CBSE 10 Polity Chapter 5 Outcomes of Democracy Notes

Chapter 5 – Outcomes of Democracy

How do we assess democracy’s outcomes?

Democracy is a better form of government when compared with dictatorship or any other alternative. We felt that democracy was better because it:

  • Promotes equality among citizens;
  • Enhances the dignity of the individual;
  • Improves the quality of decision-making; 
  • Provides a method to resolve conflicts; and
  • Allows room to correct mistakes.

We face a dilemma by practicing democracy: democracy is seen to be good in principle but felt to be not so good in its practice. This dilemma invites us to think hard about the outcomes of democracy.

In today’s world, many countries are claiming and practicing some kind of democratic politics: they have formal constitutions, they hold elections, they have parties and they guarantee the rights of citizens. While these features of democracies are very much different from each other in terms of their social situations, their economic achievements, and their cultures.

Our democratic interest gives us a position to address all socioeconomic and political problems. Sometimes people blame democracy for not meeting their expectations. It is difficult to understand the form of government. It can only create conditions for achieving something. The citizens have to take advantage of those conditions and achieve those goals.

Let us examine some of the things we can reasonably expect from democracy and examine the record of democracy.

Accountable, responsive, and legitimate government

In a democracy, people have the right to choose their rulers and they are able to participate in making decisions. Therefore, the most basic outcome of democracy for government is accountable to the citizens and responsive to the needs and expectations of the citizens.

we face another common question: Is the democratic government efficient?

Some people think that democracy produces less effective government. Non-democratic rulers make very quick decisions because they do not have to bother about deliberation in assemblies or worry about majorities and public opinion. Democracy takes time to make any decision because they have to negotiate.

Does that make democratic government inefficient?

Let us think in terms of costs. Imagine a government making decisions very fast but not accepted by the people. In contrast, the democratic government will take time to make decisions at followed procedures and decisions may be more acceptable and effective. Then the cost of time that democracy pays is perhaps worth it.

Now look at the other side – democratic decisions will be based on norms and procedures. So, the citizen can get their information through procedures. She has the right to know about the decision. This is known as transparency. This factor is missing from a non-democratic government.

Therefore, it is right to expect democracy to produce a government that follows procedures and is accountable to the people. The democratic government develops mechanisms for citizens to hold the government accountable and mechanisms for citizens to take part in making decisions.

If you wanted to measure democracies based on expected outcomes. You can practices regular, free, and fair elections, open public debate on major policies and legislations, and citizens’ right to information about the government and its functioning.

Democracies succeed in setting up regular and free elections and open public debate. But they fail in providing a fair chance in elections and public debate. Democratic governments do not share information with citizens.

In substantive terms, citizens expect to be attentive to the needs and demands for free corruption in democratic government. But they failed on these two counts. Democracies often ignore the needs of the people and the demands of the majority of their population.

The routine tales of corruption are enough to convince us that democracy is not free of this evil. At the same time, there is nothing to show that non-democracies are less corrupt or more sensitive to the people.

A democratic government is better than its alternatives because a democratic government is a legitimate government. It may be slow, less efficient, and not always very responsive or clean. But a democratic government is the people’s government. That is why, there is overwhelming support for the idea of democracy all over the world.

As the accompanying evidence from South Asia shows, support exists in countries with democratic regimes and non-democratic regimes. Democracy’s ability to generate its support because people want to be ruled by representatives who are elected by them.

Economic growth and development

While democracies are expected to produce good governments, then is it not fair to expect that they would also produce development? Evidence shows that in practice, many democracies did not fulfil this expectation.

If you consider all democracies and all dictatorships for the fifty years between 1950 and 2000, dictatorships have slightly higher rates of economic growth. Economic development is not the only reason to reject democracy. Economic development depends on several factors including the country’s population, global situation, cooperation from other countries,  and economic priorities adopted by the country, etc.

Democracy cannot give a guarantee of economic development. But we can expect democracy not to lag behind dictatorships in this respect. Democracy has several positive outcomes.

Economic outcomes of democracy

Arguments about democracy tend to be very passionate because democracy appeals should be deep values. These debates cannot be resolved simply. But some debates about democracy can be resolved by referring to some facts and figures. The debate about the economic outcomes of democracy is one such debate. Over the years, many students of democracy have gathered careful evidence to see the relationship of democracy with economic growth and economic inequalities.

The tables and the cartoon here present some of the evidence:

  • Table 1 shows that on average dictatorial regimes have a slightly better record of economic growth. But when we compare their record only in poor countries, there is virtually no difference.
  • Table 2 shows that within democracies there can be a very high degree of inequalities. In democratic countries like South Africa and Brazil, the top 20 percent of people take away more than 60 percent of the national income, leaving less than 3 percent for the bottom 20 percent population. Countries like Denmark and Hungary are much better in this respect.
  • You can see in the cartoon, there is often inequality of opportunities available to the poorer sections.

Table 1

Rates of economic growth for different countries, 1950 – 2000

Type of regimes and countriesGrowth Rate
 All democratic regimes3.95
All dictatorial regimes4.42
Poor countries under dictatorship4.34
Poor countries under democracy4.28

Table 2

 % share ofNational income
Name of the CountriesTop 20%Bottom 20%
South Africa64.82.9
United Kingdom45.06.0

Reduction of inequality and poverty

Perhaps more than development, it is reasonable to expect democracies to reduce economic disparities. Even when a country achieves economic growth, will wealth be distributed in such a way that all citizens of the country will have a share and lead a better life? Is economic growth in democracies accompanied by increased inequalities among the people? Or do democracies lead to a just distribution of goods and opportunities?

Democracies are based on political equality. All individuals have equal rights in elections. Economic inequalities grow when individuals come into the political arena on equal feet. A small number of ultra-rich enjoy a highly disproportionate share of wealth and incomes and their share in the total income of the country has been increasing. Those at the bottom of society have very little to depend upon and their incomes have been declining. Sometimes they face difficulty to meet their basic needs of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education, and health.

In actual life, democracies do not appear to be very successful in reducing economic inequalities. We have already studied poverty in India. The poor constitute a large proportion of our voters and no party will like to lose their votes. Yet democratically elected governments do not appear to be as keen to address the question of poverty as you would expect them to. The situation is much worse in some other countries. In Bangladesh, more than half of its population lives in poverty. People in several poor countries are now dependent on the rich countries even for food supplies.

Accommodation of social diversity

Do democracies lead to peaceful and harmonious life among citizens? It will be a fair expectation that democracy should produce a harmonious social life.

Democracies usually develop a procedure to conduct their competition. This reduces the possibility of these tensions becoming explosive or violent.

Society cannot resolve conflicts among different groups. But we can evolve mechanisms to negotiate the differences. Democracy is best suited to produce this outcome. Non-democratic regimes ignore or suppress internal social differences. democracy regimes can handle social differences, divisions, and conflict. But the example of Sri Lanka reminds us that democracy must fulfill two conditions to achieve this outcome: 

  • It is necessary to understand that democracy is not simply ruled by majority opinion. The majority always needs to work with the minority to give the general view. Majority and minority opinions are not permanent.
  • It is also necessary that rule by the majority does not become rule by the majority community in terms of religion or race or linguistic group, etc. Rule by majority means that in the case of every decision or the case of every election, different persons and groups may and can form a majority. Democracy remains democracy only as long as every citizen has a chance of being in the majority at some point in time. If someone is barred from being in the majority based on birth, then the democratic rule ceases to be accommodative for that person or group.

Dignity and freedom of the citizens

Democracy stands much superior to any other form of government in promoting the dignity and freedom of the individual. Conflicts arise among individuals when they do not receive respect from fellows. The passion for respect and freedom is the basis of democracy. In the world, Democracies have been recognised in principle, and some democracies in various degrees. Based on subordination and domination, it is not a simple matter to recognise that all individuals are equal.

Take the case of the dignity of women. Most societies across the world were historically male-dominated societies. After long struggles, women get equal treatment in a democratic society but still, they are not treated with respect. But once the principle is recognised then women get a chance legally and morally.

In a non-democratic, the principle of individual freedom and dignity would not have the legal and moral force in women’s unacceptability. The same is true of caste inequalities.

Democracy in India has strengthened the claims of the disadvantaged and discriminated castes for equal status and equal opportunity but there are still caste-based inequalities and atrocities.

Expectations from democracy also function as the criteria for judging any democratic country. What is most distinctive about democracy is that its examination never gets over.

As democracy passes one test, it produces another test. As people get some benefits of democracy, they ask for more and want to make democracy even better. That is why, people expect more from democracy and have many complaints. The fact that people are complaining is itself a testimony to the success of democracy, it shows that people have developed awareness and the ability to expect and to look critically at power holders and the high and the mighty.

A public expression of dissatisfaction with democracy shows the success of the democratic project: it transforms people from the status of a subject into that of a citizen. Most individuals today believe that their vote makes a difference in the way the government is run and in their self-interest.

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