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The Role Of Democracies In Reducing Economic Inequalities Politics Essay

Info: 2904 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in Politics

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Political regimes are argued to be influential in achieving social-economic development. Of concern here is the role political regimes play in reducing social-economic inequalities. Several scholars have tried to study the characteristics of the political models and the political institutions associated with them in relation to their influence in ensuring equal distribution of income and resources. However, scholars are divided in their arguments and findings in cross-national studies regarding the suitability of these political structures to achieving social and political developments.

This paper therefore aims to argue that democratic regimes are generally better placed to reduce social-economic inequalities compared to autocratic regimes. However, this is not to suggest that democratic regimes are without weaknesses.

To do so, this paper will discuss both autocratic and democratic regimes by looking at them from multiple realities. This is in relation to merits and demerits associated with both democracies and autocracies, how these aspects influence socio-economic inequalities and vice versa. Finally, conclusions shall follow.

Broadly speaking, achieving economic growth is an essential prerequisite to enhancing socio-economic equality. It enhances the state’s ability to provide better public social services like health and education . Autocratic regimes, in this regards, are described to have a higher ability to achieve economic growth than democratic ones through higher utilization of state resources and higher savings of income. They are also better placed to facilitate economic growth through their strict control over labor markets, better allocation of resources and their ability to use power to implement sound economic policies, thereby reducing inequalities.

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Meanwhile, autocratic regimes are usually associated with poor economies. However, since they are concerned of trying to stay in power, they are usually compelled to spend in social sectors in order to cling to power . This somehow is argued to contribute to economic growth. Related to this, autocracies’ ability to retain power and government for longer periods of time is argued to enhance their ability to engage in long-term economic planning which is more feasible than short term planning in achieving growth and development. Moreover, coerciveness in decision making makes these regimes’ better able to govern than democratic regimes in the sense that they can contain dissatisfaction and control pressure from opposition. In the meantime, they can achieve rapid development and economic growth that can later be reflected in the state’s ability to provide better service to wider groups in the society .

Smith argues that regardless of the nature of autocratic regimes ruling system, dictators of these states tend to fear strong opposition that may threaten their existence caused by some unsound policies that negatively affect the poor and the marginalized sectors. Therefore, they work on establishing formal institutions that control oppositions and in the meantime give a slight space for power sharing with the elites through political institutions similar to parliaments and senates. These institutions give the elite the power to bargain with the autocrats to reach certain consensus and policy changes in favour of the middle class and the poor who the elites need for their support in order to retain their positions in legislature institution. These policies include enhancement of the health and education system as well as wider space for freedom of speech but within certain limits. Thus, the elites tend to target the poor in exchange for policies that give them benefits because the poor are cheaper to buy (Albertus, 2010). This could indirectly contribute to reducing inequalities.

However, social spending to achieve economic growth is not possible without tremendous savings and income surplus. Therefore, autocracies tend to generally take on policies that decrease states spending on public services and cut in wages. This usually affects the middle class and the poor with little impact on the rich people since they have ‘higher marginal propensity to save, therefore, they will benefit more from the national income in order to increase the social savings at the expense of significant distribution inequalities against the poor majority.

Furthermore, autocracies perpetuate inequalities because they are able to apply such bias distribution policies empowered by the lack of accountability these regimes provide and therefore, they can have more freedom to pursue policies that favours the minority at the expense of the majority (Weiner et al . This might increase inequalities. This is reflected in autocratic regimes having more freedom to give permission and encourage foreign investment that results in the establishment of ‘well-paid modem economic sector’ (Evan and Kaufman, 1979). This investment rarely trickles down to the majority poor at local level. Thus, autocracies do not feel accountable to the poor and they tend to be careless thereby endangering local investment and weakening the ‘traditional economic sector’, for instance, the case of Brazil, Chile and Iran in the 1970s. This type of foreign investment widened inequality between the foreign corporate on the one hand and the workers and the labour groups on the other hand (Evans, 1979, Kaufman, 1979).

The other aspect that influences socio-economic equalities under autocratic regimes is the decision making mechanism. Decision making in autocracies varies according to the type of autocracy ruling the state whether it is a single party, military and/or patrimonial . Common among all types of autocracies, Sirowy and Inkeles suggest that these regimes have a high ability to use coerciveness as a governance mechanism, leaving group members away from participating directly or indirectly in the decision- making process and neither consult with them . According to Purcell this decision-making style will create ‘an erratic relation between the authoritarian leader’s decisions and expressed group demands’. Moreover, it will prevent the formation of alliances among these groups and individuals that will result in making fewer demands on behalf of class interests. Hence these regimes will feel a sense of no accountability regarding the policies they adopt, especially, state policies that either enhance or lower public services that usually benefit the middle class and the poor who represent the majority. In addition, the poor will have no sufficient resources, capabilities and liberties to influence state’s policies and support their demands since they are restricted from forming pressure groups through the state institutions or independent institutions. Crawford and Abdulai argue that the state’s power exploitations for its own gain can result in creating negative implications on addressing the needs and wellbeing of the poor since effective institutions of accountability are missing. This increases inequalities.

Moreover, autocracies do not usually have well-established sources of information to warn the government of potential crises or a proper source of information that could consitute an efficient prevention mechanism. This leads to implementation of policies that fail to reflect local realities .

Democracy on the other hand are argued to be an influential factor for creating better wellbeing realities for the poor and the marginalized societies. This is because ‘the democratic principles of elections makes government more responsive and accountable’ . Crawford and Abdulai suggest that governments which come to office through clean electoral processes are potentially committed to responding to the population’s majority interests rather than satisfying the small sectors of the society which is usually composed of the elites and governments affiliates, consequently, alleviate poverty and socio-economic inequalities.

According to Sen the absence of elections, opposition parties and the public criticism make rulers avoid ‘the political consequences of their failures to prevent famine’, for instance. To Sen, the argument is that democracies are better placed to respond to the local demands since the established institutions, operating in a conducive environment, tend to forewarn the governments of needy areas which usually reflect the marginalized. Moreover, Kuzents argues that democracy in principle was found to reduce socio-economic inequalities since it does not critically adopt economic growth strategies that tend to deny marginalized social groups from benefiting from the state’s economic incomes.

Furthermore, democracies significantly allow more freedoms of speech and press as part of the extension of civil liberties and basic freedoms. These are thought as factors necessary to ‘generate the security expectations necessary to motivate citizen to work, save and invest’ (Goodin, 1979). The freedom of media and press has two advantages. First, for the population as tool to express their satifacation or dissatisfaction with the government performance. Second, it is an important source of information and statistics for the government to measure the type of actions it needs to take in order to avoid crisis. For example, media is considered as an early warning system, and elementary source of information to prevent threatening famine under democractic regimes .

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Further, the mobilization of political powers underpinned by democracy from the elites to weaker social groups makes the democratic regimes more responsive to these societal sectors and lead to more social equality due to the electoral demand on political elites for better income services and income redistributions policies . Lipset in (1959) explains this notion as saying that the environment within which democracies work and “electoral mechanism and right to opposition and participation”, democratic governments feel the pressure to reconsider their allocation of the socio-economic recourses.

Another important point is the distribution of political power and how it impacts the decision-making mechanism in the democratic regimes. The nature of democratic regimes as a ruling system allows more room for wider involvement of individuals and groups to participate in the political life indirectly as voter or directly as members in the opposition groups and unions. Purcell believes that democracies allow unlimited pluralism that makes the relationship between social groups and opposition demands and the government officers’ decision very strong and enable these groups to play a major role in the decision-making process in a way that that support their demands. The egalitarian political structure embedded in democracy on the one hand allows members of marginalized communities to form unions and parties that lead to the development of their own electoral base and later have direct representation in the legislatures and participation in the government to a certain level; and hence democracy becomes a tool to facilitate reduction of economic inequality through these pressure groups (Lenski, 1966). On the other hand, when the poor are part of political coalition, they can sanction the political leaders by withdrawing their support when these leaders violate the the poor’s rights. This will help the poor protect their social and political rights as well as invest in activities that enhance their welfare .

There are some strong evidences that democracies have been able to narrow the gaps between the poor and the rich in terms of equal social services provide for both, especially in some African and Latin American countries. However, these assumptions were critically challenged by many researchers who have found empirical evidences that democratic regimes have not done significantly better than autocratic ones in terms of fair distribution of resources .

It is important to note that the historical context in which democracy is practiced is important in understanding why some democracies are better functioning than others. For example, the transitional period from certain economic models affiliated with autocracy to democracy and the inability of democracies to manage the inherited problems of poverty and inequality and to ‘carry out substantive reforms to address the lot of their poorest citizens’ . One evidence stems from the democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism and the rising of income inequality followed by the fall in living standards that was accompanied with sharp decline in life expectancy . This was a sudden shock that lacked well-established economies and institutions that were able to meet the poor’s demands. In this case, Ross argues that the poor’s general ability to efficiently utilize social services when provided was very unlikely equal to the middle class and the rich.

Child mortality has been used as general indicator to measure the relationship between the political regime model and the progress in alleviating it. However, Ross raises a fundamental question as to why, in as much as democracies spend more money on social services, and health in general, have not done better in improving child mortality rates. Ross believes that the main reason behind this assumption is that ‘public goods and transfers can only reduce infant and child mortality rates when they are received by households that are income constrained’. This implies that the efficiency of public services provided is still connected to household financial situations and their ability to afford what Ross calls as ‘mortality-averting goods and services’ such as food, clean water, immunizations and pre and postnatal care, which help to improve their living style in general and minimize the probability of infant and child mortality. However, due to the fact that these services are demand and price inelastic, the middle class and the rich are more able to acquire them than the poor and as a result they benefit less from the social and health utilities provided by the government (Ross 2006). Hence, it is possible to see inequalities even in democratic regimes.

To conclude, the paper has argued the influencing role of political regimes in ensuring equality by broadly looking at autocratic and democratic regimes. What can be established is that both democracies and autocracies have clear advantages and disadvantages associated with their intrinsic values as ruling regimes. It can be understood from the arguments presented that the relationship between democracy and autocracy and their role in influencing socio-economic inequality is an ambigious one.

While autocratic regimes see holding state’s income as an effecitive strategy towards achieving economic growth and development that enables the state to enhace its social services to extended social groups, autocracy is still viewed as tool to protect a particular inequitable distribution of resoucres and power in favour of the elites and special socio-political groups . On the other hand, democratic regimes in principle call for equal citizenship, it is yet inferred from certain trends associated with the demoratic regimes that there is likley bias towards achieving the needs of the elites at expeness of the poor due to the fact that the latter lack the political power to strongly demand equal fulfilment of their socio-economci needs .

In addition, the transtion to demoracy has raised serious concerns as a result of the existance of premature democratic regimes. The absence of state’s institution that suit the principle of democracy as ruling system accompained by scarcity in economic resources have negatively impacted the performacne of these democracies and obstructed them from neither achieving economic development nor from enhacing social services delivery. The emergence of these democracies before ‘the appropriate thresholds of resouce availability, consonant class structure, and psychological and institutional modernity’ result in making these democracies dysfunctional politically and economically .

Finally, althoug the relationship between democracy and the decrease in socio-economic inequality is not clear, democracy in principle has great aspects that makes it worthwhile. The pluralistic nature of democracy enhances equal participation of all sectors of the community under its electoral mechanism and voting right for each individual. The freedom of speech that allows individuals and groups to express their opinions regarding the government performance and to demand better social and economic services that enhance their welfare and wellbeing makes democratic governments more alert to these demands. The free press also constitutes an important communication tool between the indivduals’ demands and needs and government’s needed actions. Therefore, I share the view of Crawford and Abdulai that democracy should be favoured over autocracy for it is intrinsic values.


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