Why democracy is good for development.

Author:Singh, Anita Inder

CAN DEMOCRACY DELIVER? The good news is, yes, it can. Most of the countries with the highest level of human development are democracies, while most of the poorest are autocracies.

But democracy is not necessary for development. Singapore and South Korea, considered to be among the world's richest countries, prove the point: the reasons for their rapid progress range from high levels of education to sound economic policies. On the other hand, China and India, the world's most populous nations, are both medium-level development countries. Authoritarian China (ranked 85 in the 2005 Human Development Index) is ahead of India (127), but far behind Japan (11), which along with India has been one of Asia's most stable democracies since the end of the Second World War.

If there is no obvious link between dictatorship and economic progress, or between democracy and poverty reduction, why is democracy better for development? Democracy is about the means used to achieve goals. Democratic values and processes imply peace, reconciliation, dialogue, consensus and, above all, intellectual and political choice.

The stability of democracies does not depend on force, but on the consensus of the governed. And consensus can only be forged through democracy. From 1950 to 1990, riots and demonstrations in many countries but caused greater destabilization in dictatorships. Moreover, authoritarian States experienced more wars, with their high economic costs.

Collapsed States have tended to be authoritarian, such as the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, which were once regarded as models of development. They disintegrated because their intolerant rulers failed to build consensus for political and economic liberalization. Elected rulers have to be more accountable to voters, so they are more likely to have the incentive to improve the lives of citizens. Whatever the faults of democracies, none has ever experienced a famine, in contrast to many authoritarian States, including British India, China and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo)...

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