Why we must arrive at a agreed-upon conceptual framework of global democracy

Will a country with a high global democracy index be always be one with moderate to good functional local democracy?

Updated: Mar 20, 2017 11:29:57 AM IST

mg_94083_global_democracy_280x210.jpg It is important to cultivate and arrive at a globally agreed upon conceptual framework of global democracy, a derivative of which may be a global democracy index.
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The world witnessed an extraordinary US presidential election. On one hand the election was won with the support of the socially conservative and on the hand the verdict was very much an outcome of an outpouring of support from economically left. The mandate that this unique coalition of the economically left and socially conservative offers along with the person at the helm, means that United States of America will make a decisive transition in modern times and that is hardly surprising. The surprising part is that democracy driven paradigm shift in the US will have a significant ramification for a large section of the global community, much of which has had no say in the change that is in the offing.

Picture these consequences of election of “the leader of the free world” – a Chinese blue collar worker frets over the outcome of US Presidential election, fearing he may have to leave his job as a floor manager at a phone manufacturing unit and go back to agriculture. A fresh young engineering graduate in India fears the job offer he received at the campus placement may not result in a joining letter.  The Bangladeshi woman, who had turned around her family through her sewing skills, is circumspect that the good times may be transient. Beyond such individual sense of foreboding, the collective gasp or glee, depending on which side of the fence you find yourself in when the election results were out, bore telltale signs that our collective lives would be affected in more fundamental ways than one. However, neither the Chinese worker, nor the engineering graduate, nor the Bangladeshi weaver and nor even the citizens of Rest of the World, had any say in the election that could potentially transform their lives. Thus, the foundational premise of democracy, which offers citizens the right to build the kind of life and society they want through periodic representations, stands violated in these circumstances. Expansion of economic globalization, either by design or by inevitable march of technological progress, demands that in some fray or form political globalization too take some baby steps.

A quick look at the democracy data reveals a consistent pattern – countries have steadily moved from lower democracy scores to higher democracy ones. The rationale behind the pattern may be a transition from autocratic regimes to democratic ones or enhancement of the quality of how functional democracy is. It could also be a bit of both but importantly, all we have in mind are democratic institutions within a sovereign state. What such indices fail to capture is the extent to which these countries can participate or influence decisions at the global level, which end up affecting their lives. In other words, to what degree can one influence policy changes, origin of which can only be found outside the ambit of one’s own nation, is the real question.

A natural way to look at this is through the lenses of economic relations- the likelihood of an engineering graduate getting a job in Kolkata depends on economic policies put in place by a newly elected President half way across the world in Washington DC. However, economic relations may not be the only lens through which to look at this. The voice, or lack of it, of Syrians or Afghans, in determining the course of history their society ought to take, wrests almost entirely on forces outside their respective countries. In this case, it is the geopolitics which affect to what extent a nation can choose its own destiny.  

On the other hand, will a country with a high global democracy index be always be one with moderate to good functional local democracy? Certainly not. China is an example of a country where local democracy is limited, Saudi Arabia one where local democracy is non-existent. Yet these countries have a n enormous influence in the functioning of the world. On the other hand, countries such as New Zealand and Chile, with excellent and moderately good democracy scores, has little influence at the global stage and thus, citizens in these countries, however empowered they may be locally, may end up being on the receiving end of global policy changes.

It is important then to cultivate and arrive at a globally agreed upon conceptual framework of global democracy, a derivative of which may be a global democracy index. Such a conceptual framework should be distinctly different from the UN, which in its current avatar, is little more than a coordinating body for peace missions. Even at its best, the UN apparatus is only designed to coordinate on global public goods such as climate and peace. It is far from capable when it comes to complex issues such as what form global economic integration should take and how native people can be made the fulcrum of initiatives in regions where peace is tenuous. The latter requires a mechanism of representation where policies will be voted, with suitable weights, by all potentially affected parties, irrespective of where they are located. Such a policy framework can play a positive role in reversing the steady retreat of global democracy which the world has seen, despite the onward march of local democratic institutions.

Ritwik Banerjee is an assistant professor of Economics at IIM Bangalore.

[This article has been published with permission from IIM Bangalore. www.iimb.ac.in Views expressed are personal.]

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