Is democracy suited for poor countries?

In poor developning countries votes are often garnered from illiterate electorate through threats, violence and by offering freebies. often some currency notes are given to voters just outside the booth to get their votes. many of the illiterate voters cast votes based on emotional appeal, caste and class.

i am of the point of view that socialism should be the form of governance for a poor country till such time that it achieves minimum levels of literacy and standard of living, democracy could then be ushered in in steps.

i accept that there would be many complications in this; but to announce to a poor country, one fine day, that democracy is in and the masses, that can barely afford a meal, can now vote in a government of their choice, is a recipe for disaster and such a set-up will not last for long, as we have seen in many African countries and Pakistan.

Sounds like Australia in the last election.

But I notice you’re from India. So you advocate a return to an authoritarian system for your country? I’m assuming you’d classify your country as poor of course.

I don’t agree that a socialist sytem need be undemocratic. Much of Northern Europe in years gone by can be considered socialist and have still been completely democratic since at least the end of WWII.

I just don’t see how removing democracy can ever be good for any people whether they are poor or not. Zaire/Congo, Chile, Indonesia and scores of others had massive problems, none of which a lack of democracy had helped at all.

To expand on Mersavets’s theme:

This sounds like most large U.S. cities throughout much of its history and the “emotional appeal” and “class” still rank very high in determining U.S. elections.

Granting that people with power will frequently (ab)use that power to attempt to control the electorate, what benefit is served by enshrining that power in law? As noted, socialism is not antithetical to democratic practice. Authoritarian states are, however, antithetical to developing democracy. Declaring that by law the people in power get to keep that power results in such wonderful examples of human interaction as the Philipines and Indonesia during the 1970s and 1980s (with the fallout that continues to trouble them, today).

Hard to get democracy off the ground in poor nations, I’ll agree.

The problem, as I see it:

[li]Start with a poor democracy.[/li][li]The great impoverished majority vote for the candidate touting socialist programs. (In other words, the poor naturally vote to soak the rich and to give themselves freebies.)[/li][li]The wealthy (both the locals, and the milti-nationals) become agitated/anxious/panicked, at the thought that the government will be taking away their wealth in Robin Hood programs.[/li][li]A coup ensues, with the financial support of said wealthy groups.[/li][li]Iron-fisted rule and continued income disparity lead to unrest.[/li][li]Civil war ensues.[/li][li]International community, distressed by civil war, pressures for democratic reform.[/li][li]Coup-installed leaders promise democratic reform[/li][li]Return to step 1.[/ol][/li]
Tough loop.

I don’t think that poverty as such is a barrier to democratic decision-making. But democracy is more than just voting and imposing a system of government by election on a country where the population does not accept or demand such a system within the bounds of civil order and expecting something like civil society to emerge is pretty optimistic. But I see your point: it’s a vicious circle - a workable democracy requires the institutions of civil society, but it’s hard to see how to develop and institutions for a civil society without democracy. [on preview I see spoke- has given a familiar story of how this plays out in many countries, although not so far in either India or South Africa, the two great hopes of democracy in the developing world (noting that what you may consider a grave disappointment ram_shenoy may nonetheless be viewed elsewhere as a good effort in the circumstances elsewhere)]

I agree with tom~ that socialism is not antithetical to democratic rule. What you seem ram_shenoy to be suggesting is that a subset of people who are benevolently interested in the general interest should run things for a while until people are sufficiently well-informed and motivated to do it en masse. But if we could find such people and be confident that they are above petty personal interests why would we ever devolve power? Arguments for democracy are less arguments for the wisdom of some group of people (a majority however qualified) as against ceding power to some subset of people.

Welcome to the SDMB, by the way.

Another scenario would be the one India has decided on :
1.Start with a poor democracy.

2.The great impoverished majority vote for the candidate touting socialist programs. (In other words, the poor naturally vote to soak the rich and to give themselves freebies.)

  1. These programs keep the country poor while driving the educated and the entreprenurial to the US.

  2. With the educated gone the economy stalls and the poor are stuck in slums while the people they vote for build themselves mansions.

What the poor countries need more than democracy are the rule of law, respect for property rights, and stable markets. Once they have this the standards of living will improve so that democratic institutions can be built.

I suspect that you have just disqualified yourself as a serious contributor to this discussion. Indians are no more lawless than Europeans or North Americans. (The places and occasions where lawlessness is demonstrated differ, but not the actual adherence to law of the citizenry, at large.)

It is also simply not true that India is stagnating or moving backward. I would agree that an overemphasis on socialistic principles have seriously slowed its potential growth, but India in 2002 is far ahead of India in 1948 or even India in 1983 and it does, indeed, have a number of thriving and growing industries.

You appear to be calling for a strong authoritarian government. As I have already pointed out, however, Marcos and Sukarno (to say nothing of various leaders that risk invoking Godwin) have demonstrated pretty thoroughly that authoritarianism is bad.

Another point which needs mentioning is that the United States is not a democracy. Unalloyed democracy is little better than mob rule. Any successful system must combine acquiescience to the will of the majority with protection for the right of the minority to dissent be successful.

If there was a straightforward solution to the problem of extremely poor nations, it would have already been applied. The fact that extremely poor nations still exist proves that there is no easy and generally acceptable solution (if for no other reason than that the solution requires disempowering a lot of petty dictators).

puddleglum wrote:

Well, that’s a good paraphrase of what coup leaders usually say to justify their actions. (See steps 3, 4, and 5 of my previous post.)

Respect for property rights is all well and good, but too frequently, respect for property rights is given priority over respect for individual human rights and needs. (A situation which tends to lead, in its turn, to Communist insurgencies.)

Worship property rights while ignoring the starving poor, and pay the obvious consequences.

See, this is why pure, unbridled capitalism does not work. Capitalism must be regulated, it must be leavened with some socialistic elements, or it tends to collapse.

Neither pure socialism nor pure capitalism is the solution.

puddleglum: You are apparently quite ill-informed about India. India is doing an excellent job of developing and retaining technical talent. While it is true that many Indians do come to the United States to work, many more either come to the United States to train and subsequently return to India, or study in India’s own schools. Indian technical infrastructure has grown dramatically in recent years, and while they have a long way to go to catch up to the industrialized West, they are not sitting on their hands by any means.

What you describe sounds more like Mexico than India.

Uh, I think what Puddleglum meant by the rule of law is constitutional, liberal rule rather than rule by fiat. After all, a non-liberal democracy could vote to shut down the free press, write bills of attainder, etc.

More important than how a “leader” gets into power is what restrictions there are in that exercise of power. If the elected head of state is, in practice, allowed to violate the theoretical constitution of the nation then democracy isn’t much help.

However, that’s not an argument for suspending democracy, just an observation that democracy alone isn’t that helpful. I tend to see democracy as an outgrowth of civil society…that democracy tends to occur when the middle class is so powerful and wealthy that their interests can no longer be ignored.

I’m not very hopeful that democracy will solve a country’s problems. However, if they already HAVE democracy getting rid of democracy can only hurt. I would guess that a non-democratic country with a strong civil society and a strong tradition of the rule of law would be in a better position than a democratic country with weak civil society. But both are better off than an autocratic country with a weak civil society. At least the democratic country has a chance of building civil society, while every autocracy knows that civil society is their natural enemy.

Sure, we get some enlightened autocrats whose work makes autocracy obsolete. But those are rare, your typical autocrat entrenches autocracy. Democracy isn’t so much a system of picking good leaders as it is a method of getting rid of bad ones.

The OP could be describing any election in Latin America-of course, many were fixed, and many people voted for certain candidates on pain of death.

I’m with you there sailor.

I agree, although I think in this case it’s bad presentation. It strikes me that it’s State which is driving the policy change, but it’s being badly sold. The referendum isn’t going to happen, so let’s find a way to move the ball forward.

To be fair I don’t think its a matter of a blind eye, its a matter of leverage, influence. The issue is fairly marginal --the land itself is marginal-- and in some respects the UN and EU have put substantial effort into trying to broker a solution. And James Baker did yoeman work in trying to get a solution, which both sides have pissed away.

Of course part of the problem now is the Bush Administration has managed to create --entirely unnecessarily-- a massive image problem such that even tactical changes to support a reasonably moral goal (trying to get a solution to improve lives) looks like either clumsiness or amoral idiocy. Bad salesmanship, bad diplomacy, possibly bad policy to boot.

True. Spanish decolonization at the time, like the Portuguese withdrawals at about the same time, was shamefully poorly done and scandalously screwed the poor bastards who they had colonized and been ripping off one more time.

And until around 1995, I would have largely agreed Polisario was a better deal than Morocco if only because Hassan II (and his interior minister Driss Basri, who in person is almost charming) was one mean, nasty bastard. But starting around say1995-1997 Hassan realized his absolute autocracy, while it has succeeded in preventing Morocco from become Algeria (which has some value on has to admit) had run its course. Since then they’ve been taking slow, but real steps to a true civil society.

These things don’t emerge overnight, but I for one am impressed with the changes I have seen from the late 1980s to the present. Real change. But many real problems and real threat of backsliding.

Not a pretty neighborhood sadly enough, but still, look to Algeria to see how bad it can get.

ARRRRRRGH: Mods please delete prior post!

I meant to paste this:
I’ve given this subject a lot of thought. Ever since the day I heard an old man in the sahel dismiss democracy as ‘hand-waving politics’.

No easy answers.

The idea of democracy in terms of parliamentary politics must become rooted in society, and for that to happen, the society, in my opinion based on observation, has to achieve a certain type of organization. I guess we can call that ‘modern civil society’ wherein traditional blood and other relationship based allegiances at least begin to be subsumed under national level interest based political groupings.

Just having elections does nothing for that – for all that North Americans have an almost religious belief in the idea of ‘holding elections’ and few seem to realize how important civil society is, and how hard it is to achieve. I recall making this point in one of those tedious gun control threads where folks rant on about how guns preserve freedom, to which someone replied ‘you have more faith in man than I’ – or something along those lines. Rather missing my point, that the way any institution or social organization in a society, including gun ownership, works in society is utterly and completely dependent on the nature of civil society, the internal values. In America, arguably, gun ownership may be liberty preserving due to its internal values and the robust civil society. In places I’ve been, the fact that every male older than 14 owns at least an AK if not a passel of grenade launchers does nothing to guarantee liberty, rather the contrary. It wasn’t my faith in mankind that led to that comment, it was my unfaith in mankind.

Civil society, internal values have to evolve to support and give meaning to the institutions. Nothing teaches this more than living in the MENA region. Let’s take Morocco since I was just reflecting on that in regards to the Western Sahara with sailor. Morocco was ruled with nothing less than an iron fist by King Hassan II, who survived no less than 3 coup attempts. And he was mean. Really mean, e.g. if you attempted a coup against him, not only would he punish you, he’d put your family 3 steps removed and your associates in some Saharan hellhole until they died. (The infamous Tazmamart prison, e.g.) Nasty fucker.

However, his iron rule may have been instrumental in essentially crushing the life out of pre-modern forms of social organization in Morocco – in effect laying the groundwork for what currently appears to be a positive route to developing a real democracy, not a sham democracy like Egypt (which btw began well in the late 19th, early 20th century – colonial issues and Nasser may have aborted that) or the bizarre and bloody perversion of society that is Algeria. Had the iron fisted Hassan, who nonetheless had traditional legitimacy and deep-rooted respect (in addition to fear, real genuine fear) been replaced by say the General Ouafkir in the 1973 coup (I think it was 73, maybe it was the 75 one…) I doubt Morocco would look different than Algeria does today. Maybe not, but still.

In short, when people write nonsense about bringing democracy to say Afghanistan (and let me take this opp to point out my predictions in re the evolution, made back in November, have been 100% on, except I was too optimistic) are being naïve fools and idiots. Afghanistan needs to rebuild a civil society, but it will have to do so by relying on something other than western style elections – the society is simply not ready for that.

Some totally disjoined thoughts which may have some relation to the matter at hand:

Democracy is not and should not be an end in itself. Freedom and peace are ends in themselves but different cultures may arrive at them by different ways. Democracy is one way for people to participate but it is a western idea that there are no other ways for the governed to participate. A government which is nominally authoritarian if it is benevolent and governs with the broadest support of the governed may be better than a nominal democracy which rules despotically.

Democracy works well when the people believe in it. In the USA there is an ample consensus that it is better to abide by the rules of the game, even if your side lost, than to break the rules. So the democrats even though they believe they won the last presidential election, believe it is better in the long run to respect the rules of the game. In some other countries this ample belief does not exist and the army takes over and decides what is good for the country.

It is a vicious circle: for democracy to work most of the people have to believe it is the best thing and respect it… but for people to believe in it they have to see it work well.

As has been said, taking any country with no tradition of democracy and just having elections is a recipe for disaster. First you need a people who have a healthy respect for the law and this can only be gained gradually.

We can compare Russia and China. Russia one day woke up upside down. people were told they could vote but the economy was in chaos. The experiment has been a disaster and it is taking a long time to build a modern, western-style state.

China, OTOH, is dooing it quite differently and with much greater success. They are building the (capitalist) economy and, as they do this, they are building a legal system, a political system etc. If everything goes well in 20 - 40 years (which is nothing in terms of history) China can be a successful country in terms of freedom, rule of law, economy, etc.

While some people may object to China’s authoritarian regime, the fact is that it would be a disaster to just have western-style elections tomorrow. Once you have built a well educated middle class, then is the time for direct participation. People who want western style democracy in China today, just do not understand China. China is proving it choise a better path to capitalism than Russia.

So I would say the requirement for democracy to work is a culture which believes that democracy does work and this is easier to achieve in a country with a certain economic level which, in turn, facilitates a certain cultural level. But you can have countries with similar economic development and very opposing attitudes towards democracy.