To what extent do economic and cultural factors explain differences in the quality of democracy?
Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, man has considered the various merits and pitfalls of the political system we know as democracy. While the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Cicero regarded democracy as in many ways fundamentally flawed, 21st Century western society has grown an attachment to the system, seeing it, rightly so, as the only system through which the rights of the individual can be fully fledged, in a society which emphasises the needs of the individual. Despite the various benefits of democracy, its dispersion throughout the world has been stunted by an array of obstacles, thus it is important for the 21st Century political philosopher to consider such variations in democratic quality, and the reasons behind these variations, whether they be economic or cultural. With this, one can better understand where democracy may, or may not be going in the future. I will attempt to answer this question through the use of MSS (Most Similar Systems) to analyse the variations in democracy and the causes, economic or cultural, for these differences. I have chosen for analysis Mali, Uganda and Ethiopia. I saw these countries fit for analysis into the extent to which economic and cultural factors affect quality of democracy, due to their similar nature. For example, all three countries share a common continent, a similar cultural heritage and history, colonial and monarchic rule for example, while all three have similar demographic indicators, such as population growth, life expectancy, religious diversity and method of governance. Therefore, these countries fit the method of analysis well, as the outcome, democracy is vastly different in relation to urbanisation and views on homosexuality, offering much scope for research into the economic or cultural reasons for such differences.
There is no doubt that in the situation of Mali, Ethiopia and Uganda, economic factors definitely affect the quality of democracy experienced. Lipset (1959 – 72) theorises that the economic development of a country is strongly linked with democratisation. This is due to that fact that, as a country develops economically, the individual needs, wants and views of its citizens become louder, such as over taxation and government spending, further pressuring a government to democratise. Furthermore, as the wealth and middle class increases in size, the citizens of such a country become more politically active, correlating with better standards of education. Indeed, Lipset’s concept (Lipset 1959 – 72) was “economic development involving industrialisation, urbanisation, high educational standards and a steady increase in the overall wealth of the society is a basic condition sustaining democracy.” Thus, when we look at the example of Mali, economic growth since the 1970s has brought about vast social developments, such as improved educational standards, creating an urban, tax paying middle class, reduced pressure on agricultural exploits, while increasing levels of political participation. Thus, democratisation has been championed by middle class, intellectuals, business owners and families, also promoting social inclusion.
Culturally speaking, the theory is relatively similar. Many scholars argue that cultural factors such as post-materialist values have an important place in the advancement of democracy in countries throughout the world. For example, according to Inglehart (1997 – 50), self expression, and quality of life are equally relevant cultural measures of candidacy for democracy, due to the close correlation between an emphasis on post-materialist values and democratic quality. This is likely due to the fact that democracy, of all the political ideologies emphasises the needs of the individual the most. Thus, a democratic society offers the most suitable platform for an individual to express their, or others post-materialist needs. Inglehart (2003 – 51) further emphasises this, stating that with economics development comes increasing tolerance, trust, political activism and a greater emphasis on free speech (the components of Self-expression values). Inglehart and Baker (2000 – 8) also present this effectively, emphasising the link between economic development and the destruction of clearly defined gender roles. As a country develops democratically, the basic needs of a citizen become more diverse as the rights of the individual develop. Thus, values shift from those of basic survival and forward movement, to self-expression and liberty. Thus, self-expression values, such as opinions towards homosexuality or gender equality are very often exceptional indicators of democratic quality, and therefore good indicators of the link between cultural factors and democratic quality. For example, Mali’s democratic rating according to Polity IV is 7, while its people consider ‘Homosexuality always justifiable’ 8% of the time, compared to Ethiopia’s 1.5% of the time, with a Polity IV score of 1. (Inglehart 2003), emphasising the link between individualism, post-materialist values, and democracy.
The measurement of democracy (the dependent variable) in this paper is done with Polity IV (2011). Polity IV provides democracy and autocracy as two indices. The Polity IV democracy and autocracy index includes 5 dimensions; openness of executive recruitment, regulation of participation and competitiveness of participation, constraints on the chief executive and competitiveness of executive recruitment. According to John Hogstrom (2013), “the two indices (democracy and autocracy) are used together by subtracting autocracy from democracy, which provides the Polity variable, which ranges from -10 (high autocracy) to +10 (high democracy)”. Thus, due to the wide array of categories a country must fulfil in order to be considered democratic, I considered Polity IV to be the most thorough and effective measure of quality of democracy for this study.
To measure the independent variable was potentially hazardous, due to the exclusion of direct economic measurements of wealth. Therefore, I concluded that the measurement of urbanisation for the economic modernisation aspect of the inquiry was most suitable. I considered this most suitable, as Lipset (1959) suggested in his paper ‘Some Social Requisites of Democracy’ that ‘various indices of economic development – wealth, industrialisation, urbanisation and education’ were suitable measurements of economic development, due to the correlation between democratisation and economic development, urbanisation being an indices of economic development therefore made it suitable. As an economy develops, industry moves from predominantly agricultural, to industrial or services based, requiring urban areas for such exploits. Thus, I looked at the level of urbanisation (%) of Mali, Uganda and Ethiopia in order to inspect the relationship between this index of economic development and quality of democracy. The other independent variable required of this study is cultural, through the use of the World Values Index. Therefore, I employed post-materialist values, specifically views on homosexuality as my measurement culturally, as according to Inglehart (1997) values of self-expression are fundamentally attached to the individuality that a democratic system allows. Therefore, the relationship between post-materialist values like positive views on homosexuality and democratic quality is inherently intimate, as the focus on the individual, and movement away from survival values increases.
Thus, my hypothesis for this study is that, as industrialisation increases, the quality of democracy according to Polity IV (2011) increases also, while culturally speaking, as views of homosexuality increase in tolerance, quality of democracy increases.
It is clear that my findings support the theory presented in the literature, and my hypothesis, suggesting a similar conclusion as previous work. As democracy increases, one will commonly find that urbanisation (%) increases also, as Lipset theorised in ‘Some Social Requisites of Democracy”, along with positive views of homosexuality, as Inglehart theorised. As economic development increases, urbanisation being an index of this, the views and opinions of the individual become louder. The societal focus on the individual grows stronger, thus creating an environment conducive to democratisation, undermining whatever social or political philosophy stood before. Linking with this strongly is cultural values. As economic development promotes this greater focus on the individual, there is a greater space, or platform for that individual to express their individual needs and rights, often in the form of post-materialist values such as homosexuality, a value not commonly accepted in undemocratic regimes. This in turn can in time transform the opinions of a society, diffusing tolerance and thus promoting self-expression over survivalist values.
Thus, to conclude, it is to a great extent that economic and cultural factors explain differences in democracy, as clearly presented by the close relationship between the strength and quality of democracy, and the economic and cultural factors.
In terms of limitations, the most significant, and perhaps only limitation is the date of the World Values Survey, Uganda being 2001, compared to Mali and Ethiopia being 2007. One could also speak about the undefined sample sizes of the values index, potentially swaying results.
Image: LGBT Pride Flag (wikimedia.org)
Source: The Warwik Institute
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