If the XX century can be characterized as a kind of authoritarian era, the same cannot be said about the XXI century. At present, one of the key measure of a state development is determined depending on how democratic the state is and how well the individual rights are secured. The image of authoritarian state is no longer associated to a powerful empire, for example as it was Soviet Union in the previous century, since such a state is seen as an unreliable partner. International organizations such as NATO and European Union, are demanding states to follow democratic values. It is necessary for States to meet a number of criteria, in order to become full-fledged members of the unions. However, in the modern era we are still able to name countries in East Asia, that are non-democratic but have fast economic growth, thus at this pint raises the question: Is democracy necessary to bring development? Therefore, in this article the main topic of discussion will be political regimes, in particular the importance of democracy for development. In the first paragraph I will be writing about political regimes, and how they differ by one another. In second paragraph I will pay more attention for the importance of democracy as a fundamental value of the civilized society and the main precondition for the success of development. Writing this essay I considered different arguments from few trusted sources, as well as my own views and ideas.
Do political regimes matter for development?
It is now unquestioned that different political processes, regulations and institutions are highly involved in economic growth and development. In today’s world political regimes can be seen in various forms, ranging from democracy to authoritarianism. These two regimes are very different by one another and can be classified by maturity level of freedom. They mainly differ in terms of freedom they offer individuals to participate in political processes. Therefore, while these regimes are important for individual rights, they also have a significant importance for economic development. According to (Quibria, 2003), if a state has its economic institutions and polices in place, where property and individuals rights are well secured against any type of arbitrary government interventions, and special interest groups are denied special favors: they help reduce costs of economic transactions, ensure economic efficiency, enhance economic growth, and benefit the less powerful segment of the society. Which by itself is already a positive impact on a state’s development.
What is democracy and why does it matters for development?
This is one of the common question raised in discussions on democracy and development. If the answer is positive, development in turn will help to sustain democracy and both of them would become mutually reinforcing (Saravanamuttoo, 1994). But in the recent past it has got little complicated for two reasons. First, the relationship between governance and development has entered the discussion, and second the context of development itself has undergone a conversion. Provided that, before I would attempt an answer to the question whether democracy promotes development or why not?! I would like to clarify the concepts of either sides. The wider meaning of the term governance refers to “good government of society” (Boeninger, 1991). In addition, a USAID-Africa Bureau working paper prepared in 1992 also uses a similar definition:
“the impartial, transparent management of public affairs through the generation of a regime (set of rules) accepted as constituting legitimate authority, for the purpose of promoting and enhancing societal values that are sought by individuals and groups.” (Boeninger 1992:267)
The second concept that has to be clarified is “Development”. Not so long ago, development was mainly measured as a growth of national output. And it was seen as crucial for constant economic growth. But, in the modern era it is broadly recognized that this definition of development is too narrow, and now development is outlined as sustained and fair growth that is environmentally continual and takes place in a climate of freedom that gives the people civil and other liberties to enhance their choices.
According to (Bailly, 2010), the international community in the “Millennium Declaration”, has reached an agreement about the importance of democratic governance for development. Which goes hand to hand with the theory that development problems are closely related to a failure in a state governance. However, having a fast economic growth without democracy is also believable. Regarding to the Lee thesis (Sen, 1999), it is true that some relatively authoritarian countries such as South Korea, Singapore and China, have had better rates of economic growth comparing to other less authoritarian ones including India, Costa Rica and Jamaica. But in fact the Lee thesis is based on very limited and selective information, rather than on any general statistics over the data that are widely available (Sen, 1999). Therefore, it won’t be very accurate and fair to take the high economic growth of China or South Korea as a proof that authoritarianism does better in promoting development. But in fact, the countries that do a poor job in a governance (corruption and lack of liability) also are performing poorly in development, and many African countries goes in this category. For instance, in some African states, such are Zimbabwe and Swaziland, many people are suffering from harsh poverty and most of them are lacking in basic necessities, when their rulers use much of the public spending for their own personal ambitions. But since nationals of these state are aware of this, they now progressively claim democratic changes. In my view, some good democratic improvements would surely lead these countries onto a line of possible economic and social development.
According to (Council on Foreign Relations, 2003), for the past half century there has not been any advantage for non-democracies over democracies in terms of development. And if the East Asia is removed from the statistics, democracies have actually performed much better, growing at 0.5% P/A faster comparing to the autocracies and some other mix of political regimes. In addition, for some obvious reasons, there was no data found on about 25% of non-democracies countries (North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba), so actual growth figures for autocracies would likely be substantially lower if the performance of these additional countries were included.
Based on the arguments mentioned above, it is clear that causal link between democracy and development is a controversial issue, but I can say that democracy positively builds up and advances the development efforts at all levels of governance. Democratic values are important factors from the local to the larger global arena, and it can be key components for societies to get on the path of sustainable development. However, also has to be said that democracy is not the only way to do it, and there are some other government forms, that do not necessarily share the democratic values but still manage to continue rapidly development. Despite everything, while democracy must always include the “democratic principles” mentioned in the essay, it also has to be on line with cultural characteristics, and that is what makes every state individual by others. Thus as much as development depends on the political regime, it also depends on the origin of a society, religion and other individual characteristics.
In short, democracy seems to hand over simple part of the answer by itself, since the worst cases of development are usually not democracies.
• Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. New York: Knopf, pp.146 – 160.
• Saravanamuttoo, N. (1994). Book Review: K.M. De Silva and S.W.R. de A. Samarasinghe, Peace Accords and Ethnic Conflict (London: Pinter Publishers, 1992. 208 pp.. 35 hbk.). Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 23(1), pp.148-150.
• M.G. Quibria (2003). Growth and poverty reduction, does political regime matter? [ebook] Asian Development Bank Institute. Available at: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/10302/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2015].
• Boeninger, E. (1991). Governance and Development: Issues and Constraints. The World Bank Economic Review, 5(suppl 1), pp.267-288.
• Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. New York: Knopf, pp.146 – 160.
• Council on Foreign Relations, (2003). The Relationship between Democracy and Development: Implications for Policy. [online] Available at: http://www.cfr.org/democratization/relationship-between-democracy-development-implications-policy/p5778 [Accessed 9 Dec. 2015].
• Bailly, O. (2010). Democratic Governance – the key to development. [online] Btcctb.org. Available at: https://www.btcctb.org/en/publications/democratic-governance-key-development [Accessed 8 Dec. 2015].