Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Democracy vs development

They are not mutually exclusive

Update : 20 Nov 2018, 05:31 PM

Even as an oxymoron, illiberal democracies are dangerous.

Such a way of ruling can be flatly defined as an unfettered mix of autocracy and democracy. In the early stages of any nation, democratic aspirations are often considered a luxury, the country needs to get on its feet first.

In a narrow meaning, it can be argued that a democracy should a have the presence of a majoritarian rule, peppered with periodic elections. However, in a broader sense, it must consist of a planned institutional framework and reason on the part of the public.

John Rawls emphasized the idea of public reason and demonstrated various elements on the basis of creating a common ground between the citizens and the state. The elements are, of course, free media, free speech, and tolerance for each other while enjoying such freedoms.

Democracy plays a remarkable role in development by dint of three tiers: Constitutive, constructive, and instrumental. In all these mediums, the main objective is the expansion of various kinds of freedoms -- and democratic freedom is a part of them. In that sense, it is deduced that democracy can be called a part of development.

For the growth and development of any nation, accumulation of capital is essential, and sacrificing consumption is the best strategy in achieving that. However, a bit can be argued that it is easier for autocracies to achieve similar goals, as they can simply impose any whims over their people.

But, far from being improbable, such methods are hardly sustainable.

In fact, such rulers can be called nothing short of stationary bandits, whose purpose is to extract wealth from the veins of their subjects. It can be further argued that autocracy is the natural progression of greed. It is beneficial for the autocrat, if he can sustain some form of apparent development.

In other words, the bigger the pie, the more he can expropriate.

A counter-argument may be derived through the proper use of “optimum calculus” -- a system to ascertain whether to enact policies for future gain. When there is a failure to calculate as above, regimes don’t usually experience growth under autocrats. Moreover, there is always the uncertainty of whether such growth is sustainable or not.

Theoretically, the debate of whether democracy or autocracy is better for growth remains unresolved, as the results are quite ambiguous in nature.

However, on an empirical level, assuming that the growth we are talking about is volatile -- it has been observed that, in order to attain sustainable development, we need to trade off democracy in the process.

In the book Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson, the authors formulated the concept of the “inclusive institution,” where people would unite under a common joint enterprise.

For example, South Korea and Taiwan, on the basis of nationalism, upheld the motto “move up and catch up” to undo their colonial legacies.

We must keep in mind that economics plays an essential role in the sustainability of democracy, as the opposite is also true. 

Irfanul Alam Estiak is a law student.

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