Is Democracy a Precondition for Development?

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Is democracy a necessary condition for development?

In the modern and globalized world, it is common to find democratic institutions in the most economically developed countries. Democratic regimes look different all across the world, and the term itself is multi-faceted. For the sake of discussion, in its simplest terms, I will refer to democracy as a system of governance where the population that is governed elects their leaders. A substantive democracy would include more such the promotion of human rights and rule of law. As substantive democracies are so common in the developed world, it has led many scholars to ask whether democracy is a prerequisite for development. There are many examples we can look to that provide us with the easy answer of “no” such as Singapore or China. However, I would argue that democracy and development are not mutually exclusive. The sustainability of equitable development is linked to the type of governance structure. A true democracy cannot be enjoyed without a minimum standard of living, which therefore requires a certain level of development. I argue that democracy is not a necessary condition for development, however democracy and stable institutions are needed as a country’s economy matures into modernization/development.

Before we can talk about the relationship between democracy and development, it is important to define the concepts and refer to them consistently as we describe the complex and elusive relationship between them. In political science, democracy is described as a type of governmental system, where by the whole of society can participate in the state’s decision-making process and keep control. Others go further, for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights looks at promotions of rights and freedom of speech as indispensable preconditions of democracy.

Democracy however is not just an institutional system. It is also a part of culture and an embedded idea in society[i]. For example, a tolerance and respect for other people, pluralism and open dialogue allows a truly democratic system. The manifestation of democratic values will be different depending on the specific historical, religious and cultural characteristics that make up that society and nation. General principles of democracy and the methods by which it is exercised will look different. However, the key premise to democracy is that it must be conceived with a value of freedom and rule of law, which is created by those who have chosen and defined it.

Democratic systems can trace its roots in Western culture, particularly Greek city-states in fourth and fifth century BC. Athens had one of the first experiments in direct democracy where a small elite voted on bills and legislation. Though they excluded women, slaves and other communities within their voter base, it is important to bring up ancient Greek democracy as an example of some of the critical components of democracy[ii]. My favorite and perhaps most useful definition of democracy is Robert Dahl’s defnition, which breaks the concept down by its procedural minimums: 1. Control over govt decision about policy is constitutionally elected officials 2. Elected officials are chosen frequently and in fair elections; coercion comparatively uncommon. 3. All adults have right to vote

4. Practically all adults can run for office
5. Citizens have right to express themselves without fear of severe punishment on political matters broadly defined. 6. Citizens have right to seek alternative sources of information (and are allowed) 7. Citizens have right to form relatively independent associations including political parties and interest groups.[iii] Based on this definition democracy, democratic regimes are most closely connected to spheres of governance, which is one of many components of development. From various academic disciplines, we have been able to ascertain several working and useful definitions...
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