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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

The Power of Jurisdiction in Promoting Social Policies in Smaller States



On the basis of a global review of empirical material, this paper argues that a stronger appreciation of strategic issues, institutional practices, legal features, regulatory capacities and behavioural response mechanisms would help in understanding why some small states succeed while others do not. To do so, this paper departs from a critical presentation of the two sets of “received wisdom” about small states and which, in spite of their determinist, reductionist, structuralist and myth-driven bent, continue to dominate much of the pertinent literature: the “small is beautiful” cluster which considers smallness as an inherent asset; and the “small is vulnerable” camp which treats small size as a chronic liability. In the case of the latter argument, there could be a valid case to be made for the economic consequences of environmental vulnerability (which includes the implications of rising sea levels); yet there is no well-established and compelling empirical basis for claiming the economic vulnerability of small states per se. Paradoxically, vulnerability has a significantly positive impact upon the long-term growth performance of small states.

Many small states have been successful because they have transcended their size: their citizens are disproportionately avid travellers, well represented overseas, confident users of international languages, keen transnational brokers and mercantilists, active in regional and international circles, and have high propensities toward migration. Even at the macro political and economic level, small states are potentially well endowed with the ability to influence events that take place beyond their shores, and from which they can reap benefits. Such strategic economic planning often results when small jurisdictions assume the full economic challenges that accompany political independence, or else when they are so driven by the non-viability of a traditional (typically cash crop– or extractive resource–led) economy.

Thus, this paper presents a more nuanced yet cautiously optimistic assessment of the predicament of small states, and how their jurisdictional status and powers can be conceived and converted into economic resources.

Godfrey Baldacchino is Canada Research Chair (Island Studies) at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Visiting Professor of Sociology at the University of Malta.

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  • Pub. Date: 31 Jan 2011
    ISSN: 1020-8208
    From: UNRISD