image from the brilliant Wisdom on Wheels
Democracy is too nice. Everyone has a say and everyone has a in on how to handle things. This, generally, is a very good thing. But when things hit a rut, and quick decisions are needed, democracy can fail spectacularly. Just take whats going on in the Euro zone right now. No one can foresee a proper decision coming out of the region in time to avoid an economic crisis of massive proportions. Cronyism in Europe was helped along by the state. The imbalances created by the Euro zone’s formation coupled with a free spending, free borrowing approach has landed some of its less well off countries like Italy and Greece in hot water.
If they (the Euro officials) had acted fast they could have maybe stemmed everything at the start. They had several options on what to do and arguably any one of them would have worked, the climate at the time just required any action, just something to bring back investor confidence, but instead its powers started bickering. And the Euro-bickering is still going on, with no end in sight. This has led Paul Krugman to predict a massive scale bank run and plenty of other apocalyptic financial predictions from virtually every corner of economic thought.
Or, if you think the Euro example does not quite relate, think back a few months to when people were on pins about the US debt ceiling. From the beginning it was obvious that the ceiling was going to be raised. The US could take no other possible route. But parliamentary opposition from the Republicans created a heavy battle over tax cuts and entitlement reductions. The conditions were ultimately agreed to and the debt ceiling was raised. But the political opportunism probably didn’t help the US one bit when it comes to planning out a viable future strategy to recover its economy from the doldrums.
Poor, third world, developing (you pick the name) countries on the other hand, are always in a rut. They continuously face challenges and opportunities that require quick and intelligent action to mitigate or make use of. They are mostly desperate for hand holds to grow and if properly motivated and managed can become powerhouses very fast. Cases in point are Singapore and Malaysia who rose to stratospheric success in a very short time. Both of the above had intelligent, strategic but autocratic regimes. China is currently a pseudo autocracy (meaning it’s an autocracy but you can’t say it out loud) and it has so far managed its economy remarkably well.
What Do The People Want?
Democracy encourages countries to do what the people want. but in countries urgently in need of development, what the people want and what the country needs can be entirely different. Take Sri Lanka for instance. What do people want? Ideally they want free education, easy subjects and a guaranteed government job. Oh and free food stamps, low transport costs and cheap fuel. They also want no taxes, more subsidies and higher pensions. All this of course cannot happen at the same time.
For the country to develop, conversely, everyone must work hard, and everyone must sacrifice a few things. French-style decadence can come later. When your parent’s generations have become fat on economic riches and you can afford to work just 30 hours a week if you feel like it, or spend your time in roadside cafe’s smoking and drinking coffee on a government dole if you don’t.
In Sri Lanka political parties basically do what people want and skim off the top. At least, this is what they’ve been doing for a while now. If they’re not reducing bread/fuel/fertilizer prices before the election they’re promising more government jobs or cutting taxes. In fact it can be argued that our model of democracy has actually held back progress, by people getting the politicians they deserve. If the people have no long term vision for growth, then it is hardly likely that politicians with a long term vision for growth will arise out of a democracy consisting of these people.
A more centrally powerful government can ignore the short term wants and needs of people and give them what is really needed for long term growth. It can cut government jobs, privatize, cut taxes and increase investment. It can invest more in education, training, transport infrastructure and gross domestic capital.
A strong state is a strong state whatever model it uses to get there. Going by the above hypothesis, stronger states in lesser developed countries are generally autocratic, meaning there is a trade-off between development and liberty. But this doesn’t mean people are necessarily oppressed. All states, even autocratic states, desperately need majority corporation to actually develop, provided development is a strong objective and so will try to please as many people as they can while they work around the ones they can’t please. To paraphrase Bob Marley ‘you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time.’
Democracy is an ideal. It is never really completely achieved, always remaining in its purest form unreachable. But the world remains fascinated by its appeal and the very word is taken to be synonymous with freedom and development. But history has shown that not to be the case and a careful look at past experiences and current events tells us that maybe it’s time we started looking at and accepting the presence of more mixed forms of government that are geared for development, inclusive in their own way but constantly changing and adapting to conditions on the ground.