n Journal of Public Administration - World affairs and South Africa : country rankings

Volume 50 Number 3
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



In 2012, a panel was set up, chaired by Trevor Manuel, South Africa's former Finance Minister, to examine the validity of the World Bank's annual Doing Business report. The Bank's annual Doing Business report judges 185 countries on 10 criteria and compiles an index on the ease of doing business, assigning each country a rank. Governments, it was observed, tend to attach great weight to the ranking whether their country features in the lead platoon, brings up the rear, edges upwards or slips down. The report recorded a host of detailed complaints, such as a focus on the country's largest city, or the small sample sizes employed. As the report stated, "It is important to remember that the (Doing Business) report is intended to be a pure knowledge project. As such, its role is to inform policy, not to prescribe it or outline a normative position, which the rankings to some extent do. "Emotions", Trevor Manuel observed, "were charged at both poles of the debate." At one end, were those who did well in the rankings or who were in broad agreement about the report's underlying assumptions and, at the other end, were those who considered that their countries were being penalised, that the rankings did not capture the important nuances that often make the difference in business decisions, or who disagreed with the report's underlying assumptions. In other words, the panel was addressing the fundamental question of what constitutes best practice in national economic policy, what are the relevant criteria to judge, whether it was appropriate to rank diverse countries according to a single set of criteria, and whether the report provided a sound basis on which to establish public or corporate policies. This article will argue that there can be no single set of answers to these questions, and for two very good reasons.

First, the globalised world economy is composed of separate civilisations, nations and states, with their own histories and peculiarities, living in an unprecedented degree of intimacy one with another, but nonetheless notably distinct, and facing their own peculiar mix of challenges. What is good for one, in short, may not be good for another. Second, the world is inherently pluralist, so that there are as many answers to the questions as there are participants in the debate. Nonetheless, coexistence among the peoples of the global community assumes that there must be some broadly conceived criteria of right or wrong, of better or worse. We cannot live in a postmodern world where anything goes: we cannot live without some agreement on rules, criteria and ethics.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error