|9.5: Democracy and Development: Trends and Prospects
Democratic government, although necessary, is not sufficient to facilitate democratization of power in the society; the latter requires political struggles and deliberate crafting of new institutions within the frame of a democratic government. Democracy also has no direct and necessary bearing on a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and status in society. Thus, democracy as a form of government, democratization of power as a political process, and socio-economic democracy as a possible goal, are analytically and empirically distinguishable. A democratic government, however, may be seen as an improvement over the authoritarian governments because people in most countries prefer a predictable to an arbitrary government, value the freedom of expression and association as ends in themselves, and increasingly hold that they have a right to have some say in the selection of their political leaders.
Democracy in Developing Countries
The experience of the developing countries with democracy has been mixed. The early attempts at creating democracies in 1950s failed because neither the state-society relations within, nor the global context of the developing countries was conducive to consolidation of democratic regimes. Especially among poor countries with small urban middle classes, and influential traditional elite with roots in landed wealth, a considerable elite-mass gap, and non existent or weak political institutions. These circumstances encouraged the political elites in few countries to reconsolidate traditional polities (Middle Eastern Countries) and in few others (China and Cuba) to under take revolutionary overthrow of the old regimes. The global context of the cold war also hindered consolidation of democratic experiments in the developing world.
In East Asia, the indigenous traditions were deeply authoritarian. Colonial impact often reinforced these tendencies. This area was also a battlefield for the cold war – especially Korea and Vietnam.
Africa emerged from colonialism in late 1950s and early 1960s. Its political forms were characterized by weak central and civic authority and of poorly established public spheres. Democratic experiments, therefore, evolved into sectional conflicts over distribution of state power leading to military coups.
Democratic experiments in Latin America too experienced similar fate. Conditions of deep inequalities, established business and landed interests, as well as US sponsored cold war politics in the region, led to coups (example Brazil).
The reasons for failure of democracy in the developing countries across the world can be summarized as lack of domestic political cohesion and an unfavorable global environment. India, a poor developing country, stands as an exception.
With rapid economic growth in areas such as South Korea and Brazil, the case for authoritarianism received a boost. Similarly, success of China and Cuba in creating more egalitarian societies and eliminating bottom level poverty also helped in creating a favorable impression for communism. This, however, changed by 1980s when more and more countries started shifting from the authoritarian forms to democracy.
The economic and political performance of the authoritarian regimes was being increasingly questioned over the 1980s. On the economic front the 1974 oil crisis set the stage for global economic contraction. Wary of the political consequences of slow economic growth, numerous authoritarian rulers sought to “borrow and grow” their way out of the adverse global circumstances. While this strategy had marginal success in East Asia, it contributed to a severe debt crisis in Latin America and Africa. As a consequence, the rulers who presided over this economic downturn found themselves in growing political difficulty. Reduction in threats from communism – ending of the cold war – undermined one of the major reasons for existence of the autocratic regimes. Many authoritarian rulers (Marcos and Mobutu) turned out to be no less corrupt than their predecessors, and, therefore, came to be seen as an obstacle to more desirable form of government. There was also a shift in power balance within the countries; power of traditional elites declined with emergence of the urban middle class, which was less nationalistic, more attuned to global economic and political trends, was concentrated in the urban centers.
The performance based legitimacy of many authoritarian regimes declined. Many authoritarian rulers, when they took power in earlier decades, had made themselves minimally acceptable to their citizens by promising superior performance at establishing political order and at facilitating economic dynamism. Over time, however, these claims began to appear hollow. Since coercion seldom provides infinite resources to maintain rule, declining legitimacy and growing opposition reinforced each other, contributing to eventual change in regime. China, North Korea, Indo-China, and many countries of south East Asia, still remain exceptions.
Democracy and Governability
Most new democracies in the developing world will continue to find the tasks of consolidating these democracies and providing effective governance difficult due to various institutional and policy issues.
Disintegration of authoritarian regimes was often relatively rapid which left in its wake divided elites, a mobilized populace with heightened expectations, weak links between the elite and the masses.
Irrespective of the levels of civil society activism during the anti authoritarian phase, power in many new democracies came to rest in the hands of a few individuals, if not a single leader. Since strong institutions constrain powers of individuals, there was an incentive for the leaders to undertake periodic deinstitutionalization.
In elite dominated polity bereft of strong institutions, leaders mobilize socio-economic groups more as power resources in intra elite struggles and less to satisfy group aspirations.
Leaders who acquire power because of a personal appeal have a little incentive to encourage the development of parties from above; on the contrary, parties as institutions often constrain the individual discretion and power of towering leaders. Thus, leaders often do not have incentive to strengthen political parties.
A related but separate institutional issue concerns the political problems generated by misdirected state intervention. An interventionist state in the early stages of development has difficulty in establishing a separation between the public and private spheres in social life. The most important consequence of this, from the point of view of democratic consolidation, is that an interventionist state cannot claim that distributive problems are social and not political problems. Also, an interventionist state typically controls a substantial proportion of a poor economy. Thus, many of the society’s resources free floating resources are controlled by politicians and bureaucrats.
Emergence of free market capitalism has not been spontaneous – it is both due to influence of the external powers and due to imposition of the ideology by the ruling elites. The short term consequences of economic liberalization program have made most members of the society worse off.
The gap between expectations and reform induced reality generally aggravates the problems of the fragile democracies.
There are short term problems such as implementing economic reforms; the choice of reform strategy will continue to be of considerable significance for consolidation efforts. Short to medium term problems pertaining to political consequences of democracy under developing-world conditions of weak political institutions, divided societies, and heavy state interventions are also significant. The consolidation of new democracies, therefore, will remain a path full of hurdles.
Democracy, Economic Growth and Equity
Cross-national evidence on the impact of democracy on economic growth, and of democracy on equity, is highly inconclusive. Whereas all democracies may share some political traits that are economically consequential, non democracies do not. In the latter case many countries have had highly development oriented authoritarian regimes.
Many factors, which include rates of investment, infrastructure, quality of human capital, level of research and production of knowledge, quality of organization and management, and balance of intersectoral investments, influence economic growth. Since it is even difficult to assign weights to these proximate determinants of growth, the cross national quantitative studies, attempting to relate democracy systematically, are bound to remain highly inconclusive.
In overall assessment, democracy is not associated with extremes of growth performance. On the issue of economic growth, stable developing democracies are likely to fall in the middle range. A some what middling case can be made for democracies on the equity front because democracies are unlikely to undertake radical property redistribution. However, over time, if democratic politics leads to democratization of power, then democracies may generate some pressures towards greater equalization. The policy implication, however, is clear: improvements in equity may be compatible with democracy if, and only if, the design of new democracies consciously aims to strengthen social democratic institutions such as social democratic parties, peasant and labour associations, careful decentralization, and restructuring of the role of governments away from unnecessary intervention and towards those policy areas that influences the life chances of the majority.