Should international actors support the emergence of democracy? This book provides an empirically-grounded analysis of the development track record of poor countries with both democratic and oppressive political systems. It argues that democracy supports development and reduces the likelihood of violent conflict, recommending that democracy be made central to international engagement with the developing world.
Since the Second World War the prevailing view has been that economic development should precede democracy. It is argued that successful democratic governance is reliant upon a broadened middle class. Without this, poor countries remain susceptible to manipulation by elites, promoting fiscal irresponsibility and macro-economic instability. Holding elections in these contexts is likely to have a polarising effect. However, since the late 1970s many poor countries have taken meaningful steeps toward democracy.
This book challenges the prevailing view. It finds that democracy and development are compatible and complementary.
- Effective democracies tend to allow a broader range of interests to be considered on a regular basis. This leads to more nuanced and moderate policies and reduces the risk that ineffective leaders can stay in power for a long time.
- These characteristics encourage more robust and stable economic growth.
- In authoritarian systems, economic growth is more likely to be narrowly based on a small section of the population and corruption is likely to be higher.
- Few countries with authoritarian systems of government have achieved high levels of growth in the long term.
Analysis of 50 years of economic experience points to two consistent patterns. First, democracies grow as fast as dictatorships and do at least as well as dictatorships at avoiding fiscal deficits. Second, democracies typically outperform authoritarian governments on a range of social and economic development indicators. Recommendations for donors include the following:
- Aid should be more conditional on a country’s democratic progress. The focus on ‘good governance’ has not translated into linking development assistance to democracy.
- Do not try to force poor countries into a standardised prescription of economic reforms. Recognise the important role of coalition building in building democracies and be aware that this process can take several decades.
- The idea that national security trumps democracy promotion should be revised. Donors should pay greater attention to the links between autocracy, poverty and conflict. They should recognise that support for autocracies in the past has not provided security benefits to the US and its allies.
- Democracy cannot be forced from the outside. The motivation and sacrifice needed to attain and sustain a democracy can only come from within a society. Donors should support societies where this commitment exists.