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Tuesday, 18 September 2007

You can relax now....

A new paper contains two interesting revelations on the relationship between corruption and democracy, that should calm the nerves of those worried about corruption in emerging democracies:

1st Message - It should not surprise you that young democracies experience greater corruption after the transition to democracy:

...primary evidence suggests that in sub-Saharan Africa, during their first five years to seven years, democracies with multiparty competitive elections and alternation in power, experience an increase in corruption by 6 to 9% a year on average
2nd Message - The pain is part and parcel of growing up :
...countries that have multiparty competitive elections experience lower levels of corruption over time but, this genuine democracy comes at a cost of higher levels of corruption in early stage. Corruption appears as negative externality of democracy in early stage. In other words, democracy not only matters for corruption but, equally important, has a threshold effect..


  1. democracies with multiparty competitive elections and alternation in power, experience an increase in corruption by 6 to 9% a year on average

    That is because even if you switch to a multi-party system, that doesn't mean that the checks and balances on government are in place, or will be put in place by the individuals who planned on benefiting from corruption once they come to power.

    Westerners often don't understand their own systems of government - they just live in them.

    You see that in Iraq, but also in all the people who are calling for democracy, without calling for the things they have taken for granted - separation of the powers of state, professionalism and political independence of the civil service, trade unions and civil society organisations, etc.

  2. "That is because even if you switch to a multi-party system, that doesn't mean that the checks and balances on government are in place, or will be put in place by the individuals who planned on benefiting from corruption once they come to power."


    Your assessment is consistent with the paper which attributes this issue to ethnic fractualisation. The existance of ethnic diversity apparently creates the conditions where the only way to get elected is to promise rewards to 'king makers' with influence in various tribes or political blocs. Once you get elected obviously these 'king makers' demand some rewards.

  3. This is a very interesting subject to revisit and tangent off of. Yesterday was President's Day in the USA, which got me thinking again about the formation of the original Constitutional Democracy. For one thing, the people writing that constitution had never dealt with things like Marxism, or multiculturalism beyond religious tolerance between different variations on Protestantism, or indeed even basic literacy rates among adult males above 5%. The American Founding Fathers were not a very diverse lot by any modern standard, which actually makes it easier to research how they came to the specific conclusions that they did. It also helps explain why in spite of the general success of the USA in the world, only a very few nations have actually used their system as a template for subsequent Constitutional Democracies.

    At the core of democratic thought in the 1770's was a foundation in Ancient Greece and Rome as taught by English and French University Professors of the age. Their use of the term revolution contained an implied reference to the view fostered in Athenian Greece that the ideal governance of a city state was a cyclic process. By this view the very nature of internal and external pressures on leadership would serve to facilitate changes in government as the shortcomings of the old are in turn exploited by the strengths of the new. Thus like the guessing game, Rock, Paper, or Scissors, the indecision of democracies in times of crisis prompt the takeover by dictators, whose hold on power is ultimately dependent on the actions of trusted lieutenants that inevitably shift power away from the center into oligarchies, which by dint of individual success or failure within and without the ruling class tend to erode towards greater and greater extension of political franchise along democratic lines until crisis prompts calls for efficient dictatorship, and so on.

    The American Revolutionaries wanted to replace an entrenched dictatorship supported by an increasingly emergent English oligarchy, with a new oligarchy ruled benevolently by themselves and supported by a nascent and largely symbolic "representative" democracy. They tried to freeze the cycle of revolution, in part by incorporating elements of all three systems into one structure, and in part by succeeding through public education in convincing the voting public that representative democracy is not oligarchy. This has limited outlets of pressures toward greater democracy largely towards extensions of the voting franchise to a greater percentage of the adult population, rather than any fundamental change in the composition of the ruling class as expressed via the representative system. It has also resulted in many of the inherent problems associated with classical oligarchies being viewed in the new american political vernacular as being the result of too much democracy, thus enhancing the role of the executive as dictator.

    The steady expansion of executive power since inception is in my view a crucial flaw in the US system, and indeed arguably in all modern representative democratic systems. The Italian communist Gramsci wrote from prison that the reason his side had lost to Mussolini's fascists was by rejecting alliance with the petit bourgoisie, the academics and entrepreneurs, on the grounds that they had elitist, or otherwise oligarchical tendencies. By rejecting a supporting role for residual elements of the former ruling class schooled in organization and mobilization of resources, they left themselves open to the stark efficiency of military dictatorship.

    I am by no means certain, I am still thinking about how all this might lend perspective to the Zambian Constitutional Debate, however it does seem to point towards philosophical underpinnings for both MrK's oft repeated call for greater decentralization of budget authority to local governments as well as Cho's efforts to call attention to the cultural importance and untapped potential of recognition and inclusion of traditional governance structures and customary property rights. Based on the global track record, the goal of a constitutional reform of a representative democracy should always be to minimize the power of the executive and maximize the power of the loyal opposition (i.e. people who seek to change government personnel, not fundamental government structure). Not because these things are necessarily good, but because they appear to be most susceptible to erosion over time, and most difficult to achieve once a constitution is in place.

    From what I have seen from the NCC so far, we should all be gearing up for a strong NO campaign. The Office of the President should be getting weaker at every opportunity. One does not require writing a whole new constitution in order to enhance the powers of the existing rulers! They are perfectly capable of doing that from within their existing offices! The only conceivable reason to undertake this exercise at all is in order to place limits on the powers of the executive and legislative majority with the understanding that they will do everything in their power to get around, under or through those limits once in office. Instead we have hundreds of would-be 'king makers' all hoping to reward the sitting President with enough new powers to justify their own future demands for personal reward from the hand of the Big Man. I sincerely hope that each and every one of them is pressed for an explanation of their votes within the NCC once they return to their respective constituencies.


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