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Poverty and Development

Poverty and Development (3rd edn)

Tim Allen and Alan Thomas
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p. 36317. Democratisation, Governance, and Developmentlocked

p. 36317. Democratisation, Governance, and Developmentlocked

  • David Potter,
  • Alan Thomas
  •  and María del Pilar López-Uribe


This chapter investigates the concepts of liberal democracy, democratization, and governance and how they relate to development. There are several critiques of liberal democracy, which mostly correspond to well-known problems for any political regime. They include the 'tyranny of the majority', élite capture, clientelism, and the threat of populist capture. Alternative models claimed by their proponents to be democratic include illiberal democracy, direct democracy, and democratic centralism. Especially for proponents of market economy, liberal democracy and economic development are seen as complementary aspects of modern society. However, it is not clear that democratization leads to development. Successful development requires a supportive institutional environment. This may occur in a liberal democracy but it is not democracy itself that matters but 'something else' — which may be called 'quality of governance', including impartiality and effectiveness.

17.1 Introduction

Liberal democracy is often seen as an ideal form of governance, an integral part of a fully developed society. However, it has come under increasing pressure in recent years, with several examples of democratically elected governments becoming more authoritarian and some dictatorships maintaining majority support among their populations. There has also been an increase in various forms of populism, prompting parallels with the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. As David Runciman puts it in How Democracy Ends (2018), ‘democracy is no longer the only game in town’. His is only one of several major studies published in 2018 on the ‘end’ or ‘death’ of democracy, with others including Death of Democracy (Hett 2018), How Democracies Die (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018), Edge of Chaos (Moyo 2018), and The Road to Unfreedom (Snyder 2018).

Democratisation, in the sense of a shift towards liberal democracy, was a major global phenomenon in the late twentieth century. It spread with particular vigour from Southern Europe in the mid 1970s to Latin America and parts of Asia in the 1980s and then on to Eastern Europe and the (ex-)Soviet Union, as well as parts of sub-Saharan Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was, and is, a wide-ranging debate about the relation between this political transformation and development. Many argue that democracy assists the development process or even that it is part and parcel of the development ideal. However, there are important critiques of liberal democracy as an ideal type of Western governance, and many regard it both as a separate issue from development and as creating barriers to development for non-Western countries.

In the early years of this century the spread of liberal democracy has slowed or reversed. The Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2017 (EIU 2018), subtitled Free Speech under Attack, reported a reduction in the average democracy score in all global regions except North America, where p. 364it remained the same. (See Section 17.2, including Table 17.2, for more on the measurement of democracy and this index in particular.) There has been some reversion to authoritarianism, for example in parts of Africa, and a very mixed outcome to the ‘Arab Spring’ (Figure 17.1).

Figure 17.1 Beginning of the Arab Spring. Sana’a, Yemen, October 2011—site of one of the wave of violent and non-violent pro-democracy demonstrations in different countries which followed the ousting of President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia in January 2011. Whereas in Tunisia a democratic transition has been largely consolidated, Egypt has reverted to autocracy while Yemen, like Libya and Syria, remains locked in violence and civil war eight years later.

Source: ymphotos/

However, the importance for development of governance and state institutions, if not specifically of democracy, has been incorporated into the SDGs. Targets to ‘promote the rule of law’, to ‘develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions’ and to ‘ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels’ are included in SDG 16, on Peace, Justice and Sustainable Institutions.

What is liberal democracy? What is democratisation? What are the recent global trends?

What are the critiques of and alternatives to liberal democracy?

How does democratisation relate to development?

What is governance and what is meant by ‘quality of governance’? Are these more important for development than democracy?

17.2 Liberal democracy and democratisation

The concept of political regime refers to the institutional relationships between (and within) the state and civil society that specify the forms of political accountability and the ways political leaders come to occupy positions of authority (Chapter 4 discusses the state as a development agency; civil society is also defined there). In modern Western political thought, liberal democracy is the dominant ideal type of political regime at the level of the nation state, others being partial democracy and authoritarian.

A liberal democracy is a type of representative democracy, a regime in which binding rules and policy decisions are made by representatives accountable to the community. This accountability is secured primarily through free, fair and competitive elections in which virtually all adult men and women have the right to vote and stand for elective office. Two main forms of representative democracy are: presidential (where people elect the head of government directly); and parliamentary (where members of an elected parliament then determine the government and its head—usually the leader of the majority political party).

Citizens within a liberal democracy have the right ‘to express themselves without danger of severe punishment on political matters broadly defined, including criticism of officials, the government, the regime, the socio-economic order, the prevailing ideology’ and ‘to form relatively independent associations or organisations including independent political parties and interest groups’ (Dahl 1989: 221).

Dahl (1989) produced a classic formulation of the institutional features of liberal democracy as a quite specific and limited form of democracy (which he called polyarchy). This refers to two broad attributes of the state (accountable government and free/fair elections) and two broad aspects of civil society (civil/political rights and associational autonomy). Table 17.1 uses these to distinguish the three types of political regime.

Table 17.1 Liberal democracy, partial democracy, authoritarian regime.

Liberal democracy

Partial democracy

Authoritarian regime


accountable government

limited accountability of government to citizens through elections

dominant state and government not accountable through elections to citizens

free and fair competitive elections

unfree and unfair competitive elections

no competitive elections

Civil society

civil and political rights

rights to freedom of expression curtailed

severe restrictions on individual civil and political rights

associational autonomy

associational autonomy more or less compromised

autonomous associations and organisations critical of the state virtually non-existent

Source: Potter (1997: 5); for liberal democratic criteria: Dahl (1989: 221).

No single model of an authoritarian regime exists. Linz and Stepan (1996: Chapter 3) identify at least four; two main ones are distinguished here. The first p. 365is a communist party authoritarian regime in which the party-state seeks to encompass most of the economy and society. This model includes strong leadership, attempts through the party and bureaucracy to mobilise the entire society for the purposes of nation-building, and social reconstruction in accordance with an explicit socialist ideology. It has its own version of what constitutes democracy: democratic centralism (see Section 17.3). Although for many this was completely discredited by the Stalinist totalitarian repression in the Soviet Union followed by its collapse, five such regimes persist, notably China which currently presents the biggest challenge to liberal democracy. (For more on the Chinese model, see Chapter 16.)

The second model is a capitalist authoritarian regime. Here too, political leaders are not accountable to citizens through competitive elections, but the state is less totalistic and its ideology is of less consequence politically. Most significantly, ‘the economy is “free” in the sense that private entrepreneurs and managers are able to pursue profit relatively unencumbered by an interventionist state (though the same freedom is not extended to workers)’ (White 1996: 220). Military rule has often provided examples, as with the presidency of Suharto (1967–98) in Indonesia and the 16 years of consecutive military rule up to 1999 in Nigeria. In both cases some democratisation has occurred since the millennium. More recently Kagame’s presidency of Rwanda came into being through elections in 2000, although he was already de facto leader as Vice President during the years after his military leadership ended the genocide in 1994. Since then his regime has become more authoritarian in the name of ‘strong government’ (see Figure 17.2). These regimes often exhibit neo-patrimonialism, described in Chapter 4 as ‘systems of personal rule held together through the distribution of the state’s resources and opportunities to clients and allies’ (see also Chapter 14). Thus, Suharto passed laws that benefited state-owned firms and entrepreneurs holding monopolies who were his allies, while in Rwanda investment in development projects has occurred through large companies in which the ruling party’s leaders have significant interests.

p. 366

Figure 17.2 (a) President Paul Kagame of Rwanda campaigning in the 2017 presidential election, when he won a third term with over 98 per cent of the vote, after winning a referendum in 2015 to change the constitution to allow three more terms over the original constitutional maximum of two. (b) Members of the Rwanda National Congress opposition party shout slogans while holding pictures of slain party leader Col Patrick Karegeya and posters of Kagame reading ‘Wanted—War Criminal’, at a demonstration outside the Rwandan Embassy in South Africa, January 2014.

Source: (a) MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images (b) ALEXANDER.

A partial democracy is a ‘mixed’ type of regime—‘ambiguous regime’ for Crouch (1996) or ‘statist democracy’ for Jesudason (1995). The accountability of government to citizens is qualified; military, ‘traditional’, and other non-elected establishments within the state restrict the effects of elections and compromise the authority of the elected government. Elections are held, but organised to ensure that only certain candidates can be elected; opposition parties may exist and even make some impact but the electoral system is organised to ensure that normally they would neither win an election nor form a government. There are restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and access to alternative information. Some independent associations and organisations critical of the state exist but are carefully monitored by the state.

Some regimes in this category may be moving from authoritarianism towards liberal democracy. Others are part of what Zakaria (1997) termed the ‘disturbing phenomenon’ of ‘illiberal democracy’ (see Section 17.3).

Measuring democracy

There is some coherence to the authoritarian regime models adopted by China, Vietnam, Rwanda, and others, as well as the ‘illiberal democracies’ of Hungary, Turkey, etc. where ‘strong government’ is argued to be necessary for the pursuit of national unity and economic development. However, to use the term ‘partial democracy’ means just that: the ideals of liberal democracy only partly enacted. Thus, while the concept of political regime seems to indicate a choice between discrete coherent models, it is more common to treat (liberal) democracy as an ideal which can be achieved to a greater or lesser degree rather than as a model which simply is adopted or not.

This leaves open the question of what economic and social variables to measure in order to assess varying degrees of democracy. Table 17.1 was based on four features of liberal democracy from Dahl’s (1989) idea of polyarchy: accountable government, free and fair competitive elections, civil and political rights, and associational autonomy. This is regarded as a limited or ‘thin’ conceptualisation of democracy (Coppedge 2005), as are what are probably the best-known measures of democracy currently produced, by the US-based Freedom House organisation. Freedom House has produced indices of political freedom and economic freedom for all countries the past 75 years. The average of these two indices is often taken to be a measure of democracy—although, by including ‘economic freedom’ or openness to markets, this p. 367goes well beyond Dahl’s formulation to include an explicit bias towards liberal capitalism as an ideal.

Freedom House also produces measures of a narrower concept, ‘electoral democracy’, taken to include: (i) a competitive, multiparty political system; (ii) universal adult suffrage; (iii) regular contested elections with secret and secure ballots and no large-scale voter fraud; (iv) open political campaigning with political parties having access to the electorate through the media (EIU 2018).

A ‘thicker’ measure of democracy which goes beyond measuring simply the state of political freedoms and civil liberties is produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). They explain:

… Freedom is an essential component of democracy but not, in itself, sufficient. In existing measures, the elements of political participation and functioning of government are taken into account only in a marginal and formal way.

Our Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture (2018: 63).

The EIU rates 167 countries using 60 indicators grouped into the five categories and converting the scores to a zero to ten scale for each category (with some adjustments). These indices are measured using a combination of public opinion surveys, expert assessment, and some direct observation e.g. of voter turnout. The overall Democracy Index is the simple average of the indices for the five categories. Countries are then placed within one of four types of regime: ‘full democracies’ (score greater than eight); ‘flawed democracies’ (between six and eight); ‘hybrid regimes’ (between four and six); ‘authoritarian regimes’ (score less than or equal to four).

Table 17.2 gives scores on the Democracy Index for some selected countries. It shows how countries categorised as the same type of regime can be very different in how they score on different parts of the measure. For example, Brazil and Singapore are both categorised as ‘flawed democracies’ but the former scores high on electoral process and civil liberties while the latter scores low on electoral process but high on functioning of government. Note too that while both Freedom House and the EIU purport to produce measures of democracy which are as objective and rigorous as possible, both are ideologically pro-Western organisations and the way they measure democracy in practice has major elements of subjectivity—in the choice of indicators and in the use of numerical ratings by ‘experts’.

Table 17.2 Scores on the EIU’s Democracy Index 2017 for selected countries.


Overall Score

Electoral process and pluralism

Functioning of government

Political participation

Political culture

Civil liberties

Full democracies

























Flawed democracies

South Korea
















South Africa








































Hybrid regimes









































Authoritarian regimes









































North Korea








Source: EIU (2018: 5–9).

Recent trends in democratisation

As the Western model of a democratic regime, liberal democracy is used as the standard in the huge literature on patterns of democratisation. In other words, democratisation usually means a change towards conforming more closely to the liberal democratic ideal.

Democratisation: political change towards liberal democracy, i.e. moving from less accountable to more accountable government, from less competitive (or non-existent) elections to fuller and fairer competitive elections, from severely restricted to better protected civil and political rights, from weak (or non-existent) autonomous associations to more autonomous and more numerous associations in civil society.

Describing actual examples of democratisation using these patterns involves making rough judgements regarding various complexities. Such movements may, for example, be quick on one or two dimensions of change, less quick or stagnant (or going into reverse) on the others. An instance is South Korea which ‘jumped’ to competitive elections in 1987–88 while authoritarian restrictions on civil and political rights hardly moved at all in a democratic direction. As with the measures used in the EIU’s Democracy Index, rough judgements are also required when moving from measurement of these dimensions to assigning a country to one of a small number of regime types, as was done in Table 17.2.

Table 17.3 also categorises countries throughout the world—147 countries in 1975, 164 in 1995, and 167 in 2017—as either liberal democracy, partial democracy, or authoritarian regime. For 2017, the EIU’s categories of ‘full’ and ‘flawed’ democracy are taken together to correspond to ‘liberal democracy’, while the EIU’s ‘hybrid regimes’ correspond to ‘partial democracy’. The summary totals are broken down in terms of major regions of the world. Thus the table shows broad changes over the past four decades.

Table 17.3 Global patterns of democratisation, 1975–2017.





Partial democracy

Liberal democracy


Partial democracy

Liberal democracy


Partial democracy

Liberal democracy

Western Europe North America and Australasia










Latin America and the Caribbean










Sub-Saharan Africa










Eastern Europe and former USSR




















Middle East and North Africa




















1975 (N = 147)




1995 (N = 164)




2017 (N = 167)




Source: For columns 1–6 see Potter (1997: 9; for the names of all the countries behind the data, 37–8). For data underlying columns 7–9 see Democracy Index 2017 (EIU 2018: 18).

Table 17.3 shows different patterns of democratisation between 1975 and 1995 in different regions of the world. There was virtually no regime change in Western Europe and North America and Australasia, the main stories having occurred before 1975. However, the data show striking democratisation p. 368p. 369p. 370in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa over the period, as well as in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, where momentous political changes occurred. There was less regime change in Asia and no change in the Middle East and North Africa.

These data catch what was referred to by Huntington (1991) and others as the ‘third wave’ of democratisation (the ‘first long wave’ having occurred from 1828 to 1926, and the ‘second short wave’ after the Second World War). One of the things about waves is that they roll back; and, indeed, in many African countries the new partial democracy was not consolidated; already by the turn of the millennium a number of the newly democratic regimes in Africa had reverted to alternative forms of regime which conformed in the EIU’s terms to authoritarianism. Since 2000, the only region where any significant democratisation has continued has been Asia, and only to a very limited extent. In other regions there has been little category change. The EIU (2018: 19) reports an overall gradual decline in its democratic index throughout the world over the past decade, including in Western Europe and North America. Most recently, there is speculation that this regression towards authoritarianism may be accelerated by the ‘acceptable authoritarianism’ (Bloomfield 2020) of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Cheeseman 2020; Croissant 2020). (See subsection on Development and democratisation occur for disparate reasons in Section 17.4.)

An academic literature began to appear attempting to classify and explain this ‘third reverse wave’ (e.g. Burnell 1998). Also, many of the countries classified in Table 17.3 as liberal democracies in 1995 and 2017, while scoring relatively high on the formal institutional criteria for democracy, have other characteristics that might compromise this classification. For example, in the Philippines the President and the bicameral legislature have been elected since 1986. But the literature on the subject makes abundantly clear that the elections were largely irrelevant to the lives of the poor, the overwhelming majority of the electorate (e.g. Anderson 1996; Kerkvliet 1996). In the 1992 Philippines Congress all but 17 of the 195 members were millionaires, one of many indicators that led Neher and Marlay (1995: 65 and 72) to conclude that in the Philippines ‘formal democratic appearances have triumphed over meaningful citizen participation’. Power has continued to change hands, with a succession of ‘corrupt, elitist presidencies’ (Overholt 2017). Frustration at poor economic performance and continuing corruption has also led on occasion to the election of ‘strongmen’ in the hope they will crack down on corruption, most recently the 2016 election of Rodrigo Duterte, who has sanctioned extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers, clearly an anti-democratic stance but one approved by many Filipinos.

In another example, Turkey has been classified as a hybrid regime for many years, but its democracy index has fallen to only just above the borderline with authoritarianism. After having been Prime Minister since 2003, in 2014 Tayyip Erdogan became the first president elected by direct voting. Since then concerns have arisen of an important regression of the democratic order and a switch towards an autocracy. In 2017, a constitutional referendum that changed the parliamentary system to a presidential system was approved and deepened the concerns regarding democracy and separation of powers.

Despite the problems with classification and the particularities of each country, overall there is no doubt there was a ‘third wave’ of democratisation in the last quarter of the twentieth century followed by a period of limited change and some gradual retreat from liberal democratic ideals so far in this century, perhaps accelerating in response to COVID-19. One way of characterising this is to point out that while there are more elections than ever before they are not necessarily ‘free and fair’ and other freedoms may be becoming more limited.

17.3 Critiques of and alternatives to liberal democracy

Given the divisions and multiple interests within any society, as well as international constraints, no form of government can be expected to solve all issues and each regime type has its own problems, liberal democracy being no exception. However, it is often put forward as the ‘least worst’ option, following the famous dictum of Winston Churchill in 1947: ‘Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ Runciman (2018) points out that when Churchill said this the ‘other forms’ were recently defeated fascism and Nazism and the totalitarian version of communism that was Stalinism; 70 years later liberal democracy is ‘not the least worst option for everyone’ and ‘The twenty-first century is likely p. 371to see Western democracy confronted by a rival political system that will vary from place to place and will occasionally stretch to include the edges of our politics’.

Problems of liberal democracy

The most important rival system is probably the Chinese model, which Bell (2015) calls an example of ‘political meritocracy’. In contrasting this system with liberal democracy, Bell lists ‘four key problems with electoral democracy: the tyranny of the majority, the tyranny of the minority, the tyranny of the voting community, and the tyranny of competitive individualists’. Most of them are well-known problems for any political regime, not inherent flaws specific to liberal democracy. This means that practical ways have been found to mitigate these problems especially where a democracy has been in place long enough to develop solutions based on its particular democratic culture. Hence the problems may be worse for countries early on a path of transition to liberal democracy, as with many developing countries today. Alternatively, as argued by some post-colonial writers, imported democratic models based on those of the ex-colonial power may be inappropriate to the cultural context (e.g. Owusu 1992; see Box 17.1 for two examples from novels set in Africa).

Box 17.1 Two examples from novels of the problems of Western democracy in Africa

Our way was to share a fire until it burned down, ayi? To speak to each other until every person was satisfied. Younger men listened to older men. Now … the vote of a young, careless man counts the same as the vote of an elder. … White men tell us: Vote, bantu! They tell us: You do not all have to agree, ce n’est pas necessaire! If two men vote yes and one says no, the matter is finished. A bu, even a child can see how that will end. It takes three stones in the fire to hold up the pot. Take one away, leave the other two, and what? The pot will spill into the fire. (Tata Ndu in Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible 2000: 379–80)

From a novel by US novelist Barbara Kingsolver set in Congo during the period before and after independence from Belgium, including the election of Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister and his subsequent removal from power and assassination, with suspected United States involvement.

In many countries, one hasn’t rights; but neither does one really have them in Western Europe or North America although one is made to believe one does … Democracy is the instrument with which the elites whip the masses anywhere; it enables the ruling elite to detain some, impoverish others, and makes them the sole proprietors of power. Who knows what is good for the people? Who knows whom the people love most? Who knows best what the people need? (Zeinab in Nurrudin Farah, Sardines 1981)

This quote comes from Zeinab, protagonist in one of Nurrudin Farah’s trilogy of novels, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship. Farah is a Somali writer whose work explores cultural identity in a post-colonial context.

The following subsections discuss these four ‘tyrannies’ briefly, though not precisely in Bell’s terms.

Poor decision-making

For representative democracy to work well, people must vote for representatives who will act effectively in pursuing long-term prosperity and the interests of those who have voted for them. In order to do this, voters should ideally be well informed, engaged in politics, able to weigh up alternatives, and aware of their own long-term interests. However, commentators argue that in practice many people are apathetic or have little knowledge of the issues and tend to be short-sighted and favour the immediate interests of their own group or ‘tribe’. Nevertheless, it is this ignorant majority whose cumulative decision counts—the first of Bell’s four ‘tyrannies’. Dambisa Moyo (2018), an African economist commenting as much on the problems of mature democracies as on those emerging in developing countries, is one who sees this problem as so serious she proposes ‘weighted voting’ in which a better qualified person’s vote counts more—even though this would negate the most basic democratic principle of political equality.

Exclusion of minorities

Especially if different groups within the electorate have clearly different interests, the majority can promote its own interests over those of the minority. This is another aspect of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, which has been known for a long time as an inherent fault particularly of direct democracy, although it is also an issue for representative democracy, given the p. 372‘winner-takes-all’ nature of elections. Largely to deal with this problem, liberal democratic regimes have been designed which go beyond elections to include also entrenched mechanisms to guarantee citizen rights and a balance between different sources of power—a famous example being the US constitution.

However, in practice the problem remains. If voting is along community or ethnic lines then the representatives of minority groups will never attain power and may have their interests ignored. (For a fictional parable illustrating this point, see the quote from The Poisonwood Bible in Box 17.1.) This problem can be particularly acute if elections are introduced where other aspects of liberal democracy are weakly developed.

Short-term clientelism

In an ideal democracy, the parties compete during elections over who is best placed to achieve common societal goals such as increased prosperity or reduced inequality. However, in many cases, especially in smaller developing countries, external factors such as global commodity prices or aid conditionality may constrain the room for manoeuvre so that there may be few major policy differences or indeed little prospect of attaining such goals over the short term or of knowing whether or not particular policies are having a desirable long-term effect. But in order to have a chance of re-election, politicians have to be seen to have done enough for their supporters to warrant their continued support at the next election. At the same time, political power gives access to resources that can be used to benefit the group which propelled the election winner into power. It is hardly surprising that ways are found to reward supporters with short-term benefits such as placing projects or contracts with them, favouritism towards certain regions, or various forms of electoral ‘bribes’.

Elite capture

Bell’s second tyranny, of the minority, refers to how with increasing economic inequality power is ‘captured’ by a small number of the most privileged. The argument is that electoral choices tend to be limited to small variations which all favour the interests of an elite defined mainly by wealth but also by education and by occupying advisory and professional policymaking positions. Those putting themselves forward for election come overwhelmingly from this elite.

There have been justifications for this state of affairs, notably the idea that expertise is an important qualification for a representative who ideally interprets the results of elections in such a way as to benefit the population as a whole. As famously noted by Schumpeter, ‘The will of the majority is the will of the majority and not the will of “the people”. The latter is a mosaic that the former completely fails to “represent”’ (1943: 272).

However, where standing for election is effectively limited only to wealthy individuals, the interests of ordinary, poorer citizens are likely to be neglected. For example, Overholt (2017), commenting on electoral corruption in the Philippines, points out how only those with enormous personal fortunes can realistically expect to be elected president and describes the effect of Western-style democracy imposed on South East Asian societies such as the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia as a ‘pattern of democracy where a small elite uses elections to legitimise ruthless extraction of resources from the overwhelming majority of the citizens and send the country into a relative decline’. In such circumstances elections are seen ‘not as an opportunity to grow the national economic pie but as competition over who was to eat the pie’.

Something similar is argued by post-colonial writers for the African case. For example, Owusu states that African democracy needs to be rebirthed and ‘rooted and grounded in the villages and small communities’, or any democratic model in the continent will be a product of the elite (1992: 387).

Parochial individualism and the threat of populist capture

Bell’s third problem, the ‘tyranny of the voting community’, refers to how voters can choose representatives based on their policies about broader matters such as climate change or the treatment of migrants which have impact beyond the voters themselves, and are likely to do so, once again, based on their own perceived short-term interests. His fourth problem, the ‘tyranny of competitive individualists’, is about how competition downgrades the value of certain human values which are broader in another way, such as harmony (a Confucian value which Bell argues is of great importance for the Chinese model in particular—though one can also see how appeals to harmony from those in elite positions can mask the favouring of their own interests).

p. 373Both these ‘tyrannies’ point to the likelihood of voters being swayed to elect ‘populist’ leaders who appeal directly to their perceived individual interests. Once in power, in extreme cases populist leaders can dispense with the checks and balances of liberal democracy, so long as they continue to enjoy support from a large enough proportion of the population—witness, for example, the several cases (Zimbabwe, Turkey, Rwanda, etc.) where limitations on the number of terms which can be served by a populist President have been overturned through popular vote. It has been pointed out how liberal democracy appears to have an in-built weakness which can allow populist ‘capture’ in this way, with similarities to how democracy gave way to Nazism in 1930s Germany (Box 17.2).

Box 17.2 Hannah Arendt on populism and the ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’

The dictionary definition of populism indicates nothing more than support for the concerns of ordinary people. However, as with the notion of ‘moral populism’ introduced in Chapter 4, a populist approach often contrasts ‘the people’ with a corrupt, self-serving, and apparently homogeneous ‘elite’. Populists may also put forward simplistic solutions to complex issues, setting aside rational debate and even calling factual evidence into question.

Hannah Arendt was a German-born American political philosopher. In The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) she analysed how along with other factors populism had led to the rise of extreme forms of totalitarianism both in Nazi Germany, which she had fled in the 1930s, and in the communist Soviet Union. She described how populism worked through a direct emotional appeal to ‘the masses’, which she understood as consisting of isolated or ‘atomised’ individuals:

The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organisation based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organisations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls (Arendt 1951).

Those who respond to populist appeals may be alienated in large numbers from ordinary democratic politics. They will have real grievances and may have suffered some form of dislocation to apparently settled cultural and economic norms. However, even when the populist leader they helped put into power fails to deliver much tangible benefit, they may still support a leader who continues to present themselves as on the side of the people and to scapegoat outsiders and ‘the elite’. In this context, Arendt notes how the leaders of populist movements have ‘extreme contempt for facts as such’, presenting simplicity and claiming stability where there is actually uncertainty. Such movements:

conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations (Arendt 1951).

Social media, disinformation, and violence

Liberal democracy goes beyond just holding multiparty elections to require both freedom of expression and a well-informed electorate. There has always been a tension here. Freedom of expression can allow the spread of disinformation or hate speech—by those who seek to gain or retain power by any means, by those with an illiberal or violent agenda e.g. against certain minorities, or by forces within or outside the country seeking to sow discord and doubt about the value of democracy itself.

Social media arguably magnifies this tension. Those who rely mainly on social media may be less well informed or have a more biased view of issues. Facebook, for example, acts to create ‘bubbles’ within which individuals’ understanding of what is going on in public life is reduced to repeated and distorted rumours (Figure 17.3). What appears to be the ‘news’ is in fact what Facebook’s algorithms present, which varies according to what a person ‘likes’ reading.

Figure 17.3 ‘Fake News’ is often circulated on social media to give an exaggerated impression of the degree of public support for a politician or party. According to the fact-checking service of AFP (Agence France-Presse), this photo, purportedly showing mass support for President Duterte of Philippines on the occasion of his State of the Nation Address in July 2018, was actually taken at a rally of his opponents, with the slogans doctored to read ‘Shun the Yellows [nickname for an opposition group]! Fight Corruption’, when the original read ‘Shun Duterte’s Cha Cha [constitutional change]! Fight Dictatorship!’

Source: Agence France-Presse.

Facebook’s most consequential impact may be in amplifying the universal tendency toward tribalism. Posts dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ rise naturally, tapping into users’ desire to belong.

Its gamelike interface rewards engagement, delivering a dopamine boost when users accrue likes and responses, training users to indulge behaviors that win affirmation.

And because its algorithm unintentionally privileges negativity, the greatest rush comes by attacking outsiders: The other sports team. The other political party. The ethnic minority (Taub and Fisher 2018).

For many users, the way information is presented carries a spurious aura of reliability and Facebook may effectively be the Internet. Its expansion into developing countries has been done in a way which accentuates this tendency. Facebook has promoted a service p. 374called Free Basics, which gives its users unlimited access to a few phone apps, but restricts more general use of the Internet. As a result, ‘reading material on Facebook is easy, but checking its veracity may be impossible’. In 2018 Free Basics was being launched or expanded in Cameroon, Indonesia, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Colombia, and Peru (Harris 2018).

Some go so far as to suggest that social media pose an existential threat to democracy, especially given the extraordinary rate of take-up of Facebook and Twitter in countries with weak institutions. For example, in Myanmar, following the introduction of Free Basics, the number of Facebook users rose from 2 to 14 million between 2014 and 2018 (ibid).

There has been particular concern over use of targeted influencing on Facebook as an electoral campaign strategy, much focused on the election of Donald Trump as US President and the Brexit referendum campaign in the UK. However, it is probable that such methods have had even greater influence in developing countries. Thus Cambridge Analytica, the company banned by Facebook (in March 2018) for its manipulative and now discredited methods of targeted misinformation, so-called ‘fake news’ and sensational storytelling, admitted that it tested its ‘product’ in countries with weak laws on data protection. One country where this may have occurred was Sri Lanka (Ginige 2018)—see Box 17.3.

Box 17.3 Facebook, elections, and violence in Sri Lanka

In 2015 the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, became the first President to lose power in a presidential election in the political history of Sri Lanka. Ukwatta (2017) contrasts the way Rajapaksa ‘focused on traditional campaign methods’ and ‘abused traditional media in an unethical manner’ with an opposition party which focused ‘creatively and purposefully’ on social media. Ukwatta concludes: ‘Consequently, Facebook positively influenced the opposition party to win the presidential election in 2015.

However, since then Facebook has been linked to a rise in Sinhalese Buddhist violence against Muslims. This followed what Harris (2018) calls a ‘viral lie … about the alleged seizure of 23,000 sterilisation pills by police from a Muslim pharmacist in the eastern town of Ampara’. Harris goes on: ‘Then everything exploded after an incident in one of the town’s restaurants. A Sinhalese customer found something in his food and claimed it was one of the supposed pills, put there by the owners.’ A video was spread purportedly showing an admission by the owner, who was ‘… beaten up, his premises were destroyed, and a local mosque was set on fire. Less than a week later the murder of a Sinhalese truck driver in central Sri Lanka was presented on Facebook as part of the same supposed Muslim conspiracy. One post simply said, “Kill all Muslims, don’t even save an infant”, as mobs began destruction and violence that left three people dead’ (ibid). Taub and Fisher (2018) were horrified to find that even moderate Sinhalese including one Buddhist priest lauded for having prevented a further violent incident nevertheless believed the false rumours.

Eventually Sirisena decreed an eight-day shutdown of Facebook in March 2018, despite this having been the medium through which he had gained power. Until then, Facebook itself had taken no action, despite repeated pleas. It has no office in Sri Lanka and very few Sinhalese-speaking moderators.

A prominent Sri Lankan activist comments as follows:

Facebook is now another ‘eye-in-the-sky’ watching over you. The Big Brother. It knows everything about you and your loved ones. It knows where you live, where you go, what you eat, what dress you buy, what business you do, and every little detail about you.

It even knows the things you like and dislike, things that make you happy or sad and things that make you angry, your weak points, your deepest fears and secret desires. With that kind of power, it can call an entire nation to revolt against a government. It can create an echo-chamber of hate. It can divide people based on their fears. It can call angry mobs to fight against their rivals at a specific location at a specific time. It can spread violence like wildfire.

Elections nowadays are decided by a small percentage of voters. Less than 5% of the six million Facebook users is enough to change the president of Sri Lanka. That’s a direct threat to democracy. Because whoever has more money and influence can use Facebook to access the vulnerabilities of voters and then change their decision through mass psychological manipulation.

Facebook is not about Freedom of Speech or the Right to Information. It’s the political weapon of choice of the rich, powerful and evil people who will do anything to come to and stay in power. As an advertising platform, its main goal is to manipulate reality for clicks, a goal that is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. Surely we deserve better than an advertising algorithm selecting our leaders for us (Ginige 2018).

A related concern relates to the rise in inter-communal violence linked to the use of social media, including in Sri Lanka (see Box 17.3 and Figure 17.4). This has been investigated by New York Times p. 375journalists Amanda Taub and Max Fisher. Examples include links between pernicious online posts and the horrific persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and lynchings in the Indian state of Jharkhand and also in Indonesia triggered by false rumours on WhatsApp that outsiders were abducting local children, in the latter case related to organ harvesting (Taub and Fisher 2018).

Figure 17.4 Sri Lanka March 2018: Government declared a state of emergency and a total ban on social media following damage by mainly Sinhalese rioters to Muslim homes and businesses and a police warning that rioters were using social media to spread anti-Muslim sentiment.

Source: AFP/Getty Images.

Alternative forms of democracy

A great deal of writing on liberal democracy equates it with democracy itself. It is as though the Western model, which combines multiparty elections with individual rights to freedom of expression and associational autonomy, is the only possible way of achieving democratic ideals such as citizen participation and the accountability of the government.

Nevertheless, both in theory and in practice alternative forms of democracy do exist, although the number of functioning examples is limited. Here are three: illiberal democracy; direct democracy; and democratic centralism.

Illiberal democracy

Zakaria (1997) used the term ‘illiberal democracy’ for the situation in which ‘democratically elected regimes … are routinely ignoring constitutional limits on their power and depriving their citizens of basic rights and freedoms’. Gandhi explains the appeal of illiberal democracy, pointing to the positive functions of elections for autocrats in legitimising and stabilising their regimes, neutralising threats to their power from within the elites and confirming public support (2008: Introduction).

p. 376Proponents of such regimes such as Victor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010, do not regard them as partial versions of liberal democracy, but claim the notion of illiberal democracy as a special form of nationalist majoritarian regime which rejects the idea of universal rights and freedoms as a central ideological element of state organisation. Other leaders who espouse such ideas openly include Erdogan in Turkey and Duterte in the Philippines, already mentioned in this chapter, and more recently Bolsonaro in Brazil (see Figure 17.5).

Figure 17.5 Jair Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil in 2018, promising to clamp down on corruption and deal with the alarmingly high levels of violent crime. His electioneering included ‘hard-line “eye for an eye” discourse, combined with the view that human rights must be subordinated to public safety’ (Hunter and Power 2019: 73).

Source: Antonio Scorza/
Direct democracy

As a type of representative democracy, liberal democracy is a quite specific and limited form of democracy. Various other models have been advocated for direct or participatory democracy which, in principle, go beyond liberal democracy with citizens taking a more direct part in decision-making or making policies without any intermediaries (e.g. Held 1996; Archibugi, Held, and Kohler 1998). How this can happen includes discussion and consensus in groups or people’s assemblies, or voting on specific policy initiatives via referenda.

There are some historically notable instances of participatory democracy involving most people at local level with links to larger units of the state and the economy, including town meetings in the New England region of the USA, and regular citizen voting on local issues as well as frequent national policy referenda in Switzerland. In other cases, elements of direct democracy have been organised through the internal structures of one ruling party. In Uganda, the whole national system of voting was for a time based on what was termed a single movement, rather than a party. After Yoweri Museveni became President of Uganda, since 1986 there was an experiment with what Kasfir (1998) identified as a ‘no-party democracy’, including village local councils. All adult residents became members of these as well as of Museveni’s National Resistance Movement. Elections have been held repeatedly in every village and between 1986 (when the National Resistance Movement took over) and 2001 there were national elections which were assessed by local and foreign observers as free, fair and open, despite no political parties being allowed. After 2001, Uganda shifted back to a multiparty election system (see Figure 17.6), similar to the system in place before Museveni came to power. Many analysts have argued these elections have been much more problematic, involving coercion and vote rigging, p. 377and have done little to contain the president’s drift towards more autocratic rule.

Figure 17.6 A Ugandan casts his vote in the country’s presidential election in February 2016.

Source: Dai Kurokawa/EPA/Shutterstock.

Direct democracy can also occur when insurrectionary or liberation movements with a participatory philosophy succeed in taking control over a part of a territory but have not established an internationally recognised state. In such circumstances there is an overriding need for unity in the continuing struggle for independence which is apparent to all concerned. This means that those p. 378who have taken part in the ‘liberation’ of their part of the country can be ‘allowed’ to take direct control locally without immediate danger of fracture. Thus there are elements of direct democracy in the areas which have been held since 1994 by the Zapatistas in the Mexican state of Chiapas. These areas cover a population of around 300 000 people, organised in a federal structure with local communities within autonomous municipalities, which federate to form five regions. At local community level, general assemblies of around 300 families aim to make decisions by consensus but use majority voting if necessary.

A similar example is found in Rojava, otherwise known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, which comprises three mainly Kurdish regions of northern Syria and has enjoyed effective autonomy since 2012 despite the uncertainty caused by the ongoing civil war in Syria and hostility from Turkey, including attacks on its water supply during the COVID-19 crisis. It has an estimated population of about 2 million including large numbers of refugees from other parts of Syria. Its constitution is based on the principles of ‘democratic confederalism’ developed by Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in Turkey: ‘In contrast to a centralist and bureaucratic understanding of administration and exercise of power, confederalism poses a type of political self-administration where all groups of the society and all cultural identities can express themselves in local meetings, general conventions and councils’ (Öcalan 2011: 26). Local communes are self-governing and make decisions in popular assemblies where all can participate including women (see Figure 17.7), as well as sending delegates to the higher levels of district and canton.

Figure 17.7 A women’s assembly in the city of Qamishlo, Rojava, 2014.

Source: Photo by Janet Biehl.

In terms of its official ideology, this system is one of libertarian socialism with values of decentralisation, environmental sustainability, women’s liberation, and tolerance for religious, cultural, and political diversity. However, critics claim that in practice the YPG people’s militias who won the regions’ autonomy by force operate in an authoritarian manner, with preferential treatment for Kurds and the imprisonment of dissidents and journalists.

It can be argued that such examples of direct democracy have extended and deepened democracy for citizens beyond what is provided in liberal democracy, but so far few have lasted very long or else have p. 379become minor aspects of another dominant form of regime at national level.

Democratic centralism

The formulation of democratic centralism is usually traced back to Vladimir Lenin and events before and after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It began as a way of organising a revolutionary workers’ party but has been extended to principles for organising a communist one-party state.

Democratic centralism means political decisions are reached by debate and voting and are then binding on all. For example, the 1977 Soviet Constitution stated that ‘all bodies of state authority from the lowest to the highest’ should be elected, and insisted on ‘their accountability to the people, and the obligation of lower bodies to observe the decisions of higher ones’.

Lenin (1906) used the slogan ‘freedom of discussion, unity of action’ to bring together the two apparently contradictory principles of democracy and centralism. On the one hand, internal democracy maintains engagement and creativity from the grassroots as well as satisfying the need for people to be able to participate in political decisions and hold their leaders accountable. On the other hand, especially in an organisation struggling for revolution or national liberation, there is an imperative for strict discipline.

Methods of election to national bodies such as party congresses and parliaments have varied from case to case, from the election of representatives by lower level bodies to direct election by universal franchise. Degrees of central control also vary, with similarities in theory to the doctrine of ‘collective responsibility’ generally applied to cabinet decision-making in a liberal democracy.

In practice, democratic centralism has been much more ‘centralist’ than ‘democratic’, with central control over who can stand for election, the deliberations of elected bodies often reduced to rubber-stamping decisions made by the leadership, and repressive measures used to suppress dissenting views once a policy is established.

After the demise of the Soviet Union it was widely expected that all other communist regimes would either also fail or else gradually liberalise. Nevertheless, five of them persist. They cannot simply be dismissed as authoritarian without acknowledging their achievements in their own terms. Cuba, for example, maintained the internal legitimacy of its political system, due to entrenched nationalism, economic and political independence, recognised and charismatic revolutionary leaders, youth in politics, and the redistribution of social wealth (Diaz 2010). It has made great advances in human development, with large increases in indicators such as literacy and different aspects of public health, despite the economic blockade from the USA and per capita income remaining low.

In most cases the communist party regime has liberalised to some extent. The totalitarian and mobilising embrace of the party-state is relaxed somewhat to accommodate the emergence of new social and economic forces. For example, when the Chinese government started reforms in the 1980s, including the introduction of market principles in the economy, the government organised village elections in which different candidates could run. However, each candidate had to be chosen or approved by the Communist Party and candidates could be vetted by the government.

17.4 Democratisation and development

To what extent was the extraordinary burst of democratisation in the latter part of the twentieth century related to development? Did it come about because of pressures building up as countries developed? On the other hand, what impact did it have, or will it have, on poverty and development? The huge literature on this subject gives no definitive answers. Three broadly different positions are identified and discussed further.

Democracy and development go together

Chapter 3 introduced modernisation theory, in which socio-economic development and liberal democracy go together as complementary aspects of a modern society. There is certainly a strong positive correlation between level of economic development and liberal democracy: most high-income countries are democracies while middle- and low-income countries include a higher proportion of partial democracies and authoritarian regimes.

The fact of a correlation between two changing variables does not indicate which comes first. However, the idea that democratisation stimulates development has been widespread in official Western aid circles and among their academic support, particularly in the 1990s. Essentially, the view was that liberal market capitalism in an international p. 380context was mutually reinforcing with liberal democracy and ‘good governance’ domestically (a ‘virtuous cycle’), and that these provided core elements of a comprehensive strategy for development success equally valid for all types of society. The position had important policy consequences. As well as insisting on ‘free’ markets, the World Bank and others tried to stimulate development by attaching liberal democratic conditionalities to aid packages and supporting initiatives to encourage ‘good governance’ (see Section 17.5).

The position was buttressed by numerous academic studies. One of the most impressive was by Surjit Bhalla (1997), for whom democracy is strongly associated with greater freedom. He asked whether greater freedoms lead to improved economic growth and social development, using data for over ninety countries during the period 1973–90 on two concepts of freedom: political and civil rights as measured annually in Gastil/Freedom House surveys (e.g. Gastil 1987); and economic freedom measured in terms of openness to markets. Economic growth and social development were measured by per capita income growth, total factor productivity growth, growth in secondary school enrolments, and decline in infant mortality.

Having analysed these data, Bhalla reached a straightforward and robust conclusion: ‘more freedom is unambiguously good for both growth and social development’; and he went on:

the results suggest that economic development is likely to be successful if countries follow the right economic and political policies … The right political policies provide a free press and a ‘free-wheeling’ democracy. In conclusion, free markets and a free society are the important ingredients to rapid economic development … Growth and freedom can indeed be locked into a virtuous cycle (1987: 228).

One of the unusual features of Bhalla’s analysis was the incorporation in his framework of both economic and political freedoms. As noted in Section 17.2, to include openness to markets as part of a definition of democracy is highly contentious. Without denying the relevance of market forces or democratic values to development, one may object to the idea that one neoliberal formula of ‘right’ economic and political policies, as taught by the apostles of advanced industrial capitalism, could uniformly stimulate development at almost any stage in the development process of any society.

More recently a number of longitudinal panel studies using comparative country data have presented evidence also supporting the view that democratisation is likely to lead to economic development (e.g. Acemoglu et al. 2019). Suggested mechanisms are that democratic redistribution may take the form of education or public goods, thus increasing economic growth (Lizzeri and Persico 2004), and that democracy can also have beneficial effects on development by constraining dictators or preventing politically powerful groups from monopolising important opportunities. However, it is important to be wary of general claims made on the basis of such generalised data analysis without also considering the individuality of each country’s experience.

Development comes first, democratisation later

A counter to the ‘democratisation stimulates development’ position comes from the spectacular success of three authoritarian regimes in Pacific Asia—South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. Of all the poor independent countries outside Europe in 1960, these have been the only ones whose consistently high levels of economic growth allowed them to join the ranks of high-income economies by the end of the century. Authoritarian China has also recorded extraordinarily high growth rates since the 1980s and although its growth has slowed it now challenges the United States as one of the world’s two largest economies.

One of the reasons why South Korea and Taiwan were ‘exceptional dictatorships’ (Cheibub et al. 1996) was because they were outstanding examples of authoritarian developmental states (see Chapter 4). It is argued, not least by the World Bank, that there can be examples of democratic as well as authoritarian developmental states. However, such states put national economic development over and above special interests and rights. This can imply an illiberal approach to democracy that allows them to pursue long-term plans and to interfere in the economic sphere to an extent that would be impossible in more liberal states.

A related argument, popular among some leaders in various partially democratic and authoritarian regimes, contends that democratisation can impede development in poor societies. Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew (1992) told an audience in the Philippines: ‘I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe that what a country needs to develop is discipline more p. 381than democracy. The exuberance of democracy leads to indiscipline and disorderly conduct which are inimical to development.’ The position was supported by dispassionate academic analysis. Leftwich examined the relation between liberal democracy and development and reached what he found to be an ‘uncomfortable’ conclusion: ‘if eliminating the continuing offence of poverty and misery is the real target, then unlimited liberal democracy and unrestrained economic liberty may be the last thing the developing world needs’ (1993: 621).

The last part of the argument that development comes first and democracy later is that development brings about pressures in society for democratisation. This has occurred in the three celebrated cases of Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Capitalist development produces changing divisions in society, often exacerbating or creating new social divisions. In particular, it has structural consequences in terms of changing class structures, weakening large landowners (often a major obstacle to democratisation) and strengthening the bourgeoisie and labour. Thus, for Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens (1992), the rise of the working class (employed manual labour outside agriculture) has been historically the most important economic interest pushing for extensions of the suffrage and other aspects of democratic development.

Development and democratisation occur for disparate reasons

While the correlation between economic development and liberal democracy is clearly significant, it does not follow that there is a general process of modernisation in which development leads to democratisation. Development may be facilitated by political factors such as quality of governance (see Section 17.5), but not determined by the form of political regime. In fact, there is considerable evidence for an alternative explanation, namely that dictatorships can give way to democracy for a variety of reasons at all levels of development, but that democracies are then more likely to remain established in wealthier countries, even when there are potentially destabilising crises (see e.g. Przeworski and Limongi 1997: 157–8).

COVID-19 is certainly a crisis with the potential to destabilise democracies as well as to reinforce existing trends towards authoritarianism in certain countries (such as Uganda, where Museveni has banned opposition rallies; and Hungary, where Orbán has used the pandemic to justify new powers for him to rule by decree, with no time limit) or consolidate it in others (Russia, Rwanda). It has led to a general ‘authoritarian surge’ across the world (Smith and Cheeseman 2020). Not only authoritarian regimes but also most democracies have implemented restrictions on freedom of movement, for whole populations or for targeted groups, either those most at risk or potential spreaders of the disease. Many have also limited other important features of democracy by, for example, postponing elections, restricting press access, banning forms of civil dissent, and granting sweeping powers to the executive without the usual scrutiny mechanisms, and gone on to implement forms of mass surveillance. In more developed countries with long-established democracies these limitations on freedom have generally been accepted with overwhelming public support, presumably on the expectation that they are temporary. However, that might well not be the case elsewhere. Particularly where the COVID-19 controls trigger political dissent and social unrest, it will not be surprising if governments in several younger democracies shift towards more autocratic procedures over the longer term.

Explanations for democratisation

The assumption of a general route towards a modern democratic society is in any case doubtful. Severe economic underdevelopment, as in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, has not been a promising context for democratisation, while democratisation can be reversed by economic crises. There is a vast literature of different explanations of democratisation which do not rely on this assumption. Without trying to summarize this literature, here briefly are six factors other than development which help explain why democratisation occurs at certain times and places and not others.

Social divisions. As well as class divisions, explanations of democratisation also refer to social divisions based on gender, ethnicity, race, tribe, language, religion, and other cultural criteria. For example, it is argued that ‘artificial’ state boundaries were imposed on African society by colonialists resulting in either centralised or dispersed ethnic divisions in those countries. Conflict between major ethnic groupings (as in Nigeria) can undermine shared identity and lead to democratic instability or breakdown, while a multiplicity of cultural groups (as in India) can make inter-ethnic cooperation more likely and be a force for political pluralism and democratisation.

p. 382Historical legacies. The legacies of colonial rule are frequently referred to in discussions of democratisation. As noted in Chapter 14, colonial rule was ‘marked by elitism and authoritarianism’ and neo-patrimonialism was a common legacy especially in Africa. In Asia, modernisation theorists (e.g. Diamond, Linz, and Lipset 1989) have argued that the ‘democratic prospect’ has varied significantly with the historical and cultural legacies of the colonial experience. For example, they suggested that India’s democracy owes something to the British colonial legacy while in Korea the already centralised and autocratic character of traditional authority was strengthened by Japanese colonial rule—though that was not the end of the story in either case.

State power and political institutions. A very powerful and almost entirely autonomous state in relation to dependent social classes or to a weak civil society, especially with strong military and police, has provided a most uncongenial setting for democratisation. A very weak state is also a problem, because a positive response to subordinate class demands for democratisation requires power to act against dominant interests. Democratisation has had more chance of success in the middle ground between too much and not enough state power.

Intermediate-level political institutions are also important explanatory factors, e.g. different types of legislatures, federal or unitary governmental relationships, different relationships between government departments in the state bureaucracies, different political party systems, and strong or weak trade unions. For example, democratisation is difficult where party systems are weak and fragmented. Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens (1992) have argued that dominant classes are more likely to accommodate liberal democracy where the party system includes a strong party of the right; without such a party to protect their interests, such conservative classes have been readier to appeal to the military to end democratic rule.

Civil society. Clearly, democratisation has been stimulated by the growth of pro-democracy social movements. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, there were such movements nearly everywhere by 1990 (see Figure 17.8). In Latin America, the repertoire of these social movements shifted with changing conditions and opportunities, most notably with the transitions from populist governance to repressive military rule, and then in the 1980s to democracies with broader social bases (Eckstein 2013). The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ began in 2010 with a series of uprisings led by pro-democracy movements in a member of Arab countries, but eight years later Tunisia is the only one where there has been significant lasting democratisation as a result.

Figure 17.8 An anti-government rally in Lome, Togo, 6 September 2017. Protesters carry placards while they march shouting slogans calling for reforms including the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe, the current head of a half century-old political dynasty.

Source: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images.

The growing proliferation of autonomous groups—students, women, trade unions, ethnic/racial groups, church members, consumers, the environmentally concerned, farmers, lawyers, and other professionals—can also strengthen democratisation prospects. This can involve the growth of independent media capable of bringing pressure to bear on authoritarian states.

However, a state can also shape civil society for its own purpose by coopting groups and associations, as was the case of peasant movements in Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s (Albertus 2015; Lopez-Uribe 2018). It is also important to appreciate that groups and associations in civil society can be hostile to democratisation.

Political culture and ideas. It may seem obvious that democratisation is more likely in countries where political cultures—peoples’ values, attitudes, and beliefs—are pro-democratic. However, democratic political cultures may be primarily a consequence of democratisation, not a cause. There has been more widespread acceptance of the political importance of values, attitudes, and beliefs that are institutionally grounded, the main example being organised religions. Against this, Bromley (1997), for example, argued that democratisation in Islamic Turkey in the last quarter of the twentieth century suggested that authoritarianism in the Middle East was caused primarily by factors other than religion—though the recent reversion of Turkey to a more authoritarian regime (or ‘illiberal democracy’) under Erdogan appears to undermine this argument.

Transnational and international power. Democratisation cannot be explained only in terms of structures and forces within a country. Processes of globalisation are increasingly important. The effects of transnational economic and financial processes, the global division of labour, global communications, and so on can be positive or negative for democratisation.

International power involves government-to-government relations such as military alliances, international war, and the work of government aid agencies and intergovernmental institutions. For example, the US government and the World Bank have at times attached democratic conditionalities to aid packages for authoritarian regimes, while noticeably failing to do so in other cases.

While the end of the ‘cold war’ may have assisted the ‘third wave’ of democratisation, war generally has an ambiguous relationship with democratisation. The national mobilisation of men, and especially women, p. 383in the face of external threat has historically led to extensions of the franchise and other democratic advances, yet war also can strengthen the military and the power of the state, and thus severely threaten the prospects of democratisation. Massive military aid to fragile liberal democracies can also strengthen the state apparatus unduly in relation to civil society and the balance of class forces.

Combination of factors. Democratisation can be aided or prevented by a variety of factors, consideration of any one of which always involves others. For example, a simple structural explanation of democratisation could go like this: capitalist socio-economic development and the historical legacy of the growth of social (nationalist) movements under international colonial rule leading to the creation of an incipient civil society strengthened the subordinate classes in post-colonial society thereby changing the balance of class power, such growth in due course encouraging the development of democratic ideas in the political culture and providing an important counterweight to the excessively powerful post-colonial state apparatus. The statement draws on all the explanatory factors discussed here. A fuller explanation of democratisation would link together in more complex ways many more such factors.

Democratisation in poor countries is unrelated to subsequent development

The other part of the argument that democratisation and development occur for separate reasons is that democratisation, however caused, need not lead to development.

A number of statistical studies with data from large numbers of countries have reached this conclusion. Helliwell (1994: 246), for example, found that the evidence ‘pours cold water on the notion that introducing democracy is likely to accelerate subsequent growth’. He did find, however, that democratisation appeared positively to affect subsequent education and investment, both of which tended to increase economic growth. He also conceded that ‘there may be country-specific or culture-specific factors that influence the linkages between democracy and economic growth, and which may be obscured in a study based on a large sample of countries’ (ibid: 245).

p. 384Przeworski and Limongi found that ‘economic miracles’ occurred in both democracies and dictatorships and that ‘while Latin American democracies suffered economic disasters during the 1980s, the world is also replete with authoritarian regimes that are dismal failures from the economic point of view. Hence, it does not seem to be democracy or authoritarianism per se that makes the difference but something else’ (1993: 65).

One of the main problems with these analyses is that they use a narrow definition of development as an increase in per capita income. As Bardhan (1993: 47) points out, ‘if one takes a broader concept of development to incorporate general well-being of the population at large, including some basic civil and political freedoms, a democracy which ensures these freedoms is, almost by definition, more conducive to development on these counts than a non-democratic regime’.

Nevertheless, it is not clear that liberal democracy is the only or best way to improve general wellbeing any more than it is proven that liberal democracy leads to development in the restricted sense of economic growth. For example, one may ask if liberal democracy helps deliver health and education outcomes directly. Do democratic ‘freedoms’ lead to a general demand for services which elected governments must meet? Or are there other reasons why different régimes may work for the needs of the whole population. In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, how far will liberal democracy turn out to be a factor in explaining which countries have served their populations well (see Box 17.4)? And to take another example, human development is taken to imply a reduction in inequality, but the relationship between democracy and inequality is as contested as that between democracy and economic development (see Box 17.5).

Box 17.4 Political Regimes and COVID-19

Box 4.1 explored briefly some responses of different governments to COVID-19, which appear to be leading to very different outcomes. Many commentators have attempted to relate these differences to democracy or the lack of it.

Western commentators, in particular, have argued that liberal democracies are likely to cope better, based on the tendency of authoritarian regimes to minimise problems and suppress information about catastrophic events, as with the initial reaction of the Soviet Union to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. On the other hand, dealing with emergencies may require draconian measures, which authoritarian regimes are well set up to implement effectively.

The example of China appears to bear out both propositions. Initially, the threat was downplayed, and whistle-blowers were discredited. However, as soon as the full significance of the epidemic was recognised, action was fast and decisive, with reportedly low total deaths for such a huge population, relatively quick containment of the outbreak’s first wave, and a concomitantly short period of economic slowdown. Other authoritarian regimes too have arguably performed well. Vietnam has perhaps the best record in the world for its initial control of COVID-19, and Cuba has not been far behind. By comparison, several Western democracies, particularly the USA and the UK, have reported much higher death rates up to mid-2020 (381 per million population for USA up to end of June 2020, compared to 3.2 per million for China), and have struggled to limit rates of infection swiftly, implement testing, or establish contact-tracing measures. The Chinese government-controlled English language publication Global Times has claimed that ‘The world is now entering a test of global governance in which China is now a leader’ (cited in Bloomfield 2020).

However, a wider international comparison gives a different picture. Bloomfield (2020), Smith and Cheeseman (2020), and others argue that democracies have generally dealt with the initial outbreak of coronavirus better than dictatorships, citing the examples of Taiwan, South Korea, and Japanto which might be added New Zealand, Uruguay, Greece, and some other European democracies. This is in line with the general conclusion of a large panel-data study covering 170 countries over 46 years, which concludes that ‘democracies are more likely than autocracies to lead to health gains for causes of mortality … that have not been heavily targeted by foreign aid and require health-care delivery infrastructure’ (Bollyky et al. 2019: 1628)—though, note, the results of this study are much stronger for non-communicable rather than infectious diseases.

Our World in Data (2020) collates infection rates and mortality data on COVID-19 from almost all countries of the world, updating on a daily basis. Hence one can make crude comparisons on death rates per million up to a given date, together with the daily rate of new infections - the latter giving some indication of the likely long-term continuation of the disease. So, for example, Brazil had an officially recorded death rate from coronavirus of 274 per million up to 30 June 2020, with a seven-day average of new cases of 176 per million, showing that the first wave of the disease was far from over there, while the comparable figures for Iran were 127 and 30, and for South Korea 5.5 and 0.9. Such data has to be treated with more than the usual caveats. What is officially recorded varies enormously from country to country, and particularly in poorer countries with poor health care systems there is likely be a very high level of under-recording. Also, the pandemic reached different countries at different times, and is still in progress, so that data is incomplete and not directly comparable. Nevertheless, the differences are very striking.

Hence, one can make some very broad and cautious generalisations. One is that, particularly with respect to the likely long-term continuation and failure to bring the disease under control, the worst performers include countries with democratic constitutions but led by populist demagogues, such as Brazil and USA, and, to a lesser extent, authoritarian countries such as Russia and Iran. Overall, however, one cannot conclude that either democracy or authoritarianism is the main reason for good or bad performance. Apart from a range of issues associated with disease transmission which are as yet poorly understood, specific political choices seem to be the key. These include long-term investment in health service infrastructure, the effects of economic austerity programmes, the availability of communication technology, and the integration of pandemic-preparedness mechanisms into public health systems. Which elements of governance ensure good choices is the crucial question for this as well as other areas of public policy.

Box 17.5 Democracy and inequality

Does democracy reduce inequality? There are arguments and evidence on both sides.

Meltzer and Richard (1981) proposed the standard ‘equalising effect’ of democracy, arguing that it should increase taxation and income redistribution, and hence reduce inequality. Democratisation extends the political rights of poorer groups and should lead to an increase in pro-poor policies, with transfer of resources from richer groups either directly to poorer ones or through the provision of public goods, thus reducing inequality. Similarly, democratic regimes might be expected to implement more policies to reduce inequality in land, historically the most important form of wealth, while inequality in landholdings is bad for democracy.

However, at least three different mechanisms suggest that democracy and equality do not go hand in hand. First, democracy may be captured by the richer groups, especially when there is high wealth inequality in the context of market economy and the state is ‘structurally dependent’ on capitalists (see Philippines example). Winters and Page (2009) suggest that the United States functions as an oligarchy precisely because of this. Even though democracy reallocates de jure power to poorer groups, richer groups have ways to offset this power transfer, for example by controlling the political agenda of the parties or via the media (Acemoglu et al. 2015). They can also use their wealth directly to capture policymaking, through lobbying, bribery, resources for violence, or appointment powers (Scheve and Stasavage 2017).

A second mechanism is through the increase in market opportunities when democratisation takes place. A very limited number of the poor are now able to participate in economic activities from which they were previously excluded, leading to bigger differences in earnings compared to their previous uniformly low levels (Acemoglu et al. 2015). This was the case in South Africa when the end of the apartheid in 1994 was associated with an increase in inequality.

Finally, there is middle-class bias. Democratisation empowers the middle class, which ensures increased taxes are used to redistribute revenues to itself or to public goods the middle class uses such as educational subsidies, thus not necessarily reducing inequality (Stigler 1970; Fernandez and Rogerson 1995). Pakistan stands as a case in point, with some contending that a relatively stagnant middle class have captured the benefits of its democracy in terms of patronage, by selling their votes in banks in exchange for targeted development projects and the blocking of redistributive policies (Zaidi 2015).

Empirical studies of the relationship between democracy and both income and land inequality give mixed results. On the positive side, Muller (1988) and Li, Squire, and Zou (1998) find that the longer a country has been democratic the more likely for inequality to fall. Lee (2005) finds that with a strong enough state, democracy reduces inequality, while there is also a general positive correlation between certain measures of democracy and of inequality (see also Rodrik 1999). Others such as Burkhart (1997) have suggested a non-linear relationship, with inequality being higher for intermediate levels of democracy and low for both low and high levels.

As for the effect of democratisation on policy to reduce inequality, some empirical studies have shown it leading to more pro-landlord and anti-poor policies (Baland and Robinson 2012; McMillan and Zoido 2004). Contrary to some expectations, the most important land reforms of the twentieth century were implemented by autocratic governments such as China, South Korea, and Taiwan. In the case of Latin America, Albertus (2015) finds that democratic governments have implemented less land redistribution than their authoritarian counterparts. His findings support the idea that what matters is not the nature of the regime but the interests of the ruling elite and whether they are allied with landholders.

Overall, the ambiguity over whether democracy reduces inequality gives credence to the notion that it is not whether there is a democratic or authoritarian regime which matters, but ‘something else’.

We go on to look at what the ‘something else’ might be that facilitates development in whatever sense.

17.5p. 385p. 386 Quality of governance

For forms of government let fools contest;

whate’er is best administered is best.

This eighteenth-century couplet by Alexander Pope can be reinterpreted for the twenty-first century to imply that what matters for development in poor countries is not whether they are democratic or authoritarian but the quality of their governance.

Governance is a very broad concept. Its importance for development has been recognised particularly over the last 25 years or so, since the World Bank (1992) report on Governance and Development. Since 1996 the World Bank has published an annual set of Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGIs), measuring a number of aspects of governance for over 200 countries and territories, based on the following definition:

Governance consists of the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. This includes:


the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced,


the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies, and


the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern social and economic interactions between them (World Bank 2018).

This is almost as broad as a definition of politics, as Rothstein and Teorell (2008: 168) point out. It includes both issues around access to power (the first point in the quote) and the exercise of power (the second point). The issue of democracy is largely about the former, whereas quality of governance (QoG) also focuses on the latter. In fact the World Bank has itself acknowledged this focus at the same time as its measurements have included a wide range of indicators. The original 1992 report defined (good) governance as ‘the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development’, while for the recent World Development Report 2017 on Governance and the Law governance is ‘the process through which state and nonstate actors interact to design and implement policies within a given set of formal and informal rules that shape and are shaped by power’ (World Bank 2017: 3).

QoG is thus more about procedures and processes than the content of policies. As in the definition used for the WGIs, it means being able to ‘formulate and implement’ sound policies. Of course, there is an issue about what are ‘sound’ policies. At times, powerful international institutions, such as the World Bank, have had very set ideas, based on particular theories, about, for example, the best way to achieve economic growth. Structural adjustment in the 1980s and 1990s was such a case. In fact, the World Bank’s interest in governance arose largely from a realisation that policies designed to promote growth or alleviate poverty succeeded in some countries but not in others.

Too often, governments fail to adopt pro-growth or pro-poor policies. And even more often, when adopted, these policies fail to achieve their intended goals. In the process of designing and implementing policy, who is – and is not – included at the bargaining table can determine whether policy makers deliver effective solutions. That process, what this report calls governance, underlies every aspect of how countries develop and how their institutions function. Inequities in the abilities of actors to influence policy decisions and make the policy-making system more responsive to their needs can lead to a persistent cycle whereby effective polices are not adopted or they are not successfully implemented. Although such a cycle appears immutable, history is full of instances in which societies have improved rules and institutions, and processes that have helped them move closer to reaching their development goals. Putting governance front and centre of the development debate is therefore essential for promoting sustained economic growth and encouraging more equitable and peaceful societies (World Bank 2017: 1).

There is still a danger that QoG can be reduced to implementing policies that conform to a particular prescription, with greater importance being placed on technocratic expertise than on democratic values. In fact the term ‘good governance’, adopted by the World Bank in the 1990s, has become almost synonymous with their formula linking it with openness to markets, making it difficult to use the term, or even to discuss the need for better quality of governance without it being assumed that one is taking a p. 387neoliberal position. However, there are always political differences about what are the most effective policies. QoG should mean that those in power, whether put there by democratic means or otherwise, are able to use the capacity of the state to make things happen in the way they intend and that those they govern can hold them to account.

Intrinsic and instrumental value of QoG

Quality of governance is important for two rather different reasons because it plays different roles.

First, it has intrinsic value in that it is generally more desirable to live in a country which is fairly and effectively governed. In fact, being governed well has become recognised as potentially an independent aspect of an ideal developed society, to such an extent that governance features as a central aspect of one of the SDGs. SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions is explained by the UNDP as follows: ‘Without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law – we cannot hope for sustainable development’ (n.d.).

Second, QoG has instrumental value in the sense that better governance means desirable goals can more readily be achieved, particularly development goals. Much of the literature focuses on what are the characteristics of governance which can help bring about development in the sense of economic growth. However, it is also important to consider how quality of governance can help in the successful implementation of other development goals, including poverty reduction and increasing security (both highlighted in WDR 2017) and also polices on health and disease control, education, sustainability, etc.

Measuring quality of governance

How can it be judged whether governance in one country is better than in another? The answer, as Hulme, Savoia, and Sen (2015) point out, depends partly on which role of governance is most relevant. They argue that giving importance to good governance in its own right (its intrinsic value) would mean prioritising measures that capture state–society relations and accountability, whereas considering the instrumental value of governance would mean focusing on measures of state capacity (ibid: 85).

Some authors attempt to provide a theoretical justification for the primacy of one specific conceptualisation of quality of governance, for example: the absence of (or control of) corruption; or the rule of law. In an approach which seems to be mostly focused on the intrinsic value of QoG, Rothstein and Teorell argue for QoG to be defined as ‘the impartiality of institutions that exercise government authority’ (2008: 165). They suggest that impartiality as an organising idea subsumes both control of corruption and rule of law. (For Rothstein and Teorell QoG means quality of government rather than of governance, but this does not affect the argument here.)

For those concerned mainly with the instrumental value of QoG in helping achieve development, measures of effectiveness or capacity are more important. However, there is a danger of circularity in such definitions: what is regarded as ‘good’ governance simply becomes whatever is more effective or efficient in producing particular results such as economic growth.

In practice most attempts at measuring QoG have combined a variety of indicators. Hulme et al. identify three ‘conceptually separate dimensions of governance’: bureaucratic and administrative systems; legal infrastructure; and transparency and accountability. They review at least ten different indices compiled by different sources, each covering one or more of these dimensions for between 31 and 202 countries over various periods and point out that there are many more. They also note a major concern with the legitimacy and potential ideological bias of many such measures, in that the data used often comes from subjective ‘expert assessments’, usually by business leaders and those concerned with the risks of investing in particular countries.

The most comprehensive source of data on QoG is the WGIs which use six headings for the aspects of governance measured:

voice and accountability;

political stability and absence of violence;

government effectiveness;

regulatory quality;

rule of law;

control of corruption.

p. 388There is some overlap with the ways democracy itself was measured in Section 17.2, particularly between ‘government effectiveness’ and the EIU’s inclusion of ‘functioning of government’ as one of its measures of democracy. Hulme, Savoia, and Sen (2015) discuss the importance of separating governance conceptually from democracy, but in practice this is quite difficult. At a minimum, one should be aware of the controversial nature of the choice of what to include in measuring governance. There is a Western bias in many methodologies, as there can be in how democracy is measured e.g. by Freedom House or the EIU (as noted in Section 17.2).

When it comes to the governance elements of SDG 16, the most obvious bias seems to have been avoided. Thus indicators of the ease of doing business or protection of property rights have been excluded, and there is no implication that good governance means adopting particular policies. On the other hand, there is little by way of coherent conceptualisation—the indicators chosen seem to be a very disparate set of specific measures of particular aspects of governance (see Table 17.4). For example, to measure the proportion of budgets set which are actually spent as intended is fine in itself, but is hardly a proxy for the effectiveness of government as a whole. Similar comments could be made about the other indicators.

Table 17.4 Selected targets and indicators from SDG 16.



16.3 Promote the rule of law … and ensure equal access to justice for all

16.3.1 Proportion of victims of violence in the previous 12 months who reported their victimisation to competent authorities or other officially recognised conflict resolution mechanisms

16.3.2 Unsentenced detainees as a proportion of overall prison population

16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms

16.5.1 Proportion of persons who had at least one contact with a public official, and who paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by those public officials, during the previous 12 months

16.5.2 [ditto for proportion of businesses]

16.6 Develop effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels

16.6.1 Primary government expenditures as a proportion of original approved budget, by sector (or by budget codes or similar)

16.6.2 Proportion of the population satisfied with their last experience of public services

16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels

16.7.1 Proportions of positions (by sex, age, persons with disabilities, and population groups) in public institutions (national and local legislatures, public service, and judiciary) compared with national distributions

16.7.2 Proportion of population who believe decision-making is inclusive and responsive, by sex, age, disability, and population group

Source: UNDP (n.d.).

How does quality of governance lead to development?

What is the mechanism whereby better governance promotes development? There are at least two answers to this question corresponding to different views of development.

p. 389First, if development means economic growth produced by the spread of capitalism, this implies the need for an environment conducive to investment, where contracts are enforceable without incurring huge transaction costs. Improving aspects of governance such as rule of law and control of corruption should facilitate development in this sense.

Alternatively, a stronger role may be ascribed to state institutions in promoting policies that aim directly at a variety of SDGs. In this case, the effectiveness of those institutions become a priority, although other aspects of governance are still important in order to ensure state capacity is not misdirected towards the support of partial interests.

But governments need not only to have access to institutions which can promote their policies effectively but also to be committed to development policies. This means a commitment to development as a goal for the whole of society and economy, and to the public interest, not just to bolstering the interests of those in power, or of those whose champion was elected, or of a broader elite group. Hence, the importance also of other aspects of governance such as impartiality and accountability. As Chapter 4’s discussion of developmental states suggests, this does not necessarily imply (liberal) democracy. These factors may also explain why certain authoritarian regimes, where the focus on the pubic interest is secured with their own mechanisms of accountability, have coped well with the COVID-19 crisis, at least initially, as well as many but not all democracies.

After the end of the Cold War, the idea of ‘developmental state’ was closely aligned to that of ‘good governance’ promoted by the World Bank within a single model of liberal democracy and free markets. However, in the new millennium there is no longer a consensus about what good governance is. No one is in favour of ‘bad governance’, but ‘good governance’ can have different properties depending on the institutional and cultural context. The phrase ‘quality of governance’ is used precisely to underline the break with the idea that there is only one way of achieving development of which a particular form of ‘good governance’ is a part.

The World Bank has now changed important aspects in its governance agenda (World Bank 2011; Lateef 2016). First, the Bank gives more relevance to the need to change developing countries from within and explicitly recognises that aid cannot be effective in the absence of a ‘good policy environment’. It recognises that the quality of governance is a determinant for aid effectiveness. Second, the current agenda identifies a positive but restricted role for the state and its institutions, in contrast with the pro-market view of the 1980s. It emphasises the idea that states and markets are complementary rather than competitive, and that efficient markets and efficient states are required for development (World Bank 2011). Also, the new agenda on governance recognises that it works differently in fragile situations.

17.6 Conclusion

Section 17.4 showed that there is no clear general relationship between democracy and development. Przeworski and Limongi (1993) were quoted to the effect that it is not whether or not there is democracy that ‘makes the difference’, but ‘something else’. It closed leaving open the question as to what that ‘something else’ might be.

It seems the answer lies in the area of institutional arrangements and governance. However, as illustrated by the discussion on ‘quality of governance’ in Section 17.5, there is no single model which can be guaranteed to facilitate development.

Partly, the problem lies in differences about what is meant by development. If the emphasis is on economic growth both as a direct measure of economic development and as arguably necessary for the achievement of broader development goals, then the overriding need is to facilitate a stable economic environment for business investment—or possibly increasingly productive state industry. Either way, what is required can be achieved by authoritarian and illiberal regimes as well as in other cases by liberal democracies. Certain aspects of governance become particularly relevant, notably those included under the heading of impartiality such as the rule of law and control of corruption.

On the other hand, the emphasis may be on ensuring universal inclusion in the material benefits of growth and/or the direct achievement of a broader range of development goals (in health, education, empowerment, etc.) as well as meeting environmental constraints. This would be in line with the SDGs. In this case impartiality continues to be of prime importance, as well as other aspects of governance including the effectiveness of state institutions.

Hence, the renewed interest in governance, despite the lack of consensus over exactly what is entailed by improving the ‘quality of governance’. The 2017 p. 390World Development Report attempts to rethink governance for development. Section 17.5 quoted the definition of governance used in this report, which refers to how policies and their implementation derive from both state and non-state actors and their interaction. This way of thinking about governance is in direct line from Evans’ ideas on ‘embedded autonomy’ (see Chapter 4) and the need for ‘synergy’ between state and society based on ‘ties that cross public-private divides’ in order to achieve developmental outcomes (Evans 1996: 1119). This implies the importance of situations in which states retain enough ties with the private sector to understand their problems and needs, and to feel obliged to work on them, combined with enough distance not to be captured by special interests.

The 2017 World Development Report proposes three new principles for effective governance. First, what matters is not the form of institutions but their functions. Second, capacity building matters but how to use capacity and where to invest in capacity depend mainly on power asymmetries. Third, the role of law is more important than the rule of law. The agenda has changed from two decades ago, when governments were mainly challenged to be effective, accountable, and transparent. The current discussion about the qualities of good governance is even broader, including, among other things, conditions of equity, participation, inclusiveness, democracy, regulation, decentralisation, open trade regime, respect for human rights, gender and racial equality, citizen security, and a good investment climate.

Some of those previously critical of the idea of ‘good governance’ remain critical of this new governance agenda. As noted, quality of governance has both intrinsic and instrumental value, and indeed some tension has been identified between good governance as a precondition for development and good governance as an objective of development. The line that distinguishes QoG and development has become indistinct. The list of ‘qualities of good governance’ includes many qualities associated with development, so that in effect the latter has been appropriated by the advocates of QoG. This has led some to believe both that QoG is a required part of development and that QoG leads to development, making this a circular relationship. In many cases, the two concepts have become conceptually inseparable, creating a tendency to leave aside important issues of timing, sequences, trajectories, and contradictions and making harder any policy and institutional design (Grindle 2017).

The emphasis on governance has also hidden particular cases where countries have achieved increases in economic growth with ineffective state institutions, lack of transparency and accountability or constant human and civil rights violations. Examples may include Timor-Leste and Ethiopia. Similarly, there are other countries, such as some from the former Soviet bloc, that have experienced improvements in governance indicators but not much in terms of economic growth. These cases show that conditions of governance can improve or worsen independently of conditions of economic growth.

Finally, there is the major and continuing challenge from China (and Vietnam and Cuba), and also from the various populist leaders claiming to represent ‘illiberal democracies’ such as in Hungary, Turkey, India, Philippines and Brazil. They call into question not just the preeminent position of liberal democracy but also the whole governance agenda. While they go against some of the norms of good governance such as transparency, civil rights, and freedom of expression, some of them may be effective at delivering both economic growth and other development goals, or at managing the trade-offs between them, sufficiently to satisfy the demands of a majority of the population, thus maintaining a degree of accountability, if at the cost of openness and inclusivity.


Liberal democracy is a form of political regime which combines free and fair election of representatives to form a government with freedom of expression and civil and political rights.

Liberal democracy is a particular ideal which is held by its proponents to be the only practicable way of combining citizen participation and accountability with effective policymaking and implementation. Some of its advocates argue that free markets are also a necessary part of the ideal, but more usually economic arrangements are seen as separate from the definition and measurement of democracy.

The term democratisation is used to mean a movement towards liberal democracy. During the last quarter of the twentieth century there was considerable democratisation across the world, while so far this century there has been little further change, with some movement away from liberal democratic ideals.

p. 391 There are several critiques of liberal democracy, which mostly correspond to well-known problems for any political regime. They include the ‘tyranny of the majority’, élite capture, clientelism, and the threat of populist capture.

Alternative models claimed by their proponents to be democratic include illiberal democracy, direct democracy, and democratic centralism.

Especially for proponents of market economy, liberal democracy and economic development are seen as complementary aspects of modern society. However, it is not clear that democratisation leads to development. There are some notable cases where authoritarian regimes achieved economic growth which led to pressure for democratisation. It is also arguable that democratisation occurs for many disparate reasons but is more likely to ‘stick’ in a more developed society.

Successful development requires a supportive institutional environment. This may occur in a liberal democracy but it is not democracy itself that matters but ‘something else’—which may be called ‘quality of governance’, including impartiality and effectiveness. However, it is difficult to specify exactly how this is to be achieved.


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