From the beginning of civilization humanity has been always trying to formulate a system of governing that improves the way of living and facilitates interactions between institutions and people and prevents abuse of power. From Athens to Rome and from Egypt to China, every and each civilization has resulted in various ruling systems that throughout history have built great empires that dominated the world for years. The measures for defining the success of a ruling system are diverse which makes it undermining for one’s ability to choose one of them as the best. In modern times, the list of ruling systems available for debate has shortened drastically but always on top of the list at the very beginning you will find democracy with its various types. Now, you can’t even find two persons debating about whether theocracy is good or not but you will certainly find thousands if not millions debating about democracy. Each side with its comprehensive list of evidence supported by historical examples is able to put a very convincing point of view in a way that’s hard to reject. The main objective of any political/ruling system is to provide economic welfare and equal rights to all citizens in a fair society under the rule of law.
So, the question that clearly presents itself to us is how effective is democracy in providing economic welfare and opportunities for growth? How democratic states were able to handle the civil and human rights issue? Also, How does democracy impact the crime rate and corruption or even can it have an impact on terrorism? But before we address these three important questions, we shall address what states do we consider democratic or more appropriately how do we define democracy?
Even though democracy has many variants whether Direct, Representative, Presidential or Parliamentary, it has only one definition which is giving power to the people. Following the definition of democracy, the next logical step is examining the efficacy of democracy in achieving the main objective of any political system which is to promote economic welfare and achieve prosperity. Evidence has been found that suggests that democracy has significant and robust positive effect on GDP per capita and also shows that democratization increases GDP per capita by about 20% in the long run (Acemoglu, D., Naidu, S., Restrepo, P., & Robinson, J. A., 2019). Even if democracy has a negative effect on economic growth, it’s insignificant and counterbalanced by the indirect positive effect that democracy exerts on growth via education and investment (John F. Helliwell, 1994). Democracy fosters growth by encouraging investment, increasing schooling and improving the accumulation of human capital, and although democracy may hinder growth by reducing the rate of physical capital accumulation but this extremely limited negative effect isn’t adequate to disregard democracy’s major role in stimulating economic growth. Democracy can either have a great impact on economic growth or a neutral effect in some cases but it can never be a constraint on economic growth. The crucial part that needs to be investigated isn’t just how impactful is democracy in creating wealth but how impactful it is in distributing that wealth well. The assumption that might arise from the first glance is that if citizens from one nation select their legislative body then this legislature will definitely encourage economic equality but Jeffrey F. Timmons found – after analyzing and researching 2007 world bank dataset – that there is no relation between democracy and aggregate measures of economic inequality (Timmons, J. F., 2010). Democracy allows for restructuring of concentration of power which, in turn, makes changing current policies or introducing new policies feasible. Policies should be implemented in a way to ensure that economic growth equates to income equality but the existence of such policies isn’t adequate to produce real-world results as there might exist a barrier that prevents these policies from having an effect and this barrier is corruption. Shyamal K. Chowdhury found that democracy has a significant impact on combatting corruption as democracy takes public corruption cases before voters, and voters, in effect, prosecute corrupt politicians by forcing them out of public office. Elected politicians are therefore reacting to the electorate by fighting corruption (Chowdhury, S. K., 2004).
The perception formed from the first instance is that a political system in one country will impact the country’s internal affairs but the reality is that it goes way beyond the country’s borders and it affects other countries by different means and one of the most critical issues influenced by political systems found in one country that impact the whole world is terrorism. By assessing data for a sample of about 119 countries from 1975 to 1997, Quan li found results that show that democratic participation reduces transnational terrorist incidents in a country, while government constraints increase the number of those incidents as greater political participation under a democratic system allows citizens to exert more influence on their own government so that they can seek favorable policy changes or compensation more successfully. Joining a terrorist group and attacking the foreign target become less appealing options (Li, Q. 2005). While this evidence might be compelling based on the fact that in a democracy the population of the country elects their legislative body willingly and there is no good reason for any of the citizens to show rebellion or forcibly impose their beliefs on the rest of the populations by any means including terrorist acts, another evidence was found that manifests that stable democracy and terrorism go together and also revealed that terrorist attacks occur most often in the world’s most stable democracies as democratic countries provide relatively more freedom of speech, movement, and association, permitting parochial interests to get organized and reducing the costs of conducting terrorist activities. Open democratic societies, therefore, facilitate terrorism. (Eubank, W., & Weinberg, L. 2001).
Following the findings showing that democracy may promote terrorist activities, It’s worth investigating its impact on crime rates in general. Democratic societies are characterized by two core values which are individualism and egalitarianism while autocracies are characterized by collectivism and authoritarianism and because individualistic and egalitarian values reduce levels of violence, evidence found that societies with high levels of violent crime are concentrated among autocracies while in contrast, democratic societies have lower levels of violent crime (Karstedt,2006). On the other hand, Democracy can be the best habitat for violence and crime as it gives free space and voice for bad behavior as well as good behavior. Eubank described it well saying that After all liberty is to faction (even violent faction) as oxygen is to fire. (Eubank, 2001).
Democracy by definition gives equal representation to every member in society and thus each member’s vote has equal weight in determining results of elections and referendums. The concern here is that these results might have a lot of drawbacks one of them is not offering protection for minorities rights or ignoring them altogether but even though this might not be a major issue in representative democracy where representatives can be of minorities but elected by the majority, it’s truly a major issue in direct democracy or any type of democracy where people get to vote directly on policies. Plenty of empirical research has been done on this issue one of which by Frey and Goette where they found that the majority doesn’t exploit the minority and go even further to say that democracy actually protects civil rights (Frey, Goette, 1998), and, although it’s safe to say that results produced in democratic environments is generally fair as every vote counts and even small percentage can shift the results drastically, Lewis found – after analyzing data from 1997 to 2004 – that direct democracy states are more likely to pass anti-minority proposals (Lewis, 2011).
I believe that democracy isn’t just the best political system but it’s a system that faces no competition at all. It’s so hard to believe that such a political system where people get to elect their representative and dictate their own laws and policies isn’t the best. If you are in a position to choose between two options, The first is that someone other than you formulates the laws you have to abide by your entire life and the second is you are able to change these laws and policies that shape your life simultaneously as you effectively try them. Any reasonable person will definitely choose the second.
While not all countries with high growth rates are democratic, all democratic countries have high growth rates but the key difference here is that growth in non-democratic countries is unsustainable as they lack autonomous institutional structures and economic freedom which lie at the core of democracy. So, to create sustainable economic prosperity, there has to exist a dynamic framework that allows for scalability and expansion directed and influenced by people’s assessment and not constrained by government bureaucracy which only democracy offers. Permanent transition to democracy increases GDP per capita by about 1.97% one year after democratization, by about 2.9% the year after (Acemoglu, Naidu, Restrepo, & Robinson, 2019).
With regard to the idea of protecting minority rights, democracy encourages participation of members belonging to the minorities in the political life while other political systems deprive them of the right in taking role in decision-making but even with that into consideration there are some areas where the minority has to adapt and accommodate for the conditions that led to shaping the majority decision like for example if a university wants to determine the bus routes for its transportation service and it made a poll asking the teaching faculty and students for their destinations and the university found that only 3 students and faculty members commute to a certain destination that nobody else commute to so the university decided not to plan a bus route just for them but rather make them ride in a bus route whose destination is nearest to their certain destination. The university here didn’t suppress the minority right to take advantage of the transportation service but rather offered them an alternative guaranteeing their rights without sacrificing the benefits of the common good or overruling the majority decision.