Democracy and Development

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Democracy and Development: Exploring the Expected Association

Khandakar Q. Elahi and
Constantine P. Danopoulos


Many social scientists, particularly in North America, believe that democracy hinders development. This paper discredits this obscure opinion by clarifying the conceptions of democracy, capitalism and development: Democracy, the theory of a political system of the non-communist state, is founded on the political wisdom that people are the sovereign authority of the state, and government, which executes this sovereign power, is their deputy. Capitalism, the economic system of the non-communist state, rests on the belief that an economy prospers rapidly if individuals are allowed to own and accumulate private property, because human beings are selfish by nature. Development is the performance of capitalism. Since democracy promotes individual’s liberty, including the right to own and accumulate private property, it is supposed to be most agreeable to capitalism - the most trusted model of affluent society.

The question, How to rule? has preoccupied many brilliant socially concerned minds since the dawn of human civilization. One reason is that those in charge of public administration, directly or indirectly, misunderstand, to say the least, the two pivotal political issues of human society - moral rights and justice. All our actions and activities in society are disciplined by the principles of moral rights. Since moral rights imply moral obligations - i.e., rights are reciprocal - the administration of justice involves the appropriate application of laws protecting and promoting those rights.

There are two polar political theories concerning justice in society. Theory of communism says that true social justice can be achieved only by eliminating the institution of private property; while a democracy, one form of the non-communist state, argues that such a state principle violates individual inherent rights. For, owning and accumulating private property is not only a natural right, but also a moral right and no human authority can transgress it. Therefore, justice can never be established in society by denying this right.

The last century saw the viciousness of the ‘Cold War’ between the East and the West. Fortunately the global community has become free from this viciousness as one combatant withdrew from the rivalry. As a result, the international community is witnessing progressive interests and efforts, from both national and international leadership, towards democratising the former Eastern block and third word countries. In this situation, any opinion suggesting that democracy and development are incompatible, must sound controversial as well as confusing.

Unfortunately this is the case. Many influential members of academia, particularly in North America, are strongly suggesting that democracy hampers development. An example is the American Economic Association’s (AEA) symposium on “Democracy and Development” held in 1993. The moderator summarised major opinions of the symposium with a sense of sarcasm: “Academic fashions often follow the public political mood. In a period when euphoric public commentators have announced ‘the end of history’ in the triumph of capitalistic democracy one sees an increasing number of scholarly studies attempting to show this. Very often this is on the basis of cross-country statistical evidence and a bit of wishful thinking and has a positive effect of democracy on development. It is in this context refreshing to see the non-committal results reported by Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi in their paper. On the basis of their review of the theoretical arguments and statistical studies they conclude rather bluntly: "We do not know whether democracy fosters or hinders economic growth”. (Bardhan 1993, p. 45)

This AEA conclusion...
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