing that Armenia can do is create no institutionalized structure for the leader, for the executive to govern. So, the way to deal with the change is to create an institutional foundation, create political organizations, parties, civil society organizations that are going to get involved in politics.”

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