Monday, January 07, 2008

Mike Moore! Defender of Democracy!! (oh, and property rights)

Via an excited David Farrar, we discover Mike Moore writing something that is not utter nonsense.

The source of this excitement is a Herald column in which Moore comes out in favour of democracy, if not coherence.

The article by Mary Dejevsky in Friday's Herald suggesting that a benevolent authority is better than democracy couldn't be more wrong.

Poor democracies have always outperformed authoritarian societies. Democracies score 20 to 40 per cent better even in poor nations, whether it be life expectancy, infant mortality, or farm production and clean water.

Democracies are less corrupt, more efficient because leaders are held accountable, and an active civil society and free media are the watchdogs, the cleansing air of transparency, and the adaptability of democracy drives up better results.

There has never been a famine in a democracy, no two democracies have even gone to war, and where there are democracies the numbers of civil wars go down. No evidence was produced to back up the claim that dictatorships do better.

Democracy is more than having a vote, it's also about freedoms such as property and human rights. This interests me because I'm a congenital do-gooder and know-all.

Some of this is correct.

As DPF points out, democracies have, depending on how you define the term democracy, waged war against each other*. And regardless of how you define democracy, it's hard to escape the fact that at least one democracy has waged covert wars against others it disliked (USA take a bow).

And, in terms of economic growth, there is only weak evidence to suggest that democracies perform better.

There is no evidence, however, that they perform significantly worse. And there is empirical evidence that shows that democracies are more resilient to economic shocks and that they pay higher wages compared to non-democracies with the same GDP.

Democracies, as we know from Amartya Sen's famous work, are also much less likely to experience serious welfare catastrophes such as famines (indeed, IIRC, Sen's work shows that there no democratic country with a free press has ever experienced a severe famine).

The bit I really don't get though is Moore's bundling of property rights into the democratic package. Most human rights of course are integral to democracy. You can't be a true democracy with out freedom of speech, for example. But property rights? In my opinion, any country voting to abolish them would be making a massive mistake. But, so long as they did this via the democratic process, with the chance of future repeal via the same process, how would this be un-democratic?

*The actual claim (quite probably still wrong) that you see in books on democracy is, I think, more along the lines of "no two democracies have gone to war since WW2".

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