Article

Democracy Doesn’t Work In Impoverished Nations

America’s got to end its deadly devotion to democracy

via Christian Science Monitor

Democracy is a messy business, even in wealthy countries. One look at the Tea Party demonstrations proves that. But a new book called Democracy Kills by Humphrey Hawksley posits that democracy actually increases violence if forcibly implemented (irony alert) in countries with under $2,700 per capita GDP. I would add that a sound public educational system is also an essential prerequisite. Most Americans can’t articulate a coherent political philosophy–understanding how a set of principles leads to one’s choice of candidate. If we can’t do it, how can we expect it of those who are far less educated? This sounds elitist and condescending, no doubt. But isn’t it something worse than elitist to impose a system that we know, for sure, will cause an increase in violent death? In which country are we doing this–right now?

St. Andrews, Scotland – Usama Rehda is a photographer who lives in Baghdad. Crossing his city to ply his trade means running a gantlet of bandits, extortionists, and snipers, not to mention suicide bombers. While he once despised Saddam Hussein, he admits that life was easier under the dictator. “You know what they say,” he remarked to a colleague bitterly. “Be nice to the Americans or they’ll punish you with democracy.”

America needs to rid itself of the hopelessly naive attitude that all nations are capable of becoming sustainable democracies.

“What’s so good about having the vote?” veteran BBC foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley asks in his new book, “Democracy Kills.” In Britain, Japan, and the United States, the answer is easy. In the developing world, however, identifying the benefits of democracy can be anything but.

In the Ivory Coast, for instance, democracy and its sidekick – free market economics – have brought political instability and economic ruin. Cocoa producers are paid the same for a kilo of beans as 30 years ago, even though the price of a chocolate bar has risen fourfold. Adults have the vote, but their children are essentially slaves.

Mr. Hawksley’s book is a chronicle of how economic despair leads to political alienation and often violence. There’s nothing new to that story, but what is surprising – uncomfortably so – is this: Evidence shows that attempts to democratize the developed world have made internal tensions much worse. Often, as in Iraq, voting actually offers a new forum for acting out ancient animosities.

During the cold war, the US supported brutal dictators overseas in the interest of political stability. In contrast, since 1989, Americans have tried to stabilize developing nations by creating governments similar to their own. Ballots have become a substitute for aid, a policy the foreign correspondent Misha Glenny calls “kumbaya politics.” The theory seems noble, but the practice often facilitates poverty, disease, exploitation, and murder.

When democracy mixes with poverty the result is often explosive – literally. The Oxford academic Paul Collier proposed in “Wars, Guns and Votes” a formula to explain this volatile chemistry. He believes that the critical point lies at a per capita income of $2,700 per year. Below that level, democracy has a difficult time taking root.

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Comments (22 comments)

ambrosia / September 17th, 2009, 6:21 pm / #1

The destitute blame the government for their plight and, since voting alone does not bring improvement, they inevitably see violence as a better way to make a point. In contrast, in societies above that level, citizens have a stake in the system and are therefore much more determined that it should succeed.

I think that in some instances, we are seeing that even in the richer western democracies, "voting alone does not bring improvement" due to the corporate ties of many legislators, and the idea that public service should be that which is for the public rather than friends and family. The Tea Party folks are angry, and there is much to be angry about, but there is no sensible thought or planning going into making of change.

jfb / September 18th, 2009, 7:04 pm / #2

I'm failing to see how democracy is even valuable in richer countries. Take for example, in the USA many just vote along party lines or can be manipulated to vote a certain way as in the GWB scenario. True, a black man was elected, but that was by a slim margin and now there is a racial backlash about it. Did we know he was going to bring in the last administration's financial lords and bow down to corporatism?

But, I admit I'm naive about this. What country is a model for democracy in action not just in newspeak?

I also don't think the per capita income level is a good measure for anything. Rather what level of education the country has experienced. But what do I know.

Curtis / September 18th, 2009, 9:25 pm / #3

I have read two other excellent books about spreading democracy. One, The Case For Democracy by Sharansky States how we should support the spread of democracy. It cites post WWII, Japan and Germany to show how everybody wants democracy.

The other book is “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability” by Amy Chua. She argues that majority rule frequently leads to violence against the previous elite because democracy does not instantly cure poverty. Her examples include Rwanda, Philippines and Zimbabwe. I think her view match Hawksley's.

I agree with the main tenets of both books. Clearly a liberal democracy is the goal but the question is how to get there. Chua's pessimistic view needs to considered before attempting to impose a democracy.

Chris / October 6th, 2009, 8:28 pm / #4

Democracy does not work. In the long run people are going to vote for reasons that do not support either their own good or the general good, and eventually it will lead to the collapse of that society. Even a representative democracy like the U.S. has will not work as the unwashed masses still have too much influence over decision making. I wrote an article about it a while back…

http://theentropyeffect.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/...

valhar2000 / October 8th, 2009, 11:53 am / #5

"Everybody wants democracy"?

Well, yes and no.

Many people do like the idea that they can cast their vote and thus influence the workings of their government in ways that they will find congenial and beneficial. However, the big problem with democracy is that all those other people you don't like, who do not abide by your values and are not like you, get to cast their vote and influence the government in ways they find congenial. For many, indeed, most people, this is repugnant.

One of the things that makes a democracy work is the general realization that in order to have the right to vote one must allow that right to be extended to others; this is what many people in countries that have only recently been injected with democracy cannot do. They may be ecstatic at first, but then they demand that people they don't like be denied the right to vote: if those demands are granted, the disenfranchised rebel, and if they bare not granted, those who made the demands take up arms.

AmenASHandFree / October 8th, 2009, 2:49 pm / #6

Democracy isn't even real….the biggest lie of them all….it didn't work for the Greeks, the Romans… anyone else? Can't remember anyone else, but hey no matter NO ONE CAN REPRESENT YOU LIKE YOURSELF ! And be as honost as you can choose to be. Someone running for office who really is a complete stranger to your opinions and needs can't be trusted with it. They will just do what they can and screw up in so many ways. So of couse democracy doesn't /can't work. The only way it will ever work is when the human race wks as effective as Bees and Ants. They don't have corruption =) ! ! ! it's freakin non-exsistant !

AmenASHandFree / October 8th, 2009, 2:53 pm / #7

Hey good example of corruption, what's up with the voting sytem here? One's own personal vote gets earased….THAT AIN'T RIGHT MAN ! ! Chris I voted for your comment but what the hey, what happened to yours?????? Not fair Not right what's new?

AmenASHandFree / October 9th, 2009, 10:11 am / #8

HEY GRINGOS ! I AM A MULTI-RACIAL NATIVE AMERICAN ! WHY DON'T YOU ALL JUST STOP HAVING THE BABIES AND GIVE BACK THIS LAND TO THE NATIVES ??? OH RIGHT, YOUR MORE CONCERNED WITH THE DAMAGE TO YOUR CAR (LIVES) THIS WOULD HAVE !!! THE IMPACT TO YOUR LIVES IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHATS RIGHT ! SO PUT THE CRITISIM ON THE NATIVES INSTEAD OF ON YOURSELVES, THEY FOR WANTING SO MANY BABIES IN A STATE OF CLINICAL DEPRESION & RESENTMENT FOR WHAT HAS BEEN DONE TO THEM ! THEY CROSS THE BORDER BECAUSE THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR DAMN STUPID DUMD RULES & LAWS. BUT MOST OF ALL NATURE ALWAYS TAKES IT'S COURSE ! AND THEY WILL GET THEIR LAND & LIVES BACK !!!! THE STORY ALWAYS UNFOLDS INSUCH WAYS……AMERICA IS NOT GUARENTEED….THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF MUSLIMS IN LATIN AMERICA & CHAPAS MEXICO…

AmenASHandFree / October 9th, 2009, 10:12 am / #9

GOOD LUCK GRINGOS ! YOU NEED IT !!!

AmenASHandFree / October 12th, 2009, 4:58 am / #10

OH YES MY GRINGO COMMENTS R DIRECTED TO ONLY THOSE WHO WANT TO MAKE LIFE DIFFICULT TO THE NATIVES…THK U TOO THOSE WHO R FAIR & KIND TO TREAT & ENCOURAGE FAIR RULES & LAWS FOR THEM…U R TRULY FOLLOWING THE WORDS THAT CONSTITUTE THE CONSTITUTION…WE THE PEOPLE IN ORDER TO FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION….THESER THE WORDS THAT START THIS CONSTITUTIONS INTENTIONS NOT IT'S HISTORY….THK U TO THOSE WHO SUPPORT FAIRNESS, EDUCATION, FREEDOM & SO MUCH MORE TO THOSE WHO R THE CHILDREN WHO HAVE BEEN LEFT LOST TO FIGURE THINGS OUT..KINDNESS BEGETS KINDNESS & IF IT BACK FIRES KEEP TRYING NEVER FAILING TO PROVE TO THE PEOPLE IN DOUBT THAT UR KINDNESS IS SINCER..TRUST IS EVERYTHING…

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zishami8 / September 11th, 2013, 3:17 am / #13

That is fine democracy really not work in these countries but I know Arab countries also not accepting democracy as world seeing in these countries keep oon fall down of governments. I have write my essay for world political changes after 2000 that bring a complete change all governing laws.

Kathleen Martin / September 13th, 2013, 12:39 am / #14

I agree that a democracy is only as sound as the populace electing the officials, but what exactly is your alternative? Have you ever considered that the mere ILLUSION of choice is enough to quell a bubbling citizenry? Surely a revolt would occur if everyone were simply subservient to the desires of the elite class. This is why coaching is so crucial today. People need to be educated!

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Jackie / October 26th, 2013, 6:09 am / #17

In some countries democracy work and is some countries dictatorship works. I strongly prefer to democracy but unfortunately in the USA this flop very badly. I hope lots of people will share their opinions about this.
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Hatta desert safari / October 27th, 2013, 11:53 am / #18

I always prefer to Dictatorship and i follow the sadam hussain who was the army general in Iran. Everybody have the right to share their opinion so if you want to share more info then share with us.

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