Failure of dictatorship & democracy


Senator (1k+ posts)
Failure of dictatorship & democracy
By Niaz Murtaza
Friday, 09 Jul, 2010

HOW would you feel if you lived in a poor neighbourhood and your neighbours started getting rich while you became poorer?

Angry, envious, depressed, suspicious? Pakistanis have experienced these emotions collectively as East Asia and the Middle East developed. Now even countries down the road in South Asia are developing.

Dubai and Korea are already rich, India is moving and, to add insult to injury, unconfirmed rumor has it that even Bangladesh is on to something since the familial break-up. Thank God for Afghanistan and Nepal! We can still walk around in the neighbourhood with some semblance of self-respect.

Perceptively concluding that our failure has something to do with governance, we tried both dictatorship and democracy, but neither worked. This calls for an urgent analysis of why what works for swans does not work for us, and developing our own walk.

Sociologists say that political systems derive from social structures. Democracy works best in societies with atomistic families where sub-national identities between national and family levels, e.g., based on community and religion, are weak or do not affect peoples political choices, which are based on policies.

High education and incomes weaken sub-national identities (for better or worse) and help democracy. Where these are low and people are trapped in unequal traditional relations, they give more emphasis to identities than issues in voting, resulting in the rise of ethnic/family politics.

People depend on the position of the biradari in political structure rather than a well-functioning governing structure. Politicians use the state to distribute largesse among supporters rather than developing an economy that generates broad-based opportunities. They keep administrative structures weak so that people remain dependent on informal power networks. This cooks the goose of democracy.

Dictatorship survives but contributes to the dictators kitties rather than development where the army is the only power centre but consists of poorly educated warlords while parties, businessmen and landlords are weak, ethnic differences high, and the educated diaspora small, as in Africa. Rarely, dictatorships facilitate development, as in East Asia, when the dictators are educated, ethnic homogeneity is high and people are docile and accept a centralised authority.

Things become easier if the dictators rule furthers the American calculus and succeeds in turning on American generosity. All this was true in most of East Asia. Thus, the relative success of dictatorships there was based on contextual factors that may not exist everywhere. Even there, where ethnic heterogeneity was high, as in Indonesia, the benefits of development flowed to some ethnic groups, leading to ethnic tensions and countrys break-up.

Where does Pakistan stand? Education and incomes are low, sub-national identities strong, and unequal traditional relationships rampant. Thus, Pakistan lacks most prerequisites for democracy. Why does India do better on democracy then?

Over the last 800 years, India was repeatedly attacked from the north-west. The conquerors grabbed lands and established feudal structures. However, except for the Mughals, others remained confined to the north, and south India suffered less destruction and feudalism.

Unfortunately, the one conqueror that established a modern state, the British, entered India from south and east rather than north-west. While colonisations overall impact was negative, the few good things that it brought education, rule of law and the urban economy spread inwards from south and east and reached current-day Pakistan last.

No wonder, the south and east produce Indias finest minds. The grass-root approach adopted by Congress, particularly Gandhi going to villages to raise awareness also helped in establishing democracy on a stronger footing than in Pakistan where the Muslim League co-opted feudal elements.

Even though most of India was not ready for democracy in 1947, enough of it allowed an urban educated leadership to become the largest single group and gain control in parliament. This was not true of Pakistan. That is why land reforms were easy in India and difficult in Pakistan. Nehrus longevity also helped. Before I get accused of being a lover of dictatorship, let me add that, paradoxically, Pakistan also lacks most prerequisites for successful dictatorships. While generals are educated, we received much less aid from the US than Korea which has adoringly savoured American boots on the ground for 60 years while Afghan war aid for us so far has only lasted 10 years, twice.

The largest ethnic groups, far from being docile, are fiercely proud of their autonomy, rugged, and well armed to give the army a run for its money on their own turf if it infringes local autonomy or does not spread the fruits of development evenly. Businessmen, media and judiciary are strong and bristle at army dictation. In short, paradoxically, the ineffectiveness of both democracy and dictatorship in Pakistan is rooted in the same social structures polycentrism, localism and a high level of ethnic heterogeneity.

Viewed so, democracy is still more suited for Pakistani culture than dictatorship as it gives more local autonomy, especially with devolution.

The main problem under dictatorship is political strife or even secession given its centralised nature. The main danger under democracy is corruption/incompetence which reduces economic performance.
The first one is a much more dangerous problem. The comparative performances of the 1990s and the 2000s (the latter operated under a more favourable external environment) show that the cost of incompetence to economic performance under democracy is less than one per cent of lower annual growth.

This is a tolerable price to pay for avoiding the risk of a countrys break-up or major strife under dictatorship, which costs incalculably more. While immediate governance is weaker under democracy, it improves gradually as peoples freedom, education and incomes increase with development. True, development is slowed down by poor governance. So, there is a vicious circle. Vicious circles are broken by other factors positively affecting the viciously locked variables, e.g., external resources for development.

We can hope for windfall American aid or bonanza from Central Asia/China so that the vicious circle breaks quicker. More likely, it will break gradually through milder external and internal factors, e.g. moderate external support, donor/media/judiciary pressure for better governance and grass-roots awareness-raising. This may take 20-25 years at current rates. If this sounds long, the other option is another dose of dictatorship, with its risks to unity. I choose democracy!

The writer is a research associate on political economy issues at the University of California at Berkeley, US.

[email protected]


Senator (1k+ posts)
Have dictators achieved more?

Have dictators achieved more?
By Niaz Murtaza
Monday, 05 Jul, 2010

THE dismal situation today is feeding nostalgia for Musharraf. Was he worth it? Not for democracy-idealists like me! However, since many can tolerate dictatorships if they deliver, I consider this question pragmatically.

Even pragmatically, dictatorship cannot be a permanent feature in Pakistan more polycentric than Africa where dictators rule forever where it has a shelf life of 10 years due to external and internal pressures. But dictators do have greater powers as they control the intelligence agencies and can take decisions without worrying about vote banks or parliamentary strength.

Thus it is not enough if dictatorships outperform democracies during their tenure, as there are no structural changes of long-term benefit. This was the stated objective of all our dictators, and the actual contribution of Asian dictators, whose performance stokes much of our fondness for dictators.

I judge Musharraf by his legacies and not character, intentions, efforts or even immediate results, which may be better than those yielded by politicians. Viewed so, that things are so bad so soon after him is as much proof of his lack of positive legacies as of the incompetence of his successors. However, let us take a closer look to be fair to him.

Politically, some of his legislations have endured. However, his main political contribution on the one hand is an absence of what could have been positive legacies, as on Kashmir, or in increasing the capacity and independence of the bureaucracy through constitutional cover, or even in tackling crime. On the other hand, there are negative legacies, e.g. the Taliban insurgency due to his earlier support to them; the Balochistan insurgency; distortion of constitution; and attacks on the media and judiciary whom he should have strengthened to act as checks later on if he was serious about durable change.

Economic management improved. However, Pakistan also had a more favourable external environment under him. Long-standing US sanctions were dropped after 9/11, which led to significant economic inflows from the US, World Bank/IMF and western markets. These initially politically facilitated inflows helped improve foreign reserves, public debt and the current account.

Second, the global economy and developing countries overall performed better (until 2007) than during the 1990s. Thus, luck also contributed to an improved performance under Musharraf. However, even a democratic government would have achieved at least somewhat better results in the 1990s if the luck factor had been there. This reduces the credit due to Musharraf.

In terms of legacy criterion, since many indicators improve even otherwise, I look for structural changes in fiscal health, industrialisation, export-competitiveness and human capital. While the fiscal deficit-GDP ratio improved, the average tax-GDP ratio deteriorated.

Thus, fiscal balance improved by slower public expenses growth and external aid. The first is not desirable as we must spend more on education, social services, infrastructure etc. The second is not as sustainable as increasing tax-GDP ratio. An increase in the tax net with constitutional cover would have been a legacy difficult to reverse.

Similarly, the average manufacturing-GDP ratio barely increased while the average fixed investment-GDP (though it increased during 2005-07) and export-GDP ratios went down. The current account situation improved as imports grew more slowly than exports, but not because of greater export-orientation. Again, a major industrial and export expansion would have been difficult to reverse. However, many incoming resources went towards consumer loans, instead of export industries, in contrast to the stance adopted by the Asian Tigers who tightened consumption initially. Poor basic education fuels militancy and economic stagnancy. However, the education expenses-GDP ratio remained stagnant.

In summary, the only enduring economic legacy is contested reductions in poverty at the macro-level. True, micro-level analysis highlights worthwhile initiatives in higher education/infrastructure etc. However, they did not improve economic fundamentals even after nine years as there was no industrial strategy which was behind the success of the Asian Tigers dictators.

In its absence, external resources created consumer credit, stocks and property bubbles that later burst. This failure to devise a strategy even over nine years is the biggest rebuttal to the if only he had more time argument and a reality check for anyone imagining that Musharraf had put Pakistan on the path of the Tigers. Asian dictators, armed with strategies, effected structural change in five to 10 years. The absence of structural change despite greater external resources, powers and longer tenure than single democratic governments means that his performance on legacy criterion was poor.

More importantly, the dictatorships in Pakistan produced similar results. Being illegal, they distorted the political process. Realising that the army in a polycentric Pakistan cannot rule alone, they propped fringe politicians less popular but as dishonest as the ones dismissed.

Consequently, the quality of governance degenerated further. Even this arrangement didnt work and they finally had to bring back the mainstream parties. No dictatorship in Pakistan left behind significant economic legacies beyond temporary improvements achieved partly due to American support. However, even these were erased by the high cost of political strife induced by dictatorships.

None of this means that democracy brings immediate results. The current performance dispels that illusion, even after factoring in global recession and Musharrafs negative legacies. But it does mean that somewhat better non-structural economic performance the maximum that dictatorships have achieved in Pakistan is worth sacrificing for the long-term stability that democracy brings.

In fact, some political dividends are already apparent, e.g. the tiny steps towards reconciliation in Balochistan, and greater resolve on militants at least from a federal government that is not beholden to militants. But, overall incompetence shows how far we have to go.

Given all this, I prefer corrupt politicians to honest dictators, in the hope that decades of democracy will throw up better politicians. Fortunately, the external environment is less tolerant of dictatorships and future dictators will find it difficult to even produce economic mirages (budding dictators, beware). So my advice is to stop praying for dictatorships and pray for improved democracy.

The writer is a research associate on political economy issues at University of California at Berkeley.

[email protected]