Susan Nicolai, Head of Project, Development Progress, ODI, UK
Ann Bernstein, Centre for Development and Enterprise, South Africa
Simon Schwartzman, President, Institute for Studies on Labour and Society, Brazil
Eswaran Sridharan, Academic Director, University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India, India
Alina Rocha Menocal, Research Fellow, Politics and Governance and Development Progress, ODI, UK
Kevin Watkins, Executive Director, ODI, UK
Anne Applebaum, Director, Transitions Forum, Legatum Institute, UK
Does democracy lead to development or is it the other way around? Very few puzzles in academic and policy circles have generated as much research and scholarship as this question – and the debate remains far from settled. The stakes have never been higher. Most countries in the world today are formal democracies, but while it is widely recognised that institutions matter for development, what institutions matter most, when and why is less clear. There seems to be growing disillusionment across both the developed and the developing world about the way democracy works, and concerns about whether democratic systems can deliver for their populations in terms of both social and economic wellbeing. At the same time, the phenomenal success of countries like China and other 'Asian Tigers' in lifting people out of poverty has increased the appeal of authoritarian models of development.
What does this imply for the promise of democracy, and are there indeed more effective models to promote development, growth and equity? Drawing on research from three leading democracies in the developing world, this event, organised jointly by ODI/Development Progress and the Legatum Institute, explored whether and how these democracies have been able to make a difference in the lives of their populations, what kinds of challenges they face in doing so, what lessons emerge from their experiences to strengthen the capacity of other democracies to deliver and what this means for the broader debates on institutions and development.
This discussion was based in part on The Democratic Alternative from the South.
Following welcoming remarks from Susan Nicolai, Anne Applebaum opened the discussion arguing that there is an often observed dichotomy between western democracy on one hand and autocracy on the other. Legatum’s research argues that lost in this dichotomy are the developing democracies in the South, such as Brazil, India and South Africa – examples of middle income countries with diverse populations, all three of which have had (at times) successful democracies as well as economic growth.
Ann Bernstein outlined how many countries in emerging democracies have made great progress, such as Brazil, India and South Africa – and this needs to be acknowledged in all its dimensions. However, these 3 countries are now entering a dangerous and tricky phase in their development, with major economic challenges looming.
Alina Rocha Menocal explored the relationship between democracy and development from the perspective of recent ODI research in Ghana (publication forthcoming). She argued that Ghana has experienced a remarkable transformation: 'it is a democracy and it can deliver'. From a much lower base than Brazil, India and South Africa, it has made a transition from authoritarianism to multi-party democracy, which is quite remarkable in the context of multi-ethnic society. She made clear that there have been many drivers of this progress, but it’s important to reflect on the impact democracy has had.
Simon Schwartzman argued that in an open society there are many ways of controlling corruption – and at the same time you have many ways of seeing corruption. This means corruption may be lessening but the scrutiny of it may be increasing. In relation to the links between democracy, growth and policy change, he argued that due to economic growth in Brazil, people have become less reliant on hand-outs from the government, but it is those same people who are beginning to push for further reforms.
Eswaran Sridharan explained that there is corruption of various types in India – and it is evolving. There are, however, signs of corruption being addressed – in part due to pressure from NGOs in the early 2000s – but now due to a range of factors associated with democracy beyond the electoral cycle.
In his closing reflections, Kevin Watkins congratulated the Legatum institute on their report, arguing that this kind of research makes the case (at the very least), that there is no inherent conflict between democracy and higher levels of economic growth. He stated that while the panel appear to all hold a broad definition of democracy, which goes beyond elections to looks at institutions, this part of democracy is rarely well developed. One challenge he made to the panel was to argue that democracy in itself does not change the power dynamics of non-inclusive growth: 'democracy can both close and open the door to rent seeking'. He also argued that the rise of the middle class is an essential discussion point: are politicians going to make common cause with the poorest when the middle class are larger and may hold more political sway?