The question of democracy inhibiting development is an age old concern, which till date can at best only be speculated and scrutinised without much more success than the last person endeavouring the same. The ramification of this argument can only be achieved, to whatever limited means possible, by flipping both sides of the coin and cataloguing the pros and cons of both democracy and the alternate authoritarian means of governance and analysing their significance with regard to development index.

Economists and political scientists have long strived to unearth the secret to why some economies grow at much faster rate than the others. While there has been a long-standing temptation to extol a link between democracy and economic performance, empirical evidence shows that the relationship between growth and a democratic political system is weak at its best. As a matter of fact, based on the last few decades of growth results, nations with autocratic rule have experienced over the top growth rates in comparison to stable democracies. The best instance to establish this argument is the contrasting development of India and China over the last half a century or so. While both the nations were almost equally well off midway through the 20th century, the rate of development of China has skyrocketed to its being an economic and military superpower, whereas calling India any of those is just   deceiving oneself,  though during the same time frame several non-democratic countries have been growth disasters. With dearth of a suitable answer, several economists like Nobel laureate Amartya Sen have been mentioning time and again that irrespective of the results and impact on economic performance, the congenial effect of a democracy is certainly a more desirable outcome. This led to New York Times questioning why economists are so “apologetic” about democracy.

On paper, the stability brought about by the relatively less volatile nature of a democratic government is a far safer bet for development than an authoritarian government. Democracy for what it is, is a conflict resolving mechanism. Democracy also avoids colossal mistakes like those in Mao Zedong’s China. Even when mistakes are made, correcting them by taking a step back is not  so difficult. Democracy also curbs the excesses of capitalism, making development more humane and sustainable. Several examples of inhumane modus operandi being put into service to achieve the desired results to accomplish development can be found while studying about People’s Republic of China. Regularly people’s rights and safety standards were violated by the said government to achieve their targets. In contrast, the development process in a democratic system is far more  organised and people-centric than in non-democratic governments.

So these are the positives of a democratic government when it comes to development. But like every other aspect of life, there is another flip side of the same coin. There are several discernible cons hindering development in such form of governance.

The accountability of democratic government leads to time consuming and lack of ruthless decision making which while satiating the needs of all social groups leads to an extremely slow and exhausting implementation of developmental plans. Furthermore, without political, centralisation, political competition under democracy often encourages competitive populism or short-termism. This leads to only short term plans executed by the government mainly targeted to satisfy the demands of various groups rather than extensive long term plans aimed at development. Even when such a progressive plan is orchestrated by a particularly astute political leader, his rivals berate him if it does not lead to immediate results or his plans are sabotaged during the change of government. Many scarce resources are often frittered away in short-run subsidies and handouts, which hurt the cause of long-run pro-poor investments (like in roads, irrigation, drinking water and electricity). It is a fact that politicians in a democratic setup are responsible for the aspirations of the common people. But they take decisions contrary to the spirit of their mandate by sowing the seeds of fanaticism in the name of religion, caste or creed.

Some common examples of the major democracies posting uninspiring development rates are the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The average growth of the US economy is only 2.2% without a single annual increase of 3% over the past 10 years. Half the growth benefits during the Obama administration directly went to the top 1% of the population leading to dissatisfaction  among the lower sections of the society and  the rise of Mr. Donald Trump as the new President of the US. Similarly in Britain, the growth rate over 2017 is half the average over the last 25 years. The common scenario in both these cases is that the investments are stagnating along with a lot of foreign businesses cutting back on their investment due to various reasons like Brexit in UK or a lack of a  favourable climate for political decision making in USA. After going through the pros and cons of both democratic and autocratic governments, the initial question that whether democracy is a hindrance to development seems inappropriate because of the lack of a definitive answer eluding everyone since this question has been asked. It is not the form of government but the kinds of leaders at the helm of those governments that really matter. Along with questioning the role of democracy in development, several other questions follow. Is the democratically elected leader capable enough? Do the opposition and general public in a democracy support a bold decision making process without thwarting the same? Those bold decisions may or may not have immediate effect on social and economic development graphs. Is the autocrat a humane person who considers the welfare of people and is selfless enough while planning the development of his nation without bringing anarchy? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then the development will have minimum hindrance irrespective of whether the government is democratic or not.

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