THE STRATEGIC LAWYER + + + politics.::. get the jist.::

Democracy and Economic Growth

I recently read this article from 2010 by Dani Rodrik, discussing the correlation between economic growth and democracy. It gets at one of the key disjuncts between my ideals and my conclusions about the world. We all have that kind of disjunct, of course–we wish the world were one way, while concluding that in fact, it is not.

I wish I could believe the correlation between economic growth and democracy, economic growth and a strong human rights history and so on actually gave rise to an inevitability of events in particular cases. Here, I’m talking about places like Russia and China in particular.

Yes, I believe that, as cited in the article, in looking at overall trends and patterns, there are more democratic countries with steady economic growth, and that authoritarian regimes are more uneven in this context. But this speaks to trends, not outliers. It also doesn’t speak to which indicators are being cited in the context of that growth.

And so, we have the questions of:

1) whether China, and possibly Russia, are outliers whose particular cultural and political institutional histories do not require that the respective leadership “open[s] its political system to competition, in much the same way that it has opened up its economy”; and

2) whether, as a counter to the claim that  China as a relatively poor country will need to democratize and improve its human rights policy in order to sustain growth, the indicators of economic growth in democracies are somewhat self-fulfilling.

To speak to 1), we are looking at two countries that have experienced political upheaval and dissent in the past (to say the least). The consequences of that upheaval, in both cases, has been a re-emergence of authoritarian rule and the continued and often tragic suppression of human rights, etc. This would point to the idea that there are some strongly entrenched cultural and political institutions in place in both countries that at some level have a strong viability in the larger cultural environment. Dissent and revolution might not be enough to change that, particularly if the past provides any guide to future patterns in these contexts. There would have to be conscious re-building in the wake of change (be it gradual or abrupt), and a number of contextual governance measures that would help establish a new direction, if there’s to be any potential for viability.

And to question number 2), I just wonder whether some of the indicators of economic growth that are being cited include standard of living, or per capita earnings. Because if they are, then naturally, authoritarian regimes with widespread poverty are not going to be viewed as having equally effective economic growth–the use of such indicators creates a skewed vision of the results. In regimes that have a record of disregarding human rights, the priority of the leadership isn’t necessarily going to be improving per capita earnings or standard of living. It is going to be consolidating their position, their wealth and their leverage both domestically and internationally–with the latter being complicated by the fact that they are losing face in certain contexts because of their human rights record, so their position in other ways must be all the stronger and more compelling.

Even the article itself seems to posit that in the context of authoritarian regimes, the economic growth isn’t consistent across the board, but rather, is leadership-dependent. So this does not speak to an inevitability in the context of China, because China could well be one of those countries in which the leadership has figured out how to mediate between economic growth–in ways that are of importance to the leadership, not to individual citizens–and authoritarianism, to the detriment of the human rights of some significant proportion of their population.

And on that happy note, enjoy your weekend! Happy Easter!


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This entry was posted on March 29, 2013 by in Governance, Human Rights, Law and Order, Policy, Politics.
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