The answer put forward by World Development Report (WDR) 2017 is better governance – the ways in which governments and citizens work together to design and implement policies.
The report is a detailed exploration of a complex topic. I won’t be able to do it justice in a short blog – I’d encourage you to download the report and summary here.
What I will do though, is pull out a few of the charts and ideas I found most striking while reading through it – have a look below and let us know what you think.
Constitutions – fundamental principles or laws governing countries – have proliferated since the late 18th century. The growing numbers, especially since the 1940s, correspond to the postcolonial increase in the number of independent states, and more recently the breakup of the Soviet Union.
… but they are often replaced or amended
– the average lifespan of a constitution is 19 years, and in Latin America and eastern Europe it is a mere eight years.
Electoral democracies are spreading
Elections are one of the most well-established mechanisms available to citizens to strengthen accountability and responsiveness to their demands. The WDR finds that although they have become the most common mechanism to elect authorities around the world, elections are increasingly perceived as unfair.
… but the integrity of elections is declining
… and average voter turnout has fallen worldwide
The perceived fairness of elections matters because it shapes citizen engagement and citizens’ propensity to vote. Consistent with this claim, the report finds that
The WDR emphasises that security is a precondition for development. The cost of violence to development outcomes is staggering. In 2015 violence cost the global economy US$14.3 trillion, or 13.4 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), and this cost has risen by more than 15 percent since 2008. When you compare various development indicators such as adult literacy or access to electricity between groups of countries that have experienced different levels of violence, the contrast is also apparent.
Global trends reveal that after its continual expansion over the past decades, civic space – the institutional environment in which citizens engage – has shrunk in the past few years. The WDR finds that many governments are establishing legal barriers to restrict the functioning of media and civic society organizations, and reducing their autonomy from the state.
The global spread of rights-related norms
The last century has witnessed a “Rights Revolution” in which global treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have facilitated the spread of the notion of rights. The WDR team looked at data from the Google Books and found “rights” terms have appeared with increasing frequency since 1945.
Women’s political representation is on average higher in postconflict countries than in countries that have not experienced conflict. This trend is particularly evident in the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, where women’s presence in parliaments is almost double the level in countries with no conflict.
Over the last 25 years, different forms of gender quotas for representation in national legislatures— including legislated quotas, reserved seats, and voluntary party quotas—have spread to more than 100 countries.
...but they take time to achieve, if they are achieved at all
Out of 74 countries studied where gender quota laws were passed, the WDR team found that 26 had achieved the quotes, and as of 2016, 48 countries had yet to do so.
So that’s a selection of the charts and ideas that I found most interesting in the 2017 World Development Report on Governance and The Law - there’s much more to be found inside it and you can download it here.
In terms of democratic developments the graphs you have selected are painting a very mixed picture to say the least: more constitutions but constitutions that are being tinkered with more often; more electoral democracies but electors who are more disengaged and elections that are less transparent...The challenge of this era is to explain what is happening and make sense of these seemingly conflicting developments.
Strong and insightful summary. I think that the later born democracies established before they got well prepared can be a reason for more frequent constitution changes and failed elections. Of course, some early countries may also share the same problem, but likely to a lesser extent.
I completely agree with your comments. Sounds like there is a trade off between quality and quantity - improvement in one has to be at the cost of the other!