Development and Socio-Economic Policies

Satellite map of Myanmar
Administrative boundaries of Myanmar on basis of GIS data from U.S. Navy

Research Profile

In the policy world there is a hard to overcome, but increasingly obsolete distinction between rich countries and the developing world. This distinction has led to bifurcations in policy and academic research. An example is the breach between studying international means to fighting poverty and inequality and domestic means to fighting poverty and inequality. At the Brandt School we question the logic of ‘them and us’ and aim at combining perspectives, looking for coherence and incoherence between the domestic and international level.

Recently, for instance, we have finished a project on how national social policy links up with giving international development aid. We found how trade-offs in poverty-oriented aid inhibit its effectiveness and looked at ways how to overcome them (read more here and here). Currently, we look at how aid and domestic social policies deal with new and growing spatial inequalities (find out more here and here).

As an illustration, look at the following picture of nighttime satellite data in the year of 2012. You can easily discern the blue-lined administrative boundaries of Myanmar. Satellite data is very valuable in illustrating processes of economic growth and electricity consumption. But it also shows the huge spatial inequalities in a country where there are rising differences between the Burmese mainland and its ‘periphery’.

‘Development’ itself is a contested but dominant concept having a strong and particular resonance with economics. At the Brandt School, we broaden the perspective by looking at the political and social context of socio-economic policies: how do they arise and what effects do they have beyond the narrow scope of economic growth? In a similar vein, we highlight the fact that knowledge exchange is not a North-to-South one-way lane. Many innovative ideas ranging from 19th century Prussian bureaucratic reforms stimulated by Jesuit reports on Chinese administration to the wave of deliberative budgeting originating in places like Porto Alegre, Brazil, indeed come from so-called developing countries.

There are other similarities across regions. For instance, we see similar, sometimes chronic policy problems in the field of taxation, social and labour market policies in many different regions. Just think about recent re-nationalizations of private pension systems in Latin America and Eastern Europe. More specifically, we investigate a particular type of policy failure in these areas: instability and boom-and-bust cycles. Why do hopes and expectations in policy interventions sometimes overshoot? Why do good ideas such as microfinance implode after short time? Is this due to excessive forms of outside intervention or domestic instabilities or both? And how can we generate sound and resilient policy solutions under such circumstances?

Finally, we are interested in addressing new challenges to the welfare regime across the globe. How do social and labour policies respond to international and national migration. What does digitalization and automation do to established systems of social protection and how does it shape new or innovative policies (read more here and here).

Interested? Contact us at or follow us at @achkem on Twitter.




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