Syndicate content

Democracy

How's Your Inner Autocrat Doing These Days?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the things I find endlessly fascinating about human beings is the gap between our avowed values and our behavior when we come under pressure. I have come to believe that your values are the ones that shape your conduct when you are dealing with a tough, high pressure situation or a life crisis, not the values you spout when you are showing off at the dinner table. Pieties are all too easy. What do you do when the going gets tough? What values truly underpin your conduct? I notice this most often when people claim to be profoundly devout, and they want you to know it. They claim an aura of sanctity. I have learned not to argue with them. I wait until they have to deal with complexity and then see what they do. You’d be amazed what some of these people get up to. More often than not, piety flies out of the window.

Look around you today. We are all supposed to be democrats these days. We love openness, inclusiveness, and transparency— everybody counts, every voice matters. But what do we do when the going gets tough? Let’s reflect on a few current situations around the world.

Economic growth and elections in Bangladesh

Zahid Hussain's picture

Bangladesh has turned the political business cycle phenomenon upside down.
 
Political business cycles are cycles in macroeconomic variables – output, unemployment, inflation – induced by the electoral cycle. This type of business cycle results primarily from the manipulation of policy tools by incumbent politicians hoping to stimulate the economy just prior to an election and thereby improve their reelection chances. 
 
Expansionary monetary and fiscal policies have politically palatable consequences in the short run. When pursued to excess, these very policies can also have very unpleasant consequences in the longer term in the form of accelerating inflation, decreasing savings, worsening foreign trade balance, and long-term expansion of government's share of the GDP at the expense of private consumption and investment. So immediately after the election, politicians tend to “bite the bullet” and reverse course by raising taxes, cutting spending, slowing the growth of the money supply, and allowing interest rates to rise. As a result, the regular holding of elections tends to produce a boom-and-bust pattern in the economy because of the on-again-off-again pattern of government stimulus and restraint to induce an artificial boom at every election time.
 
Bangladesh’s experience also shows the existence of a political business cycle in GDP growth, albeit with exactly the opposite pattern of boom and bust. GDP growth has consistently declined in each of the last five election years. It happened in 1991, 1996, 2002, 2007 (an election year without election) and 2009 (Figure 1). From the perspective of Western political business cycle theory these growth tendencies appear suicidal for the incumbent. Instead of expanding the economy faster to gain votes, the incumbents appear to be shooting themselves in the foot by allowing the pace of expansion to slow in the election year!
 
Is this another case of the Bangladesh paradox?

10 Killer Facts on Democracy and Elections

Duncan Green's picture

Ok this is a bit weird, but I want to turn an infographic into a blogpost. The ODI, which just seems to get better and better, has just put out a 10 killer facts on elections and democracy infographic by Alina Rocha Menocal, and it’s great. Here’s a summary:

Hurling Elections at Complexity

Sina Odugbemi's picture

It keeps happening, this pell-mell rush to elections. A country is struggling to come out of conflict we insist on elections straightaway. A country has just survived decades of colonial or authoritarian rule, we insist on elections immediately. The elections happen in some often ramshackle, rough and ready manner then we claim that a new democracy has been born.  And we pile on all the expectations of ‘democratic governance’.

And who is the ‘we’ above? That strange creature known as the international community, that’s what.

That this business of hurling ‘elections’ at complexity often ends in tears has not deterred the international community, has not led to a reconsideration of the formula. Each time the effort breaks down in a particular country what is the new cry? Fresh elections of course, as soon as possible!

There are enormous problems bedeviling this approach. The main one is that it resolutely ignores the fact that you cannot build a stable constitutional democracy (more about the formal features in a moment) unless certain structural factors are in place. For instance, one of the things that I find upsetting is how people fail to realize that if you simply rush to elections in a country run until that point as a well-developed authoritarian state, especially if these are winners-take-all elections, what the victors inherit is not a democratic state. What they inherit is an authoritarian state. What do you think the victors are going to do? They are going to use the powers, tools and habits of the authoritarian state to serve their own interests and crush their opponents.  And they will claim to be able to do so in the name of something called democracy. That is what happened in post-colonial states in places like Africa and eventually led to all manner of civil wars.

Democracy and Crime: An Old Question Awaiting New Answers

José Cuesta's picture

The recent political unrest and violence occurring across the world have revived an old question, one that is so straightforward that it rarely gets a straightforward and convincing answer: Does democracy fuel or quench violence? For decades, sociologists, historians, political scientists, criminologists, and economists have hypothesized numerous associations, predicting just about any result.

Let’s focus on democracy’s relationship with crime. Democracies have been predicted to fuel crime (conflict theory); decrease crime (civilization theory); initially raise and then decrease crime (modernization perspective); have no impact at all (null hypothesis); or have an unpredictable impact depending on the development of their political institutions (comparative advantage theory).

In a recently published paper, I argue that the many existing explanations relating crime and democracy suffer from what I describe as an “identification” problem. The different explanations are not necessarily exclusionary in terms of their determinants, mechanisms, and predictions, which makes testing those explanations a rather difficult business. Furthermore, predictions are imprecise. This is unsurprising when dealing with concepts as fluid as democratization, political transitions, and democratic maturity. Arguments talk vaguely of early and late stages and of short or medium terms to describe the processes’ dynamics. The result is a broad range of predictions consistent with various hypotheses simultaneously. 

Media (R)evolutions: Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, 2002-2011

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very differently from today's, and will have very little resemblance to yesterday's.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, 2002-2011.

Note: "On the vertical axis is the change in percent of a country's population online over the last decade.  The horizontal axis reflects any change in the democratization score- any slide toward authoritarianism is represented by a negative number."

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

ICT Works
The Choice Between Facebook and Running Water Isn’t Obvious

"Over the past several years two seemingly independent ideas have been gaining traction:

  1. New technology allows developing nations to leapfrog over traditional growth patterns (M-PESA, long-range wi-fi).
  2. The increasing move towards “convenience models” may be pointing the US’ tech sector away from innovation (Peter Thiel’s “they promised us flying cars but instead we got 140 characters”).

In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Robert J. Gordon writes that the US’ current wave of innovation is less of a step forward and more of a lateral move, merely finding novel ways to use innovations made 20 years ago, sitting him squarely alongside Thiel. To illustrate, Gordon asks the following hypothetical question between two options, A and B:

With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002. Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?" READ MORE

What are the Ingredients of Democratic Breakthroughs?

Duncan Green's picture

The United States Institute of Peace has a very interesting paper out on ‘Democratic Breakthroughs: the Ingredients of Successful Revolts.’ It's a bit reductionist, but identifies some potentially informative patterns. This from the summary:

The cases of successful breakthrough examined in this study are the Soviet Union in 1991 and Russia in 1993, Poland in 1989, Serbia in 2000, Ukraine in 2004, Indonesia by 1999, Chile in 1988, and South Africa by 1996. Cases of failed and then ultimately successful democratic transition are Ghana by 2000, Mexico by 2000, South Korea by 1987, and Turkey by 1983. Finally, the cases of failed transition examined are Algeria in 1991, Iran in 1979, China in 1989, and Azerbaijan in 2005.

Twitter vs. Facebook: Bringing Transparency to the Middle East

Tanya Gupta's picture

Think about it:

  • Twitter limits all "conversations" to 140 words
  • Twitter allows privacy whereas Facebook is based on discovery of relationships
  • Twitter relationships can be one way, the way real relationships often are (we all “know” President Obama but he knows very few of us) whereas Facebook is always a two way street

 

Wherever democracy is absent or weak, for example in a dictatorship or a monarchy, there could be a high price to pay for any open expressed dissension.  Twitter allows anonymity for those who push for transparency and democracy.  Although one can exist without the other, studies show that the two are highly linked.

A 2011 study from the University of Washington entitled “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?” showed that social media, via Twitter, played a vital role during the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt.  The authors said “for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring”.  The project created a database of information collected from Twitter, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on keywords used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals tweeted from during the revolutions.


Pages