Sunday, June 30, 2013

Does economic development inevitably lead to democracy?

Dan and I discussed this awhile back in regard to China (certainly the most important case study).  In light of the recent protests in several emerging countries, the Economist chimed in with some thoughts:
CHAMPIONS of modernisation theory—the idea that prosperity begets democracy—are upbeat. Street protests in Brazil, India and Turkey have rallied mostly middle-class crowds demanding better public services and an end to corruption. Proof, surely, of the American sociologist Barrington Moore’s dictum: “No bourgeoisie, no democracy”...
Yet exceptions abound. Mostly middling earners in Chile supported Augusto Pinochet’s coup in 1973. Few among China’s 800m-strong middle class have demanded democracy. Nor is protest a middle-class monopoly. “Miners and diggers stood up for democracy” in 19th-century Australia, says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT. Their struggle brought secret balloting. In South Korea prosperity and democracy arrived together—but unions and students, not the well-off, called for liberal government. India’s democratic constitution long predated its middle class; and Botswana’s fair institutions took root when it had only a few graduates. 
I agree that the protests from the past few months are a strong point in favor of the idea that development begets democracy, but the issue is far from settled.  The arguments about India and Botswana are neither here nor there.  The question is not whether democracy can exist in the absence of development, but whether authoritarianism can be maintained in a developed economy.

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