Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Steve DeAngelis on Democracy and Development

Steve DeAngelis of Enterra Solutions can always be counted on to write a blog post that makes the reader stop and think. This post on democracy is a perfect example of his ability to synthesize a group of articles and write something profound.

The American essayist Agnes Repplier once wrote, "Democracy forever teases us with the contrast between its ideals and its realities, between its heroic possibilities and its sorry achievements." That pretty well sums up the conundrum often faced by the development community as it works with governments to help bring prosperity to a developing country -- at what point should the balance tip towards democracy rather development? Everyone would like to see people enjoy political freedom and live in a country that respects human rights. Those ideals are found among other liberal values encompassed by the term "democracy." But democracy encompasses a lot of other traits that often make development difficult -- especially representational democracy. I have noted before that single-party states generally have an easier time developing because single-party governments are better able to make difficult decisions about investing in critical infrastructure (or granting monopolies to people who will build it) when they are surrounded by wants and needs on every side. Infrastructure is critical to attracting foreign direct investment and FDI is critical for creating jobs, supporting a sustainable middle class, and launching a country on the road to prosperity. As a result of investing in infrastructure, governments are in much better position to address other needs.

Building on a review in the Economist, of Paul Collier's new book, Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, Steve goes on to make a forceful argument democracy will only work if a strong ruleset and the means to ensure protection of those who lose the election is in place. Steve's colleague at Enterra Solutions, Thomas Barnett has written about this eloquently in his book Great Powers. Barnett notes, it took almost half a century after the Declaration of Independence to finally have an election where the majority of voters, (white male) directly voted in a presidential election. And then another 41 years to free slaves and another 100 years to give their offspring the right to vote. Barnett's quote, "If a mature, multiparty democracy was so darn easy, everybody would have one," sums it all up.

A second part of Steve's post looks at the conundrum of how to ensure the rights and identity of ethnic groups within the confines of the larger society while at the same time help they find inclusion in the larger national identity.

The dream of most ethnic groups is to have their own country -- and that can be a problem when it comes to development. I recall reading somewhere that there are approximately 5000 recognized ethnic groups in the world. If each of those ethnic groups decided they wanted their own country, it's obvious that few of them would be economically viable. That means that countries with more than one ethnic group within their borders must find a way to help those ethnic groups protect their culture but also identify with the larger national identity. That's not an easy task. Helping them develop a viable economy is also not easy.

Steve is totally right this is not an easy task. The United States still continues to struggle with this issue, as it relates to Native Americans, many whom still reside on reservations in the sides waters of our national wake as we plunge ahead imposing blue finger tips and photo ops amid the rumble of the next IED or truckbomb.

Read more:
Democracy and Development

No comments: