There is an ongoing debate about whether democracy is a prerequisite for economic growth or vice versa, and today the circumstances today challenge the way the Western world has always perceived the issue. The end of the Cold War is seen as a victory of the Western society and their values of neo-liberal democracies. Ever since, we have witnessed a diffusion of these values to the particularly underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa, to promote progress.
However, the debate still stands: is democracy really a prerequisite for economic growth? Despite the dominant beliefs of the past decades, recent economic growth in a few authoritarian regimes, (Hello, China!) and severe economic crises in liberal democracies have shown that democracy is not the (only) magic element essential to economic growth.
Hence, considering all these facts, is it wise to prioritize political rights over economic rights in countries that are politically, economically and even socially underdeveloped? Considering this from a more psycho social perspective, I am forced to bring in a very famous theory of human motivation, proposed by Abraham Maslow, called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow’s theory argues that there is a hierarchy of needs in the human behavior, hence until an individual’s psychological needs – also called “basic needs” by Maslow – are not fulfilled, he/she will not be motivated to fulfill any safety or security related needs. Loosely translated to more common terms, let’s consider a particularly poor individual, who is economically incapable of basic survival. His first concern would be to have enough food to survive hunger, or a basic shelter for survival, rather than his country being a democracy or an autocracy – as long as he’s barely surviving.
However, a democratization of the society is possible through industrialization, economic growth, education and particularly, expansion of the middle class who will then hold a demand for political participation. History is a deceptively good proof of this, particularly the English Revolution or the French one. (Hello, bourgeoisie!).
From this perspective, China investing in Africa’s infrastructure, instead of just imposing its political values, doesn’t sound that terrible of an idea, for the future of such countries. While this approach certainly contains several loopholes, and even contradictions, it makes us challenge our traditional perception on the issue. While we can’t be sure of the best approach in this scenario, one thing is undeniable – just imposing Western liberal democratic values will not automatically transform these countries into democracies, because that would require a shift of mind that comes slowly from a variety of economic and, subsequently, social tools . After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!