Sophal Ear is an Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. His research is on post-conflict reconstruction, stability, transition, democratization, Southeast Asia, the political economy of governance, foreign aid, development, and growth, in particular, for Cambodia.
He earned his Ph.D. in the Department of Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2006, and spent the academic year 2006-07 as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Public Administration at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. He also has three master’s degrees: a Master of Science in Agricultural and Resource Economics, a Master of Arts in Political Science (both from UC Berkeley) and a Master in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His Bachelor of Arts degree, also from UC Berkeley, was in Economics and Political Science.
He serves on the Advisory Board of the Master of Development Studies Program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the Editorial Board of the International Public Management Journal, the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education & Advancement, and am Vice-Chair of Diagnostic Microbiology Development Program, a non-profit organization that aims to build capacity for functional infectious diseases laboratory diagnosis by strengthening the infrastructure and technical capabilities of technicians and clinical microbiologists in the developing and developed world. Outside research and teaching, he enjoys photography and travel.
Sophal Ear: Well, I’ve studied over the years the problem of aid effectiveness and how foreign aid has become a kind of permanent fixture in so many developing countries. And the ones where it’s most egregious is really the countries where taxation and overall domestic revenues, how much money the country collects in revenues on its own, is in the low double digits, for example, especially in Africa, but also in Cambodia. And as a result is not able to finance its needs. And so it brings in foreign aid to do that, which is the purpose of foreign aid, but you see, if that continue forever, then that means the country is not really collecting the resources needed for its national development.
When you see corruption being equal to the foreign aid in magnitude, you start wondering what is exactly going on in the minds of leaders and why they’re not collecting taxes.
And I’ve argued that there is a relationship between taxation and accountability, especially if you’re trying to have a democracy. Because if you are not taxing people, then they are not entitled to representation in your mind or they don’t pay your salary and therefore not listening to them is a result of all this. And so the length between taxation and accountability is broken and democracy as a result is hurt, which I don’t think is good in the long term for sustainable development and growth.
I think the volume of trade for countries that are able to get into the global commons by participating in the… in global trade, really means a lot to them. I mean, Cambodia, for example, at one point, exported $3 billion of garments a year and received at most $1 billion worth of foreign aid. The $3 billion worth of garments represented 350,000 jobs, direct jobs, more than a million people benefited as a result. So this is far more meaningful and far more sustainable, I would argue, than foreign aid, which is . . . often time comes as a handout, causes problems like corruption and conflict over the aid itself between and among agencies.
So trade is essential for, I would argue, the sustainable development of countries.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd