Opinion: Putin’s war in Ukraine highlights the need to support democracies everywhere
NEW YORK (Project Syndicate) — In my years as a policymaker in India and at the World Bank, one of the few leaders I met and came to truly respect was Madeleine Albright. The former US Secretary of State was a master strategist, but behind strategizing there was empathy and a moral compass.
This is why we must take seriously his recent essay on the need for urgent global action to combat authoritarianism, which the total invasion of democratic Ukraine by Russian autocratic leader Vladimir Putin is only underline.
History is replete with grotesque forms of human oppression, including slavery, racism, and oligarchies crushing people’s aspirations. Today, the continued rise of authoritarianism in countries like Brazil, Turkey and of course Russia highlights the need to consolidate democracy. What is new is that this effort must now be global.
Even as the shadow of authoritarian misrule spreads, there is a growing yearning for democracy among ordinary people who seek more freedom and dignity. A Pew Research Center survey of 17 advanced economies in 2021 shows disaffection with the lack of individual freedom in authoritarian states at an all-time high. Moreover, according to the survey, a median of 74% of people in these countries had no faith in Putin doing the “right thing in world affairs.”
There is also hope in Albright’s interesting observation that leaders with totalitarian leanings tend to rise and fall in waves. Expel one, and others might also fall, as happened when the end of authoritarian rule in the Philippines in 1986 was followed by similar developments in Chile, South Africa, Zaire and Indonesia during of the next decade. This should encourage responsible governments today to begin the process of reviving global democracy.
Unfortunately, the United States’ record is far from flawless in this regard. A recent study by Kyle Strickland and Felicia Wong of the Roosevelt Institute shows how US neoliberal economic policies have fueled discrimination and inequality in many countries.
Moreover, in Chile, Cuba, Central America and elsewhere, America has intervened, often brutally, not to support democracy but to protect American corporate interests. Providing leadership to isolate authoritarian regimes and nurture democracy will therefore require the United States to break with significant aspects of its past and take up this responsibility as a moral obligation to chart a new course for the world.
But relying entirely or substantially on the United States would be folly. Certainly, some American presidents, notably Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, have demonstrated a strong sense of global responsibility. Fortunately, many prominent Americans, including current political leaders, take a similar position. Yet, as Donald Trump has demonstrated, an American leader can be elected promising to “make America great again” and, once in office, define “America” as his friends, family and friends. friends.
Democracy is essential
While many justify the need for democracy as a means to achieve other desirable ends, I believe that democracy is necessary in itself. If it were true that democracy slowed economic growth, we should be prepared to grow a little less to let equality and freedom flourish. Indeed, the commitment to treat all human beings equally, as required by democracy, is an ethical axiom. As Abraham Lincoln wrote in a handwritten note in 1858, “As I would not be a toil, so I wouldn’t be Master. It expresses my idea of democracy.”
That said, evidence suggests that democracy is a key ingredient for economic progress.
By creating space for dissent, criticism and change, democracy nurtures creativity and innovation and, through this, economic flourishing. Economic progress in countries that succumb to religious fundamentalism or authoritarianism almost invariably stagnates. China seems to be an exception, but it should be noted that Democratic Taiwan’s GDP per capita is almost three times that of China.
India’s hopes and struggles
One of the best examples of what democracy can do is post-independence India, one of the world’s boldest experiments in creating and nurturing an open society. The country has undoubtedly made mistakes in economic policy over the past 75 years, and its annual growth rate in the first decades after independence remained low at around 3%.
But the democratic investment meant that, despite being a poor country, India did well in higher education, research, the arts and other creative fields.
India’s recovery in economic growth from the early 1990s had many causes, but it also reflected the democratic dividend. Due to the country’s political openness and freedom of expression and criticism, the service sector, which relies on creative human capital, has begun to flourish, driving the growth of companies like Infosys, Wipro and Tata. Consultancy Services. In 2005, India was among the four or five fastest growing economies in the world. Its sophisticated political system had made the country a global success story, poised for a remarkable run.
This success has clouded in recent years with increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and the media. Unsurprisingly, India’s GDP growth slowed every year from 2017 to 2020.
The close links between democracy, creativity and economic progress are subtle and long term, but they are real. And they clearly demonstrate the need to encourage democratization worldwide.
Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of the World Bank and chief economic adviser to the Indian government, is a professor of economics at Cornell University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
This commentary was posted with permission from Project Syndicate—Protecting the Democratic Dividend