Authoritarian vs Democratic Governments
Some analysts have argued that authoritarian governments are better able to manage the early stages of economic development. Others have insisted that democratic governments have better records of economic development. What are the arguments and the evidence on each side
There are three underlying assumptions about an authoritarian rule advantage:
1. Poor countries do better under authoritarian governments in terms of economic development, because authoritarian systems are better able to manage and marshal the limited resources in those countries. The argument went that if a poor country became democratic, because of the pressures in a democracy to respond to the interests of the people, they would borrow too much, and spend the money in ways that did not advance development. These poor decisions would mean that development would not occur and because people would then be disappointed, they would return to a dictatorship. (Handelman, 2009 p.32)
In the last forty-five years of actual performance, there is no evidence that poor authoritarian countries have grown any more rapidly than poor democracies. If you leave out East Asia, you see that poor democracies have grown 50 percent more rapidly, on average, during this period. The Baltic countries, Botswana, Costa Rica, Ghana, and Senegal have grown more rapidly than the Angolas, the Syrias, the Uzbekistans, and the Zimbabwes of the world. This is the case even though 25 percent of authoritarian countries dont even report their economic information.
2. Once these countries reach some middle-income level of development, they are in a better position to make a transition to democracy, and do so successfully (Handelman, 2009, p.32) Therefore, the prescription was, get yourself a benign dictator??”it was never quite explained how you would make sure you had a dictator that spent the money to develop the country rather than ship it off to a Swiss bank account??”wait until that produces development, which produces a middle class, and then, inevitably, the middle class will demand freedom, and you will have a democratic government.
The argument “development first/democracy later” is not only wrong, but it has led to policies that have undermined international efforts to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the developing third world. Democratic governments have shown themselves capable of doing a far better job of generating improved standards of living and fostering social and economic development as compared with their authoritarian counterparts. With the limited growth under authoritarian systems, relatively few authoritarian countries actually reach this middle-income range. In fact, since 1960, only sixteen autocratic countries have reached a per capita base above $2,000 a year. (Halperin & Siegle, 2005)
3. Efforts at premature democratization are highly likely to result not only in underdevelopment, but in civil conflict. They will expose the various differences that you have in ethnically diverse societies and result in political instability (Handelman, 2009 p. 33) The prevailing factor that influences conflict??”and today most conflict is civil conflict??”is poverty. Poor countries are more likely to be in conflict than wealthier countries. Countries of per capita incomes below $2,000 have been in conflict, on average, one year out of five since 1980. Above $4,000 a year, it is one year in thirty-three. Democratizers are no more likely to be vulnerable to conflict than are other poor countries. Since the end of the Cold War, they are somewhat less likely to be conflict-prone. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the civil conflict has taken place in recent years, democratizers have been half as likely to experience civil conflict as have other poor countries in that region. (Halperin & Siegle, 2005)
All of this has important ramifications for international security issues. Thirty percent of civil conflicts spill over across borders. This increases the likelihood of political instability and economic turmoil. Poor countries with weak governance structures are inherently better locations for international terrorist organizations to set up shop and conduct their operations. (Halperin & Siegle, 2005)
In summary, the three core assumptions that have underpinned the authoritarian advantage thesis over the years arent borne out through analysis. What we find is that the form of government that is in place in the developing world has a huge impact on the development performance realized, and that by holding onto these notions that we should defer democracy until some later point, we are, in effect, perpetuating underdevelopment and higher levels of political and sectarian conflict, as well as deferring the point at which people can govern themselves.
Handelman, H. (2009) The Challenge of the Third World Development, Fifth edition. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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Halperin, M. and Siegle, J. (2005) The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace, Carnegie Council. Retrieved January 23,2009 from //www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/5129.html