Can American Democracy Come Back?


America’s ideals of freedom, democracy, and justice for all may never have been fully realized, but now they are under open attack. Democracy has become rule of, by, and for the few; and justice for all is available to all who are white and can afford it.

New York -The United States has long held itself up as a bastion of democracy. It has promoted democracy around the world. It fought, at great cost, for democracy against fascism in Europe during World War II. Now the fight has come home.

America’s credentials as a democracy were always slightly blemished. The US was founded as a representative democracy, but only a small fraction of its citizens – mostly white male property owners – were eligible to vote. After the abolition of slavery, the white people of America’s South struggled for nearly a century to keep African-Americans from voting, using poll taxes and literacy tests, for example, to make casting a ballot inaccessible to the poor. Their voting rights were guaranteed nearly a half-century after the enfranchisement of women in 1920.

Democracies rightly constrain majority domination, which is why they enshrine certain basic rights that cannot be denied. But in the US, this has been turned on its head. The minority is dominating the majority, with little regard for their political and economic rights. A majority of Americans want gun control, an increase in the minimum wage, guaranteed access to health insurance, and better regulation of the banks that brought on the 2008 crisis. Yet all of these goals seem unattainable.

Part of the reason for that is rooted in the US Constitution. Two of the three presidents elected in this century assumed office despite having lost the popular vote. Were it not for the Electoral College, included in the Constitution at the insistence of the less populous slave states, Al Gore would have become president in 2000, and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But the Republican Party’s reliance on voter suppression, gerrymandering, and similar efforts at electoral manipulation have also contributed to ensuring that the will of the majority is thwarted. The party’s approach is perhaps understandable: after all, shifting demographics have put the Republicans at an electoral disadvantage. A majority of Americans will soon be nonwhite, and a twenty-first-century world and economy cannot be reconciled with a male-dominated society. And the urban areas where the majority of Americans live, whether in the North or the South, have learned the value of diversity.

Voters in these areas of growth and dynamism have also seen the role that government can and must play to bring about shared prosperity. They have abandoned the shibboleths of the past, sometimes almost overnight. In a democratic society, therefore, the only way a minority – whether it’s large corporations trying to exploit workers and consumers, banks trying to exploit borrowers, or those mired in the past trying to recreate a bygone world – can retain their economic and political dominance is by undermining democracy itself.

That strategy includes many tactics. Aside from supporting selective immigration, Republican officials have sought to prevent likely Democratic voters from registering. Many Republican-controlled states have instituted burdensome identification requirements at polling stations. And some local governments have purged such voters from electoral rolls, reduced the number of polling stations, or shortened their hours of operation.

It’s striking how difficult America makes it to vote, to exercise the basic right of citizenship. The US is one of the few democracies to hold elections on a workday, rather than a Sunday, obviously making it more difficult for working people to vote. This contrasts with other democracies, like Australia, where citizens are required to vote, or with some states, like Oregon, which have made it easier to vote through mail-in ballots.

Moreover, a system of mass incarceration that continues to target African-Americans has historically served a triple function. Aside from providing cheap labor and driving down wages (even today, as Columbia University’s Michael Poyker points out, some 5% of America’s industrial output is produced by inmates), this system was designed to deny those convicted of a crime the right to vote.

When all else fails, Republicans seek to tie elected governments’ hands, in part by packing the federal courts with judges who can be counted on to strike down policies that their donors and supporters oppose. Important recent books, such as Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains and University of Oregon political scientist Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution, trace the intellectual origins and organizational mechanisms of the Republicans’ assault on democracy.

America’s ideals of freedom, democracy, and justice for all may never have been fully realized, but now they are under open attack. Democracy has become rule of, by, and for the few; and justice for all is available to all who are white and can afford it.

Of course, this is not just an American problem. All over the world, strongmen with little commitment to democracy have taken power: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, and now Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Some, looking at the past, say that this, too, will pass. Think of all the nasty dictators in the 1930s. Think of those, like Salazar in Portugal and Franco in Spain, who survived into the post-World War II era. They are all gone now.

A moment’s reflection, though, should remind us of those dictatorships’ human toll. And Americans must confront the fact that their president, Donald Trump, has been aiding and abetting today’s crop of budding despots.

That is only one of the many reasons why it is so important this year to have a Democratic Congress that can provide a check against Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, and to elect state and local officials who will restore the vote to all those entitled to it. Democracy is under attack, and we all have an obligation to do what we can – wherever we are – to save it.


Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute. His most recent book is Globalization and Its Discontents Revisited: Anti-Globalization in the Era of Trump.


Date : November 6, 2018
Source : Project Syndicate

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Southeast Asia’s Populism Is Different but Also Dangerous


The region’s fast-growing but fragile democracies have been susceptible to strongmen and autocratic-leaning populists in recent years, propelled by concerns over inequality, crime, and dysfunctional governments.

While populism is sweeping through Europe, North America, and now Brazil, it is also making gains in Southeast Asia. The region’s autocratic-leaning populists—those who have already ruled and those who are attempting to win power—use similar strategies: positioning themselves as outsiders who can solve problems where elites have failed, offering brutal approaches to crime, and targeting vulnerable groups within societies. Ultimately, these actions undermine democracy.

The Philippines and Thailand, two of the region’s six biggest economies, already have autocratic-leaning populist leaders, and a third, Indonesia, could be run by one after a presidential election next year. The emergence of such populism could further erode democracy and stability in a region that had, until the past decade, been growing freer.

How Southeast Asian Populism Is Different

Southeast Asia’s populists differ in many ways from counterparts in Europe and North America. They focus less on immigration, economic decline, and trade. In Southeast Asia, economic growth rates remain relatively strong; most countries are highly dependent on trade; and immigration is not a leading political issue. The Philippines is a main source of migrants, with one of the highest percentages of citizens working abroad of any country.

Instead, Southeast Asian populists focus on spurring religious and ethnic divides, countering drug trafficking, particularly of methamphetamines, and appealing to the working and lower-middle classes. The lower-middle classes, in particular, have become frustrated with democracy because they believe democratic politicians have not tackled inequality, addressed crime, or delivered effective state services.

After gaining power, Southeast Asian populists oftentimes have moved to undermine democratic institutions and norms, in countries where traditional political parties have not been paragons of democratic rule. Though democracy had been advancing steadily through the region, it was weaker than in Europe or North America, even before the emergence of populist forces. Southeast Asian political parties were often dominated by clientelism and neopatrimonialism, in which parties are controlled by a single figure or family.

The weaknesses of established political parties in the region make it even easier for populists there to thrive—to dominate traditional parties, win control of state institutions, and then abuse them. Most notably, since his election in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has destroyed checks on power and authorized violence on a greater scale than populist leaders in countries such as Hungary or Poland. He has overseen a brutal drug war that has killed at least twelve thousand people to date, often through extrajudicial murders, according to Human Rights Watch.

Appealing to the Middle Classes

Although the middle classes in emerging markets were once thought of as pillars of democracy, in Southeast Asia, both the lower- and upper-middle classes have increasingly supported strongmen. As Richard Javad Heydarian, an expert on Duterte, notes, “The appeal of populists and strongmen in these countries lies in their uncanny ability to tap into collective frustrations—most especially among aspirational middle classes—over the inefficacy of state institutions to accommodate new voices and provide basic goods and services.” In Southeast Asia, the middle classes in many states have soured on democracy for nearly a decade, as I noted in a book in 2013.

The upper and upper-middle classes in Southeast Asia, too, have become disenchanted with democracy, but there are tensions within some of these classes over the path to power. When the richer classes are looking for leadership change, they often support strongmen, such as military rulers, dedicated to preserving inequality and established elites. When autocratic-leaning populists win elections in Southeast Asia, the upper and upper-middle classes have often fought back by ousting populists via coups or de facto coups, in countries such as Thailand and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, freer politics and media have exposed interethnic and inter-religious fault lines in Southeast Asia. These are often inflamed by social media in a region with increasingly conspiratorial discourse online. Indeed, populist leaders have proven particularly skillful at using new media, which allows them to reach populations directly. For instance, Duterte has created an “army of Facebook bloggers and personalities,” according to a report by Bloomberg Businessweek.

In addition to the Philippines, there are three other Southeast Asian countries to watch for a rise in autocratic-leaning populism. Thailand and Myanmar have long histories of autocratic rule, as well as regional and ethnic divisions, and growing public perceptions that democracy has not delivered progress. Indonesia, one of the most prominent examples of democratization over the past two decades, holds presidential elections in April 2019, in which the incumbent is set to face a major populist challenge. The following assesses the threats and challenges in each country:

Thailand. Autocratic-leaning populist Thaksin Shinawatra ruled from 2001 to 2006, filling a void left after the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the failure of established parties to tackle inequality. He delivered massive social welfare programs but also oversaw his own brutal drug war and Duterte-style attacks on institutions. After a 2006 coup—an example of the upper middle class and elites responding to populists with strategies that further damaged democracy—pro-Thaksin parties again won elections, although they were less autocratic than Thaksin himself.

After years of pro-Thaksin governments, a coup in 2014 put the military in charge and made the political environment even more repressive. If elections planned for 2019 are actually free and fair—an open question, given the military’s power and its desire to see its favored party win—Thaksin’s party, still popular, could triumph, putting Thailand back in populist hands.

Myanmar. The civilian government under Aung San Suu Kyi has not followed through on promises to change the political environment. The military remains the most powerful actor, and Suu Kyi has done virtually nothing to stop what UN investigators have called a genocide in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Ethnic minorities may defect from Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) in the next national election, which is expected in 2020.

Rising intolerance, years of violence against Rohingya and other minorities, and the NLD’s failure to bolster democracy or seriously tackle inequality could pave the way for a military leader to step down from the army and launch a rightist and autocratic-leaning populist campaign. Such a campaign could be backed by some in the military or retired military officers—similar to that of Brazil’s newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro—and foment further anger against minorities.

Indonesia. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi exposed the lack of preparation for major natural disasters, despite previous experiences with devastating quakes and tsunamis.

In addition, Indonesians have become increasingly worried about the decline in their currency; a further sell-off could raise questions about the economic credentials of President Joko Widodo’s administration and amplify fears of an economic meltdown. Although the president, known as Jokowi, has an experienced group of economic advisors and Indonesia is in better economic shape than some other developing nations, the currency slide has depressed levels of foreign investment in Indonesian bonds this year and shaken investors’ confidence in the economy.

The political beneficiary would be Jokowi’s opponent, former Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, whom he defeated in the last presidential election. In the past, Prabowo has rhetorically attacked minorities, such as Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese, and has seemed uninterested in preserving democratic fundamentals.

Fears for Democracy

In a region where democracy has regressed in recent years—with the exception of Malaysia—the rise of an autocratic-leaning populist in Indonesia would be the biggest setback of all. Once such populists take over, as the Philippines and Thailand have shown, their opponents tend to respond with their own repressive actions, such as coup attempts. This creates a vicious cycle that can permanently bury democracy.



By : Joshua Kurlantzick
Date : November 1, 2018
Source : Council on Foreign Relations

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Elites, violence, and the crisis of governance in Latin America


Relations between the state and oligarchic elites underpin the extreme rise of violence in Latin America, despite the fact that most of its victims and perpetrators are poor: violence is as much a problem of wealth as of poverty. Jenny Pearce (LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre) discusses her working paper for our new Violence, Security, and Peace series, Elites and Violence in Latin America: Logics of the Fragmented Security State.

Every discussion of violence in Latin America will begin with the shocking statistics. It is well-known that Latin America is responsible for 33 per cent of homicides in the world despite only having 9 per cent of its population. Even more starkly, a study of youth violence in the region also found that young males living in low-income settings have a one in 50 chance of being killed before they reach the age of 31. At the same time, over half of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide/feminicide in the world are in the Caribbean or Central and South America. Most of the victims are poor young women.

Everything points to violence in Latin America being a problem of the poor. But what about the rich? Do they have anything to do with the crisis of violence in Latin America? Or to the crisis of security and the rule of law with which it is linked?

Oligarchic elites and the “fragmented security state”

There is no doubt that poor young men are the main victims and perpetrators of the crisis of violence in Latin America. However, if we are looking to address the interlinked crises of violence, security, the rule of law, and ultimately governance, we have to look at the kind of state that emerges through the interaction of oligarchic elites – those defined by wealth, as well as by power and status – and state, political, and criminal actors: namely, the “fragmented security state“.

This kind of state lacks a legitimate monopoly of violence. Instead, the provision of “security” to citizens is sometimes delivered through militarised intervention; sometimes through ill-trained, poorly paid, and corruptible state police; sometimes via “protection” through de facto delegation to criminal actors; and sometimes – for those who can afford it – through unaccountable private-security firms. The outcome is selective security, uncertainty (insecurity), and more violence.

Oligarchic elites gain from the fragmented security state because it is permeable to interest trading and transactional politics. They can protect commercial interests and property through law, and their personal safety through private security. There is strong evidence of a preference for private security amongst elites in Latin America, where there are over 16,000 private military and security companies employing an estimated 2.4 million people, many of whom are retired army and police officers. Where a centralised security apparatus does appear to operate is in big military operations against poor communities, like those recently carried out in the favelas of Rio.

Elite attitudes to violence in Latin America

There are also many notorious examples of direct elite involvement in violence in the region, both ongoing and historic.

Chilean elites backed Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1970s. Agrarian elites supported paramilitaries and the forced dispossession of peasants in Colombia in the 1990s and 2000s. Guatemalan landowners even flew some of the planes which bombed indigenous communities in the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980s.

More recently, in February 2018, the high-raking executive David Castillo Mejía was arrested and accused of being the intellectual author of the assassination of prominent Honduran activist Bertha Caceres, who had successfully campaigned against projects funded by his company.

There are many Latin American elites who would not condone this kind of violence, of course, just as there are many who refuse to recognise it or question it. But on the whole there is not much evidence that Latin America’s oligarchic elites, with their varied sectoral economic interests, are motivated to invest in the rule of law or effective public-security provision. Rather, they appear to be comfortable with a fragmented security state which offers opportunities for trading influence, winning lucrative public contracts, and manipulating elections.

These opportunities together help to maintain one of the highest concentrations of wealth and income in the world: Latin America’s richest one per cent possess 41 per cent of the region’s wealth and property, with 32 individuals having the same wealth as the poorer half of the population.

This social injustice has often led Latin American oppositions, out of power and once elected, to privilege wealth redistribution over addressing violences. However, economic growth under many left-of-centre governments in the 2000s proved compatible with the rise of violences.

While inequality does correlate with violence, and social injustice is undoubtedly a factor in its reproduction, it is the logics of relations between the state and oligarchic elites that underpin the extreme rise of violence in the region, despite the fact that most victims and perpetrators are poor. That is, violence is as much a problem of wealth as of poverty.

Violence and the crisis of governance in Latin America

In reality, however, the problem extends beyond violence per se.

Many of Latin America’s poorest communities have to co-exist with varied forms of coercive “criminal governance”. But we cannot view this as separate from a failure to invest in the rule of law by elites with a preference for a permeable and fragmented state in which political, bureaucratic, and state-security actors are incentivised to do deals with oligarchic elites and criminal actors.

One clear example is the Odebrecht scandal, which revealed how lucrative construction contracts lubricated electoral campaigns across the region. The scandal has led to an unprecedented crisis of governance in the region, exemplified by the resignation in April 2018 of Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski for having received money from Odebrecht during his time as a minister in Alejandro Toledo’s administration.

This crisis of governance should not be divorced from the crisis of violence and security in Latin America. Without a commitment to security as an equitable and accessible public good underpinned by the rule of law, democracy remains coercive despite electoral competition.

Participation to bring about the social and economic justice that underpins a dynamic and meaningful citizenship becomes dangerous. Despite the Peace Accord in Colombia, for example, a social leader is assassinated every two to three days according to CINEP, a Colombian NGO monitoring this situation.

Corruption and impunity also erode the basic requirements of trust in the political order, something which is strongly apparent in Latin America. Sensibilities to everyday violences diminish, and the violences that matter are selected. Hence, it becomes politically profitable to construct the poor, and particularly poor young men, as a “problem”. The problem must then be (literally) eliminated, or “solved” through mass incarceration in overcrowded, violence-reproducing prisons.

The Latin American experience shows how even understandings of what the state is for, a means of articulating a shared interest in public goods and goals, are transformed by elites who have little interest in addressing violences that they themselves can avoid. As criminality flourishes and further fragments the state, the line between legal and illegal accumulation only becomes ever more blurred.



Jenny Pearce is Research Professor at the LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre. A political scientist specialising in Latin America, she works with anthropological and participatory research methodologies on social change, violence, security, power, and participation in the region and beyond. She considers herself a peace scholar, committed to theoretical development of the field of peace, power, and violence, as well as to empirical study. She has been conducting fieldwork in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Venezuela since the 1980s.


By : Jenny Pearce (LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre)
Date : October 19, 2018
Source : The London School of Economics and Political Science

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Armenia’s Democratic Dreams


At a time when authoritarianism seems resurgent, Armenia’s 2018 Velvet Revolution has set the country on a path toward sustained democracy. And the movement did so not by following the courses charted by closer neighbors in the post-Soviet world but by following a trail blazed somewhat farther away in Latin America nearly 40 years ago.

Before this year, Armenia was ruled by Serzh Sargsyan, who assumed power through a highly controversial—and much protested—presidential election in 2008. Sargsyan was re-elected in 2013, and then, as the end of his second term drew near, he announced that he would step in as the country’s first prime minister within a newly configured parliamentary system. Anger about his power grab quickly boiled over, and soon calls for Sargsyan’s resignation echoed in Armenia’s streets. The protests spread when Nikol Pashinyan, an opposition leader in parliament, was detained for his role in organizing and leading the initial marches. He was soon released, and Sargsyan announced his resignation on April 23. Only 11 days of peaceful protests and civil disobedience had passed. After a few rounds of votes in parliament, Pashinyan was elected as prime minister.

In power, Pashinyan and his administration had to work with a parliament still dominated by members of Sargsyan’s Republican Party. That party’s standing is largely viewed as illegitimate because of the systemic electoral fraud that plagued the last parliamentary and presidential elections. And so, on Oct. 16, Pashinyan resigned as a way to push for snap parliamentary elections by mid-December. His Yelk (Way Out) Alliance is widely expected to dominate that vote, which would return Pashinyan to power as prime minister—this time with a friendlier (and hopefully more trusted) legislature.

In all its twists and turns, Armenia’s Velvet Revolution shared relatively little with the post-Soviet color revolutions. Rather, similar to many Latin American shifts from military to civilian rule in 1970s and 1980s, the Armenian transition was slow in coming, driven by nonelites, and unfolded through the country’s institutions rather than against them.

First, Armenia’s Velvet Revolution represented the climax of a decade of peaceful protest centered on human rights, women’s rights, environmentalism, and labor and employment issues—all explicitly non- or minimally political causes. Such activism created a model for advocating and securing tangible compromises from government figures. Small-scale protests also established nonviolence as a credible strategy. By the time Sargsyan announced his intention to become prime minister, there was already a well-known template in place for responding.
That progression mirrors the evolution of Latin America’s democratic transitions in the 1970s and 1980s, which stand out for their grassroots support and for being grounded in broader social issues such as the elimination of literacy requirements for voting, reductions in the voting age, and the removal of other barriers to political participation. Such advocacy saw the electorates of Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador, and Peru expand massively, which helped to consolidate democracy. In Argentina, meanwhile, slow-building protest against the deeply repressive military junta eventually weakened it until it was finally done in by the war with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands.

These cases stand in stark contrast to the post-Soviet color revolutions, which were often sudden and driven by reformist elites, who were themselves usually backed by outside players, most notably the European Union and the United States. Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, for example, included mass protests but really resulted from the loss of faith at the top rather than a push from below. The revolution’s top-down nature allowed one of its leaders, Mikheil Saakashvili, who was quickly elected as president after the protests died down, to strengthen the executive branch of the government with little pushback from largely compliant parliamentary forces. Interelite competitions in the aftermath of the other color revolutions in Serbia and Ukraine produced paralysis within their governments, paving the way for illiberal forces to retake power later on.

The Velvet Revolution’s emphasis on consensus building also had more in common with Latin American revolutions than the color ones. Pashinyan spent his time bargaining both within parliament and the executive branch and among the mass mobilizers in the street. For example, he negotiated with various factions in parliament to hold a vote for the prime ministership as a way to reconcile the preferences of the protesters with parliamentary processes. He has likewise worked with both civil society movements and unaligned parliamentary groups to gain support for holding snap elections.

Such push and pull between the incumbent regime and the democratic opposition was central to many Latin American transitions as well. Government changes in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru all entailed some form of dialogue and, ultimately, a pact between the incoming and outgoing forces. The most notable example here is the 1985 Bolivia Pact for Democracy, which brought the authoritarian government and the leading opposition party together around a series of drastic reforms meant to address mounting economic crises. Another example is Uruguay, when opposition forces were simply incorporated into a coalition government after the 1989 election.

By contrast, during the color revolutions, the power transfer between the incumbent and the reformers tended to be total and often one-sided. Whether in Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution, or Ukraine’s Orange and Euromaidan revolutions, there has been very little in the way of consensus building, with reformers generally pushing their opponents out of government entirely.

There is also something to be said about a revolution unfolding within an existing constitutional order rather than in opposition to it. The Velvet Revolution explicitly and consistently adhered to Armenian constitutional prescriptions for government change. The most dramatic example is that Pashinyan was elected only after hours of questioning by parliament, mostly by the Republican Party, whose leader, Sargsyan, had just been unseated.

Similarly, in Latin America, most of the democratic movements restored previous constitutional orders that were interrupted by military governments. Since the transitions in the 1970s and 1980s, few leaders have sought to change their countries’ constitutions to cement their newfound power. In contrast, after being elected president of Georgia, Saakashvili promptly introduced constitutional amendments that tilted power in favor of the executive branch. Such actions have undermined the revolution and weakened Georgia’s nascent democracy.

In Latin America, democratic revolutions developed slowly, involved outgoing regimes in the transition, and operated within a flawed but formal institutional and constitutional order. Democracy has become relatively more consolidated despite ongoing challenges from the far-right, as in Brazil. In the former Soviet world, where protest was sudden, involved less consensus building, and entirely dismantled the old system, democracy has not been as durable. Indeed, in Georgia, Ukraine, and Serbia, it remains compromised and exceedingly fragile.

It is good for Armenia that the country looks to be following Latin America’s pattern more than that of the former Soviet states.

t is good for Armenia, in other words, that the country looks to be following Latin America’s pattern more than that of the former Soviet states. Like in Latin America, the leaders of Armenia’s Velvet Revolution have already sought to translate successful mass mobilization into sustained civic engagement on less glamorous policy issues, such as tax evasion, legal reform, and business development. The experience of blocking streets with music and dancing, holding boycotts, and negotiating with security forces helped turn participants into stakeholders, and those stakeholders are rallying to take on other unpopular figures, such as the former mayor of Yerevan, Taron Margaryan, who has long been seen as corrupt and incompetent.

Something similar happened in Latin America: Human rights groups in Argentina evolved after the transition and expanded their goals to include transitional justice, human rights education, new legal protections for various minorities, and an end to discrimination. This stands in sharp contrast to revolutions in the post-Soviet world, where a lack of post-revolutionary civil society has precluded sustained engagement, undermined political pluralism, enabled re-emergent authoritarianism, and, in some cases, fostered the rise of right-wing populism. In Georgia, for example, many people who had been in the nonprofit sector joined Saakashvili’s government and became unwilling to criticize the administration. They fell for a classic trap: In their research, Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, the editors of The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes, showed that civic demobilization is one of the most potent threats to democratic consolidation.

Armenia may be on a good path, of course, but it still faces problems. The country’s economy has recovered from a slump during the 2008 global financial crisis, registering a GDP growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2017, the largest increase in the past decade. But the country’s poverty rate remains high—30 percent, by some accounts. Armenia’s private sector also needs reform. As a first step, the current government launched a corruption investigation into government-linked oligarchs.

Another challenge is that the West has been slow to give its support to the new government, appearing to want to wait and see instead. In turn, the government has had to look inward for money, which puts it under pressure to continue working with the same old economic elite. It will be difficult for Pashinyan to continue to pressure local oligarchs to conduct business more transparently even as he relies on them for funding through taxes.

Also complicating things for Armenia is its region, where Russia is resurgent. From the onset of popular demonstrations, Pashinyan proactively engaged regional powers, affirming that the movement was neither pro-West nor pro-Russian but was foremost motivated by domestic political, social, and economic concerns. During the revolution, sustained engagement headed off direct Russian intervention, even as the beleaguered authoritarian elite seemed to be trying to get Russia involved. And on a recent visit to the Caucasus, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton pushed for Armenia to revisit its historic and strategic alliance with Russia and to join the United States in its efforts to isolate Iran, one of the only two countries with which Armenia has an open border.

But Armenia will still have to be cautious. Its democratic transition has altered the regional fabric, at least by creating a small democratic block with neighboring Georgia. Both countries will need to work together, something the experience of Latin America underscores. It was only by coming together that Latin American countries were able to contain the imperialistic impulses of the United States.


By : Anna Ohanyan
Date : November 7, 2018
Source : Foreign Policy

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Want less poverty in the world? Empower women.


A new book explains why gender equality is key to economic prosperity.

The single greatest antidote to poverty and social stagnation is the emancipation of women. Wherever this has been tried, wherever women have been empowered to do as they wish, the economy and the culture have been radically improved.

A new book by Augusto Lopez-Claros, a senior fellow at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, an Iranian writer and novelist, is among the first to comprehensively test this proposition by surveying data from 189 countries. Titled Equality for Women = Prosperity for All, the book shows how gender inequalities — in education, income, law, employment, and wages — lead to instability and chaos at almost every level of society.

I called Lopez-Claros to talk about the links between gender inequality and political instability, how discriminatory laws hold women back, and what we can do to push societies toward more gender equality.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

What happens to a society when women are deprived of their rights?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

One useful starting point to answer your question is to look at how discriminations are embedded in countries around the world — in constitutions, civil codes, family law, tax codes, labor codes, and every legal instrument that you can imagine having an impact on how the law treats women compared to men.

The World Bank did this for 189 countries, accounting for 98 percent of the global economic output, and we discovered that, as you might expect, discriminatory laws lead to highly unequal societies, especially in terms of income and employment and property ownership. They also discourage women from joining the labor force and from engaging in civil society, so you get not only unequal societies but also huge gaps in participation rates — in the job market, in politics, in education — of women relative to men.

This is terrible for social progress and for the economy, but one of the worst things this does is poison the future, because you get fewer women in school relative to boys and the effects of that spill into the next generation, and so you end up in this spiral of poverty and dysfunction that is hard to escape.

Sean Illing

Can you give me a sense of some of the more common forms of discrimination you found?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Access to the labor market is huge. Many occupations are simply forbidden to women precisely because they’re women. In many places, you find that women have to obtain authorization from their husbands to obtain a bank account or even to travel. And then there’s the issue of property rights. Often the law treats women and men fundamentally different in terms of what they’re entitled to and on what basis.

Does the tax system provide benefits to men that it doesn’t provide to women? What about access to credit? In some countries, for instance, the law gives control of household assets to the man, and this very much restricts the ability of women to use the property as collateral to access the financial system.

These are the sorts of things we looked at, and we wanted to know how they impacted the societies in which we found them.

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about that. What is the direct link between gender inequality and political instability?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

The biggest impact of gender inequality is on income inequality. We have data that shows that countries that make it more difficult for women to access the labor market have higher levels of income inequality. And if you think about the intuition behind this, it makes sense. If you’re discriminating against half the population, how can that not worsen income inequality?

Political scientists have long understood how corrosive income inequality can be to political stability. There is pretty clear evidence that democracies with large gaps in income have a much higher probability of breakdown than those with a more egalitarian income distribution. So this gender inequality feeds directly into political instability.

Sean Illing

Does the data show that gender disparities disappear as societies become wealthier? Or that societies become wealthier as gender disparities disappear?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

The data suggests overwhelmingly that gender equalities lead to more wealth and less poverty, and of course, equal access to education is a huge component of that. More education leads to lower birthrates because women have more knowledge about family planning and more opportunities to enter the labor force and earn money.

Lower fertility levels help reduce child mortality, and they expand the range of educational opportunities that are available to the next generation. All of these factors combine to boost economic growth and higher income per capita.

On the other hand, to address the other half of your question, we have several examples of high-income countries, especially in the Middle East, that have very high levels of discrimination against women. So it doesn’t automatically follow that as countries become richer, all of a sudden, gender equality improves.

Sean Illing

When you look around the world, is the gender gap shrinking, however slowly?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

If you look at the whole world, there are something like 30 countries with 10 or more such discriminations embedded in their laws, in their national legislation. And most of these are located in the Middle East and North Africa region and, to a lesser extent, in sub-Saharan Africa.

A couple of years ago, the World Bank did a 50-year comparison of the laws for 100 countries (from 1960 to 2010) to get a sense of the progress made, and they found that there was progress made pretty much everywhere except in the regions I just mentioned above. And in some countries, like Iran, women were actually worse off in 2010 than they had been in 1960.

Sean Illing

And fundamentally this is about a lack of political power, right?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Absolutely. In each case, you find that women have not been politically empowered. That’s what keeps these restrictions in place. The voices of women simply are not heard in many of these countries. The men in these societies have largely appropriated for themselves the making of the rules and the content of the laws. They are the ones who sit in parliamentary committees, who are finance ministers, who are governors, and so on.

Just consider this incredibly revealing statistic: We have nine female heads of government in the world among 193 members of the United Nations. That’s astonishing, and really puts the problem in perspective.

Sean Illing

Part of the solution to this, as you argue in the book, is to establish quotas for women on corporate boards and in parliaments. What’s the case for this policy?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

First of all, quotas are becoming more and more popular. Something like 40 percent of the countries in the world have introduced some kind of quota for women in terms of participation in national parliaments and local government.

There are also attempts underway to increase the participation of women in corporate boards, largely because a number of studies have found a positive correlation between companies with women on their boards and their financial success.

There was actually a very interesting study in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago looking at the gender composition of company boards that showed that companies with greater female participation on their boards were less likely to be hit by corporate governance scandals involving bribery, fraud, and other factors, which can depress business confidence and therefore hinder economic growth.

Now, having said that, there is a lot of very encouraging evidence when you compare countries that have quotas with countries that don’t. Let me give you two or three examples, which I think illustrate this very nicely.

One of them is that those countries that have introduced quotas for women in parliament show higher levels of participation of women in the labor force. So the presence of women in parliament seems to encourage women to strive and to enter the job market, probably because they feel like the playing field is more leveled.

Quotas also seem to have an effect on government spending priorities. A number of studies have shown that where quotas exist, either at the level of parliament or at a lower government level, there is more spending going to social services and the kinds of infrastructures that are more helpful for women — and you can see this across the world.

So there’s a growing body of evidence showing that having greater participation of women is not just a victory for human rights; it’s actually a big boost to the economy.

Sean Illing

Apart from the policies you just laid out, are there other reliable ways to push societies toward more gender equality?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

One of the problems we face is that we have deeply ingrained prejudices that have led many people in many parts of the world to essentially pass on to succeeding generations beliefs about gender roles that are no longer in keeping with empirical evidence or the kind of 21st-century world we live in.

There was a great, interesting book written a couple hundred years ago called A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft, which we quote in the book. She made a very clear and simple point: Women are not inferior, and their apparent lack of accomplishment has nothing to do with intrinsic inferior capacities but has everything to do with lack of opportunity and access.

So it seems to me that one of the challenges we face is how do we change deeply ingrained attitudes and create a more open, tolerant, and just world?

Sean Illing

As you know, there are some people who push back against arguments like yours, and say that different cultures have different values and we should not impose our values on them. What’s your response to this?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Our response to this is simple: Who is speaking for whom in these places where women are being repressed? Is it men or women? Because what you often find is that men have appropriated for themselves the right to speak on behalf of women.

Did anyone in Afghanistan, for example, ask the 11 million Afghan women whether they wanted to be able to work or to send their daughters to school? Or was it the Taliban who imposed this on them?

So basically our argument is about spokesmanship — who speaks on behalf of whom, and what is asserted on the basis of force rather than freely granted popular support. When leaders hold on to power at the cost of the rights and freedoms of others, their legitimacy is most likely to be self-serving and less likely to be freely given. So that’s essentially the argument that we make.

Sean Illing

As you look around the world at this moment, what forces or institutions pose the greatest challenge to the empowerment of women?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

We live in a world in which, at the moment, we have roughly 800 million people who live on less than a $1.90 a day. That’s the poverty line that is used at the World Bank for extreme poverty. We have close to 800 million people who are illiterate, who can’t read and write; in other words, they don’t have access to the most important tool in the 21st century for coming out of poverty. And then we have roughly another 800 million or so children who are malnourished.

Women are overwhelmingly represented in each of these three groups. In most cases, they account for two-thirds of these populations. So there is a huge scope here to allocate scarce resources more efficiently and to improve the quality of governance.

I think there is also a role for international organizations, such as the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank to consider using the great leverage they have, especially in the developing countries where many of these restrictions are located, to press countries to be more proactive in the elimination of these kinds of discriminations, which continually hold women back.

We believe that eliminating these restrictions is actually a win-win for everybody. There is no downside for the international community pressing governments where there are widespread discriminations against women, or ethnic minorities, or religious minorities. This is an unambiguous good for human beings and for the international economy, and we should fight for these changes.



By : Sean Illing
Date : November 5, 2018
Spurce “ Vox

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment
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