Poor democracies grow faster than poor autocracies

Contrary to the assertion that "economic development makes democracy possible," a group of social scientists say the best way to promote prosperity is to first establish democratic foundations.

Historical data from the World Bank show that poor democracies – countries with gross domestic product per capita of less than $2,000 – have grown as least as fast as poor autocracies (countries with dictators, absolute monarchs or one-party rule), and have significantly outperformed the latter on most indicators of social well-being:

  • Aside from eastern Asia, the median per capita growth rates of poor democracies have been 50 percent higher than those of autocracies.

  • People in low-income democracies live on average nine years longer than their autocratic counterparts.

  • Poor democracies suffer 20 percent fewer infant deaths than poor autocracies.

  • Low-income democracies are better at avoiding calamities – since 1960, poor autocracies have experienced severe economic contractions twice as often as poor democracies. The reason for this success is that democracies are open. This spurs the flow of information and ideas and reduces the scope for corruption. Also, democracy improves adaptability. In other words, democracies enhance political stability by establishing mechanisms for the smooth succession after the death or defeat of a leader.

    Source: Joseph T. Siegle et al., Why Democracies Excel, Foreign Affairs, October 2004.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin 21 September 2004

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