Are authoritarian governments an impediment to growth?

Opinion Articles

It's effective participation in policymaking that matters
 
Ricardo Hausmann our guest wrote on Aug 13th 2010, 14:39 GMT​
 

YES, but we need to be clear about political terms. 

What is relevant for growth is the capacity of a political system to identify problems and opporrunities for productive public action and act on them. A goverrnment involves hundreds of thousands of pages of legislation and hundreds of government agencies. Editing, amending and expanding the legal norms and adapting the actions of the myriad of public entities so that problems are addressed and opportunities are seized requires a lot of information that is dispersed throughout society. The bandwidth with which government is able to interact with society is key.

Let us contrast the US with Venezuela. Both countries hold regular elections and one may be tempted to call them both democracies. However, it is clear that Venezuela is much more authoritarian than it is democratic. 

In the US, there are 100 senators and 435 members of congress. Each senator is given an allotment of 40 staffers and each congressman gets 25 staffers. There are over 210 committess and sub-committees on Capitol Hill with over 1,000 additional staffers. This involves overe 16,000 individuals. At the same time there are over 22,000 registered lobbying groups that encompass all sorts of interests, from those that want to save the whales to those that want to eat them. What emerges from this process is messy, but involves the aggregation of many perspectives and interests.

In Venezuela, parliament regularly delegates on the president the power to legislate and laws are prepared in secrecy and approved without public discussion. Society is actively discouraged from participating in the policy process. The system delivers decisive but destructive decisionmaking. 

So, the bottom line is that the problem is not about elections but about effective and open participation in the policy process.

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