Economic growth in the phony democracies

Robert A Dahl cites the table of Arend Lijphart’s “Pattern of Democracy” in his book “How democratic is the American Constitution” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

Dahl says there are 22 countries in the world that have steadily remained political democracies since at least 1950: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States.

Of course the glaring omission is India, whose political leaders proudly claim it to be the largest democracy (and hence they logically deduce it should be a natural ally to the US), as recent trip of PM Manmohan Singh would testify.

Dahl admits that too and he says it has been done for two reasons: one, India had its system disruptions for two years 1975-77, when Indira Gandhi had imposed emergency, and two, India is too poor.

I have a couple of observations here: One, that “at least 1950” was deliberately a yardstick so that countries like Germany and Italy could be included. After all what difference would it have made had the cut-off year been 1940? Quite a lot. Indian emergency would have then looked like a joke in face of 1940’s Europe. Clearly the elites needed to stick together even if they had to do so just in order to exclude other countries.

Two, clearly economy plays a part. Why else would Dahl infer that a poor country had no right to call itself a democracy? But then he is right on target. Democracy has been associated so far with all these 22 countries, and all of them have been economically advantaged.

Thirdly, what becomes clear to me is that politically democracy is not a popular choice in the world, after all. Out of 193 countries in the world, only 22 have embraced democracy. Not only is the idea such unpopular, but ironically the wealth of the world is being owned by only these unpopular elites.

Having said that, let’s look at the Lijphart’s table to see what can justify for the elitisms of the 22 countries. A model democracy case study would be the United States. In terms of performance, it ranks one of the lowest (18th) in terms of women’s parliamentary representation, 19th lowest in energy efficiency, 17th lowest in welfare state index, 17th lowest in social expenditure, 19th lowest in foreign aid, 21st lowest in voter turnout. Not only that, the US has the 4th greatest rich-poor divide ratio (the economic gaps between have and have-not classes) and the highest rank in terms of incarceration rate (the biggest prison-industrial complex in the world).

With all these “worst performances”, where all rest of the countries (100% of them) do better in foreign aid or in incarceration rate, in what respect does the US shine? Only in one field: Economic growth, where it is among the top three rank.

As I view it, more imprisonments are then directly proportional to higher economic growth. And as corroborated by history, this has been the one of the ways (imprisoning, and mass murdering) using which the European expansions have continued to this date. Earlier it was just territory they were after. Now it includes the culture and economy.

The second repugnant truth is that economic growth of a country has nothing to do with socio-economic conditions in which its people live. In case of the US, it’s evident that with greater economic growth, there is greater rich-poor divide. Hence there is an economic growth, but one that helps the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

And is it not ironical that the same US economic model is now in place with more than 90% of the world since late 1980’s? Police states pretending to be democracies and abject poverty and homelessness owing to irresponsible capitalism. That’s the future of our planet earth?


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