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Monday, 29 June 2015

Democracy, Prosperity and Stability

In the early 1990s, I spent a vacation in Sousse (Tunisia) and I also visited Port El Kantaoui and the capital city Tunis. I remember that Port El Kantaoui was quite modern and even felt Western. My visit to Tunis felt very different: PLO flags everywhere as Tunis was (back then) the head quarters of the PLO. The streets of Tunis were mostly deserted and I felt quite uncomfortable walking around.

Yesterday evening I watched a Dutch TV documentary about Algeria and Tunisia. One guy made an interesting remark. The upsurge in radical Islam only happens in countries that have limited to no democracy, he said. I must admit that I have always put the emphasis on unemployment rather than democracy. Why revolt when you have a full-time well-paid job??

The response of the Tunisian government to the recent radical Islam terrorist attack in Sousse, which killed dozens of tourists, is less democracy. Dozens of mosques will be closed. The consequence is likely to be a decade of “civil war” like in Algeria in the early 90s. Quite likely the military will win as in Algeria and Egypt or any other Arab state and at the expense of thousands of civilian casualties.

The Western democratic model cannot be exported to countries that have no separation between religion and state. It took Western countries several hundreds of years to create that separation. We cannot expect others to do that in just decades. Furthermore, it cannot go unnoticed that Christianity lost most of its political influence. I doubt Islamic leaders are eager to join that path and lose control. Ultimately, they are also just men desperately clinging on to power.

The Western democratic model also doesn't work in countries that have no separation between the military and the state. The vested economic interests of the military do not allow them to lose control. The Western democratic model also doesn't work in countries that have no balance of powers and which allows ruling politicians to become kleptocrats.

The Western democratic model seems to work adequately in countries that are run like (family) businesses as long as their citizens get a fair share of the revenue/profit. Those countries even give rise to an interesting graph between heavy democracies with stagnating economies, light democracies with booming economies, and countries with no democracy that have either booming or devastating economies depending on their sale of natural resources (e.g., oil).

Somehow there is a trade-off (compromise) between a country’s level of democracy, its social/political stability and the prosperity of (all of) its citizens.

Too much democracy limits - and could even decrease - overall prosperity and also give rise to tensions about the allocation of its prosperity.

Lack of democracy leads to social/political instability and often also a biased allocation of national prosperity.