After gaining independence from Britain in 1947, India was something of a poster child for the virtues of democracy — in stark contrast with China, which became a Communist dictatorship in 1949.
Until the 1970s, it was widely argued that, while both countries suffered from extreme poverty, underdevelopment and disease, India’s model was superior because its people were free to choose their own rulers.
With China’s economic boom, however, the counterargument — that a repressive political system is more conducive to development — has gained currency. But while China’s recent performance has been spectacular, India’s model may well stand up better in the long run.
The conversation changed after 1978, when China surged ahead of India economically, causing many to conclude that India’s chaotic democracy was holding back its people. After all, if China’s leaders want to build a new six-lane expressway, they can bulldoze any number of villages. In India, widening a two-lane road could incite popular protests and be tied up in court for years.
That old debate has now taken a new twist with the publication of a new book by Professor Daniel A Bell of Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Prof Bell argues that Chinese authoritarianism — specifically, its “political meritocracy” — is a viable model of governance, possibly even superior to the democracy of India and the West.
The economist and philosopher Amartya Sen famously demonstrated that famines do not occur in democracies with a free press because their governments cannot ignore the suffering. Prof Bell points out that China has also avoided famine, at least since the Great Leap Forward, and has done better than India on malnutrition. This, he asserts, proves that a government does not have to be democratic to serve its people effectively.
In fact, Prof Bell argues, China’s merit-based system for selecting and evaluating officials guarantees better leadership than democratic elections, which often lead to victory for ignorance and prejudice. Despite some weaknesses (notably complacency and corruption), China’s system ensures orderly governance and development. Democracy does not necessarily do that, so the “politically relevant question”, Prof Bell said, “is whether democratic elections lead to good consequences”.
India debated this question 40 years ago, when then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency. She suspended civil liberties, locked up opposition leaders and censored the press, based on the belief that democracy had impeded India’s development. The issue was resolved in 1977, with an election that defenestrated Gandhi and restored democracy.
[This "intellectual" has a very queer definition of "debate" and "resolution". Oh wait! He's a democrat/ democratist. Truth can be determined by majority.]
But the “bread versus freedom” dilemma remains: Can governments deliver economic growth and prosperity while respecting their citizens’ rights and freedoms? The dysfunction of Indian politics in recent years, with its fractious coalitions and disrupted parliament sessions, has made that question seem more relevant than ever.
I am not convinced that Prof Bell’s answer is the right one. Rapid industrialisation and development have lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, but often at the cost of great human suffering. China may have grown at breakneck speed, but it has broken a lot of necks in the process.
[A good turn of phrase makes for a good soundbite. It does not make for a good argument. China may have broken a few necks (we'll let this point go because of the nice turn of phrase), India's population? No necks have been broken, but has there been significant progress or growth in the middle class? Yeah, sorry. No elegant turn of phrase here. Poverty is ugly, and trying to turn it into a nice sound bite would be... callous.]
One might like to contrast India’s sclerotic bureaucracy with China’s efficient one, India’s red tape with China’s red carpet for foreign investors, and India’s partisan politics with China’s Party hierarchy.
But there is no doubt that India’s pluralist democracy has enabled it to manage its diversity superbly, giving all citizens the sense that they have a strong stake in their country — and a real influence over how it is run.
In fact, it is India’s large population of poor and disadvantaged citizens — not the elite — that lends Indian democracy its legitimacy.
The poor turn out to vote because they know that participating in elections is their most effective means of letting the government know their demands. When they are frustrated with their government, they vote against its leaders in the next election, rather than launching revolts or insurrections.
[That's nice. So the argument is that democracy prevents revolts and insurrections? So Democracy is the opiate of the people?
At the core, democracy is a popularity contest. Meritocracy is the selection of the best candidate based on the candidates ability. There is nothing inherent about Democracy that gives any weight to meritocratic consideration. Ergo, Democracy is not compatible with Meritocracy, and does not lead to good government.
But reason and logic will not convince this ideologue who is besotted by the wonders of Democracy.
In any case, if "India's large population of poor and disadvantaged citizens lends Indian democracy its legitimacy", does that mean that if India ever solves the problem of poverty and drastically reduces the number of poor in India, it loses it's legitimacy? So... Indian Democracy has a vested interest in NOT solving the poverty problem? So Democracy isn't incompetent, at least not Indian Democracy. Indian Democracy is just... evil?
This is what happens when logic is defenestrated in order to make one's convoluted point. You end up arguing against yourself, against your own point.]
When violent movements do arise, the democratic process often defuses them through accommodation: Yesterday’s militants become today’s chief ministers — and tomorrow’s opposition leaders.
[Even better! Democracy declaws revolutionaries! Subverts subversives! Co-opts the cooperative!]
By contrast, if China’s system faces a fundamental challenge, its only response is repression. That may have worked so far, but every autocratic state in history has reached a point where repression was no longer enough to ensure order and progress. If China encounters widespread popular unrest, all bets are off. The dragon could stumble, while the elephant trundles on.
[From my perspective, it looks more like the dragon MAY one day stumble, while the elephant is still trying to find its legs.]
Moreover, Prof Bell’s perception of China’s meritocracy may be too optimistic. Given that the Chinese system is rigidly bureaucratic, permitting only gradual ascent up the career ladder, it is impossible for a young and relatively inexperienced but dynamic and inspiring leader — like, say, US President Barack Obama — to emerge.
China would not choose gifted leaders who were failures in their youth, such as US presidents Franklin D Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln. Rebels and non-conformists who have flourished in Indian politics — leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru — would never have gotten started in China’s system.
[Right. Gandhi managed to rise to power against the Democratic rule of the British Colonials over India. If the British had been more Authoritarian, more... Imperialistic, Gandhi would never have made it.]
Beyond China, Prof Bell cites the success of authoritarian systems such as Singapore and Taiwan. But these countries probably would have been at least as successful without authoritarianism. The methods they used to promote growth and development are consistent with democratic principles, to the point that many formerly authoritarian states in East Asia managed to carry out successful transitions to democracy, without derailing their development.
[Oh goody! Finally, someone says Singapore is "consistent with democratic principles"... just so that he can attribute Singapore's success to Democracy (or at least democratic principles. I like how he cherry-picks his example, interprets the data to fit with his hypothesis, and then assumes that it is the Truth. It is a rare privilege to see an ideologue at work.]
Finally, Prof Bell’s view can be refuted by a simple observation: No population that has gained democratic rights has clamoured for a return to dictatorship. That alone should be enough to prove that democracy is a strength, not a weakness. [See below]
China’s system may have enabled its rapid economic rise, but its dependence on a top-to-bottom consensus means that it functions well only in a predictable environment. India’s system, by contrast, requires consensus on only one point: That everyone does not always need to agree, so long as they agree on how to disagree.
[I don't mean to stereotype Indians, but this guy has a way with words. Poetic. Lyrical, even. Logical, not so much. Rational? Hardly. Enlightening? Maybe with the right drugs.]
In an unpredictable world, that gives India an undeniable — and invaluable — advantage.
[So his parting shot is, "just you wait, India will show you. We are better than China. We are playing the long game. "]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shashi Tharoor, a former United Nations under-secretary-general, is a member of India’s Parliament for the Congress Party and chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs.
[This writer is just an apologist for India, making sad, sad, self-serving excuses for India's lack of or inadequate progress (so far!). And an ideologue for Democracy, managing to argue for Democracy despite all the evidence of Democracies inadequacies.
Eventually, to rebut all the arguments, he went with this observation:
"No population that has gained democratic rights has clamoured for a return to dictatorship. That alone should be enough to prove that democracy is a strength, not a weakness."No population will ever vote for an increase in taxes. That should tell you that taxes are bad. And undemocratic.
All Children want a later bedtime, and more iPad or Computer time. That should tell you that forcing children to sleep is bad. Or at least undemocratic.
Most (if not all) drivers think their driving skills are above average. Which is statistically impossible.
The Greeks are against austerity measures and a cut in their standard of living. This has been democratically established, and understandable.
The Truth, apparently, can be decided Democratically. By majority.
In any case, the choice isn't a stark "Democracy" or "Dictatorship". That is the fallacy of the false dichotomy.
In the real world, the choice is usually, "Give up some freedom for some security, or hang onto all your "freedoms" and continue to deal with the lack of security democratically" (i.e. ineffectively).
"Nobody will want to return to dictatorship" is playground logic at best. And this passes for intellectual reasoning in the Indian Parliament? Perhaps this is evidence that democracy does not lead to intelligent people being elected.
The truth is people value good governance, and competent leadership. When ex-President Suharto died, there were many who missed the Indonesia that was under Suharto. Sure it was not perfect, there was as much corruption, and there were inefficiencies particularly due to corruption. But the government was more competent and more effective.
Here's another "truth". Every country no matter how democratic or how dictatorial (to use the dichotomy presented by the writer) with a military, run their military based on a hierarchical command and control system that is NOT democratic.
As the sub commander (played by Gene Hackman) said to his first officer (Denzel Washington) in "Crimsom Tide": "We are here to Defend Democracy, not to Practice it."
In other words, if Democracy is so good, let the US, the UK, NATO, and India's military be run democratically, and then we will talk. After all if democracy leads to good government or good leadership, then the military should want and need good leadership.
In any case, I do not believe this writer answered the question: Does Democracy Lead to Good Governance?
The sad answer is, "Democracy is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for good governance. "
Instead he asked the question: Is Democracy Desirable? And answered, "Democracy is desired." Which is NOT answering the question either.
But the subtlety probably eludes him.]
See also: What is Government For?
Online comment and reply
"If Democracy is so good, let the US, the UK, NATO, and India's armed forces be run democratically, and then we will talk."
As do schools and most jobs that people would be in but the army and government can't be compared in this way. Of course Democracy isn't neccessary or sufficient, countries like Singapore have proven it can function without it but that does not mean that it does not work. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and it functions democratically because the current government know what they are doing.
The main advantage of democracy is that if the government doesn't work (if it is not 'able, competent, capable, or even adequate') then it can be changed. Not so in a dictatorship.
Jul 18, 2015
You agree that "Of course Democracy isn't neccessary or sufficient,"
Then you assert: "but that does not mean that it does not work."
Working or not working is not the point. Like the writer, you have drifted off point. Which is the title of the article (much use it is as far as the writer is concerned), which is the question, "does democracy lead to good governance?"
My conclusion/assertion is: "Democracy is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for good governance." (Which you truncate (for your own purpose?) and seem to think you got the point).
The issue is Good Governance. Not functional incompetence. Not just a working government.
Yes, the main "advantage" of democracy is that if a government doesn't work, you can change it *Peacefully*, non-violently, But that is NOT the theme nor the purported hypothesis of the article. (Nor the point of my rebuttal of this pathetic piece of writing that serves only to make excuses for India's "democracy".)
So for example, in a democracy, you have incompetent party A running the government. And you vote it out. Hoping that party B is more competent. But it is not. So you vote it out, later. But there's no party C. Party A comes back and say, "we can do better." So voters give it a second chance. And find out that they are still as incompetent. Or better yet, in the intervening years, they have learned innovative ways to be incompetent.
So in the next election, voters give party B a chance and are again disappointed.
What mechanism in Democracy allows for either party to improve their competency, either from term to term, or in the intervening years when they are out of power?
So, to use your extension of the childish, simplistic, false dichotomy presented by the writer, how is the endless cycle of incompetent party A and incompetent Party B better than being stuck with an incompetent dictator?
And no, I am not comparing democracy and dictatorship. Or defending dictatorship. Or suggesting that one is better than the other. That is a childish strawman argument put up by the writer. It is neither logical nor reasonable, nor even realistic.
Again, the question is, "does democracy lead to good governance?" Here is another analysis: What is Government For?
Sadly, the conclusion is, no.
Despite what the ideologues of and Apologists for Democracy may wish, there is no inherent mechanism in Democracy (or democratic process) that ensures that competency is valued, and selected/elected.
Democracy at its core is a popularity contest. What will win you the election (popularity, marital status, family status, party affiliation, group affiliation, religious affiliation, donors, lobby groups, etc, ) says NOTHING about your ability to govern.
[Additional information from this site. Up until 1991, India and China were about the same in terms of per capita GDP - each rise matched by the other, with India slightly ahead for the most part. But from 1991 onwards, China pull ahead, slowly, relentlessly, and by leaps and bounds.