It is not unusual to hear commentators stating that democracy is the best way for a society to develop as a clear cut fact. These commentators almost never have to support this kind of statement, but when they do, they apply a basic interpretation of the current set of facts that supports this idea; western democracies are the more developed societies and this democracy created the right and necessary mechanisms to achieve this development. A quick glance at the world one can confirm this; western democracies belong to the developed world, whilst non-democratic societies belong to the developing world. So case closed.
However, I would argue that this interpretation is founded on a fundamental misinterpretation of the data – partly because the paucity of the data but also because people are very good at making causations out of correlations. Looking at the current situation, I would suggest that sovereignty, not democracy, is the main drive behind development. And that development then brings democracy.
The idea that economic development and social progress in the West is achieved through democracy is naïve and misguided. The real reason for the West’s current above average rate of development is due to its sovereign and authoritarian past rather than democratic reforms. Until recently, the sovereign and authoritarian past and the democratic reforms walked hand in hand – every western developed society had a sovereign and authoritarian past, which eventually progressed to democracy – but the recent rise of developing economies with particular emphasis on the rise of BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China) we can now disentangle the sovereign/authoritarian past from democracy. And thing look a lot different.
These new emerging economies have one common characteristic: they have become progressively freer to decide their internal affairs rather than being told by the West what is the best path to success. Brazil has benefited from the US concentrating in the middle-east. Russia, after the disaster of the economic reforms of the 90s lead by the West, took control of its future. China is a classical case of ‘I don’t care what others think. I do it my own way’. India is finally flourishing after decades of Western/English subservience.
And their overall growth has been astonishing with, more importantly their companies are now becoming serious business players on a world scale. The key here is: they are doing it in their own way! For example, in China, state-owned oil giant PetroChina has become the largest company in the world, worth more than $1 trillion. In Russia, state-owned Gazprom has grown into the world’s largest gas company.
This recent progress from this countries is occurring when Western democracies are broadly at drift and unable to keep up with the rate of growth and investment. Using recent data only, on could conclude that not only democracy doesn’t deliver development, but democracy is actually a hindrance to development!
Development delivers democracy. This is probably clear to many, but it rarely said in this order. In addition to the causal chain; Sovereignty delivers development. Sovereignty, democracy and development seem to be all interlinked, but we have been getting the order always wrong. It is time to get it right, if we want others (and ourselves) to continue to develop.