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Too Much Democracy in Kuwait?

The logic in a New York Times article that discusses concerns by Kuwaitis before Parliamentary elections that they are falling behind their neighbors economically because of their (limited, but growing) democratic institutions seems a bit off. Blaming a democratic political system for economic problems (slow growth , high unemployment, etc.) is unfortunately quite common in new or transitioning democracies. Before any election in any part of the world, the economy is often a leading, if not the top issue on voters minds. The article raises interesting and still unsettled questions about causation versus correlation between healthy democracies and strong market economies. The two go together, but are not necessarily caused by one another. Seymour Martin Lipset was one of the first to argue that wealth was a precondition for democracy. Samuel Huntington observed that poverty was probably the principal obstacle to increased democratization. But, there is a mutually reinforcing effect of a strong middle class on democracy. Look at the world richest countries and you will also find the strongest democracies–except in the oil-rich Gulf states like Kuwait. Huntington and others have argued that this democratic deficit in the Middle East is because autocrats there have been able to give citizens state-financed public goods–schools, healthcare, etc., all with low or no taxes–in return for limited political freedom. In Kuwait,the question really should be why when oil is hovering around $120/barrel, how in the world is it managing it’s economy so poorly. That sounds like poor governance and inept management of the economy, not too much democracy. Kuwaitis are among the few in the region who actually have the ability to vote out those they think are managing the economy poorly and replace them with those they believe can do a better job. If it was more of a dictatorship, the opportunity to debate the issue at all would not even be possible. It is easy to understand frustration with poor economic performance, but a bit of a stretch to blame it on democracy.

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One Response to “Too Much Democracy in Kuwait?”

  1. Peering from behind the curtain | Antony Loewenstein Says:

    […] democracy deficit in […]