The Relationship Between Democracy and Development

A democracy is a form of government in which citizens directly elect representatives to make laws and policies. It is also a system of political governance characterized by the principle that people’s interests should be equally advanced. This definition is compatible with a variety of electoral systems, for example both first-past-the-post voting and proportional representation. However, the definition does not settle normative questions about whether democracy is desirable in any particular context.

One popular justification for democracy appeals to the value of individual liberty. This view holds that each person’s life is deeply shaped by the larger social, legal and cultural environment in which she lives and that only when democratic participation gives her a say in collective decision-making will she have a chance to govern herself freely.

Another justification argues that the character of democracy encourages people to stand up for themselves and their rights. For this reason, many philosophers have argued that democracy is better able to protect citizens’ interests than other forms of rule. For instance, John Stuart Mill argues that the fact that democracy involves giving citizens a share in political decision-making forces those making those decisions to take into account the judgments and interests of a wider range of individuals than do monarchy or aristocracy.

In addition to its procedural aspects, some theorists argue that democracy should be defined in terms of substantive equality. This may involve the formal equality of one vote per citizen in a direct or indirect election for representation in parliament, and/or it may encompass more profound principles like equal opportunities for participation in deliberation and coalition building leading up to elections.

The relationship between democracy and development has been a major topic of debate in recent decades. Some think that economic growth must come before democracy and that democracies are best suited to societies in the early stages of development when they are likely to generate more sustainable levels of wealth and prosperity.

Others argue that democratic institutions and practices can be justified without reference to economic outcomes. In fact, there is ample evidence that democracy can produce positive results in the short run even when it is accompanied by relatively low levels of economic growth. In the short term, a democratic system of government can promote social cohesion and peace, reduce inequality and poverty, and create jobs and investment in infrastructure.

In the long term, however, the economic performance of a democracy depends on a wide variety of factors, including its quality of education and health care, its capacity to innovate, the quality of its financial markets, and the strength of civil society. Nevertheless, most observers agree that the overall trend has been favorable for democracy and that it is a good idea. The question remains, therefore, how to evaluate different moral justifications for democracy and to what extent they should be weighed against purely instrumental considerations. Ultimately, that is a question for individual philosophers to answer on the basis of their own values and conceptions of human beings and society.