by Pranab Bardhan
As the petro-authoritarianism of Russia flexes its muscles and the economic prowess of China struts in Olympic glory, developing countries in the world might start rethinking about the lectures on democracy and development they have heard all these years from the West. This is at a time when advanced capitalist democracies are reeling under the shock of unregulated financial overreach and years of living beyond their means, a far cry from the end-of-history triumphalism of capitalist democracy of less than two decades back.
The Chinese case in particular is reviving a hoary myth of how particularly in the initial stages of economic development authoritarianism delivers much more than democracy. This is also backed by the memory of impressive economic performance of other East Asian authoritarian regimes (like those in South Korea and Taiwan in the recent past). The lingering hope of democrats had been that as the middle classes prosper in these regimes, they then demand, and in the latter two cases got, the movement toward political democracy.
But the relationship between authoritarianism or democracy and development is not so simple. Authoritarianism is neither necessary nor sufficient for economic development. That it is not necessary is illustrated not only by today’s industrial democracies, but by scattered cases of recent development success: Costa Rica, Botswana, and now India. That it is not sufficient is amply evident from disastrous authoritarian regimes in Africa and elsewhere. Read more