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Scholars, not 'instant experts,' can help new nations, world leaders warn
STANFORD ?? With communist economies failing and fragmented new nations trying out democracy for the first time, advisers to Stanford's Institute for International Studies have been urging the university's scholars to help new leaders figure out how to convert from old systems. But there's a pitfall to outside advice, warned Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor of West Germany, in a give-and-take session during the annual meeting of the institute's advisory council: Beware the fate of the "instant expert."
"I have been deeply astonished to meet political scientists, not from Stanford but from Europe as well as America, who went to Moscow teaching the Russians and never had heard the slightest bit of Russian history, never had read Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy or Lermontov," Schmidt said at the Nov. 11 session. "They show a great deal of arrogance without knowing it. It will take only a few years before [Western experts] are thrown out, because the Russians are getting fed up with these high-handed lessons to 'teach' them democracy."
There is no point in lecturing about how a market economy or a democratic government theoretically should work if you haven't learned from literature that before Lenin, most of the power rested with a small aristocracy, Schmidt said. "How can you teach them entrepreneurship if the last entrepreneurs in Russia were destroyed and dispossessed in 1927 - and didn't even exist in 1917?" he asked.
Schmidt's comments became a recurring theme as the forum of international political, academic and business leaders debated how Stanford should respond to the challenge of a changing world scene.
Institute director Walter Falcon set the tone. Describing the work of Stanford faculty in Russian privatization and demilitarization projects and the institute's sponsorship of Asian leadership conferences, he also defended its reluctance to begin projects in areas where the faculty has little experience.
"The world does not need more instant experts," Falcon said. "We need people with language capabilities and skill and willingness to commit significant amounts of time to staying in these countries."
Understanding political and economic history is important, but the problem for advisers goes beyond context, said Alexander Bessmertnych, who was foreign minister of the former Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era. "The question is not how to build capitalism in Russia. We have been a capitalist country, a very prominent capitalist country. The question [whose answer] nobody knows, is how to reverse development from a social economic experiment. For 70 years, the culture was turned back from capitalism, so the people just don't understand it.
"Since nobody knows how to reverse development from socialism to capitalism, there are no experts in the world," Bessmertnych said.
How to create real experts, not the "instant" variety? Former Secretary of State George Shultz, chair of the advisory counciland a Hoover distinguished fellow, told of lessons the Hoover Institution had learned from bringing groups of young Polish diplomats to Stanford to learn new models of diplomacy. The program began at the request of a Polish official who found he and a few colleagues could not reform the foreign ministry from the top, because they could not fire every employee who was used to the old ways.
Shultz said the program has been "reasonably successful." But, he said, "I have felt that it is so extraordinarily expensive to do, that what we should really do is say we will train the trainers, and the foreign ministries of these countries should set up their own training schools." Other Stanford programs linked with the Institute for International Studies have aimed to do this, working directly with workers in a defense plant in Russia, for example, on defense conversion and employee ownership plans.
Economist Arnold Harberger of the University of California-Los Angeles said he may have coined the term "instant expert." He said, "I've been spouting like that for 20 years, saying how terrible it is to have these people come, get off the airplane and read off a 3 by 5 card the solution to another country's problems."
Harberger advocates "training the trainers" as well. And, he says, the contribution of Western universities should be to "plant" young academics, "pre-tenure professors, people about 25 to 35 years old, living in [each country] tied to institutions for three, four or five years, getting to know the language, the history, everything that transpires. Out of that, we would have the experts."
But Geoffrey Howe, former deputy prime minister of Great Britain, warned that the most important ideas needed are ones to rebuild the basic structures of government and that problems with government are not restricted to the former Communist bloc or even to the developing world.
Howe is on a board of economic advisers to Ukraine, which he said has not met for a year because of the "reductio ad absurdum" of government policy there.
"Let's look at how widespread are those deficiencies in the basic structures of government. In countries such as Sudan and Somalia you have the worst possible examples of it," he said.
"But I suspect that even in the developed democratic world, we're running into it. The confidence between leaders and led, between the people and the government is diminishing, rather than increasing, and for a variety of reasons."
Howe said the recent fragmentation of parliaments in the United Kingdom and Canada has been "extraordinary."
"Looked at from the outside, the process whereby American presidents emerge becomes more and more hazardous," he said. "The same is true of most of our structures in Europe. These are questions that are really deeply fundamental. Democracy is in danger of testing itself to destruction before our eyes."
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