Filipinos must be wary of those who proclaim that democracy is bad for the country and of those who insist that we adopt the authoritarianism or totalitarianism of other countries.
Were they honest, these individuals would say that power should only be in their hands, their foreign-minded friends, or only those that agree with them because they believe most of their fellow Filipinos are banal.
Well, yes, there are cheap and banal people — but it’s not the Filipino.
Those against democratic rule equate problems of governance with democracy itself. But to say that democracy is bad and must be gotten rid of because of problems is as inane as saying families must be discarded because of problems.
Democracy is not perfect. Nobody ever said it is. But it’s still the best form of governance when compared to the alternatives.
A word regarding meaning: The Philippines, of course, is not a democracy. At least, not in the pure sense. We are a republic. Or as the Constitution says, “a democratic and republican State.”
The US, the country that we patterned our political system after, is a republic. But let’s set aside the technical differences and focus on this, at least for this article: a democracy is where people, directly or through their elected representatives, choose their political leaders. Any government where the people cannot choose, criticize, and replace their leaders is not a democracy.
Necessarily, to be a democracy, people must be free to exercise their beliefs, to speak, and to organize. They must also be free to decide on their own their objectives, to decide how to achieve them, and to choose the government officials that can help achieve such objectives.
DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMIC PROGRESS
The cheap hit against democracy is that it is messy and that it does not lead to economic prosperity, especially for poor developing countries. Which is a lie.
MIT economist Daron Acemoğlu, along with his co-authors (“Democracy Does Cause Growth,” NBER Working Paper No. 20004, 2014), found from a study of several countries between the years 1960 and 2010 that democracy has a robust and sizable effect on economic growth: “Central estimates suggest that a country that switches from non-democracy to democracy achieves about 20 percent higher GDP per capita in the long run (over roughly the next 30 years). These are large but not implausible effects, and suggest that the global rise in democracy over the past 50 years (of over 30 percentage points) has yielded roughly 6 percent higher world GDP.”
What about the myth that dictatorships or authoritarianism is best for developing countries?
Acemoğlu replies: “Is there any evidence that democracy is only good for already developed economies? The answer is no. Though we do find that democratizations are associated with larger increases in GDP per capita in countries with higher levels of secondary schooling, there is no evidence that democracy is bad for economic growth in low income economies or even in economies with low levels of schooling.” (See also “Democracy and Economic Growth: New Evidence,” 2018 by Acemoğlu, Naidu, Robinson, and Restrepo.)
MIT’s Peter Dizikes, analyzing the report, pointed out the reason democracy has been mistakenly perceived as related to low economic progress: Acemoğlu and his team “found that countries that have democratized within the last 60 years have generally done so not at random moments, but at times of economic distress. That sheds light on the growth trajectories of democracies: They start off slowly while trying to rebound from economic misery.”
Thus, “dictatorships collapse when they’re having economic problems,” Acemoğlu says. “But now think about what that implies. It implies that you have a deep recession just before democratization, and you’re still going to have low GDP per capita for several years thereafter, because you’re trying to recover from this deep dive. So you’re going to see several years of low GDP during democracy.”
Thus, “when that larger history is accounted for,” Acemoğlu says, “What we find is that [economies of democracies] slowly start picking up. So, in five or six years’ time they’re not appreciably richer than nondemocracies, but in a 10-to-15-year time horizon they become a little bit richer, and then by the end of 25 years, they are about 20 percent richer.”
One, however, need only look at current events to see this: politically messy and chaotic US under President Donald Trump is seeing unprecedented successes: from an unemployment rate at a 50-year low, six million new jobs in a 2½-year period, increased employee compensation and savings, and a high 71% consumer confidence.
Contrast that with China’s faltering economy, “the slowest pace in 27 years,” “6.2% in the second quarter of 2019, a drop from 6.4% in the first quarter, according to data released by the Chinese government,” representing the “slowest since 1992.” (See “China’s Economy Falters; Slowest Growth In Nearly 3 Decades,” Sasha Ingber, 2019).
VALUING THE HUMAN BEING
But not everything is about money. More important is the idea of human rights, human dignity, and freedom.
As Ben Shapiro notes, the political system we adopted from the West has positives unique to it. Thus, “religious tolerance, abolition of slavery, universal human rights, the development of the scientific method: these are accomplishments of a scope and scale that only the West can claim.
“These aren’t the only achievements that make the West special and uniquely successful. As Western thought evolved, it secured the rights of women and minorities, lifted billions of people out of poverty, and invented most of the modern world.
“Progress hasn’t been a straight line, of course. But the arc of history is clear. The obvious proof is that the world is overwhelmingly Western. And, with few exceptions, those parts of the world that aren’t aspire to be.”
And that much is true.
In a 2018 Gallup World Poll survey, the top five most favored migrant destinations remain to be all democratic countries: Canada, Germany, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, with the US consistently at number one.
In a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Project report, Filipinos have an 85% favorable view of the US. A 2019 Pulse Asia survey found that 89% of Filipinos trust the US, while only 26% of Filipinos trust China.
Even more interestingly, the Chinese themselves are beginning to welcome American democratic ideals, with the aforementioned 2018 Gallup World Poll survey showing an increase of “52%, from 48% in 2007” and the decrease of Chinese rejecting American democratic thought even “more dramatic, down to 29% from 36% in 2007” (see also “Survey: Half of Chinese like U.S. ideas on democracy,” USA Today, 2012).
The Philippines, humble it may be, nevertheless is a society that utterly values the individual human being, of fundamental rights like freedom of religion, of expression and media; and recognizes the intrinsic value of marriage, family, and children.
Compare that with a China whose citizens are getting married less and divorced more (at rates of increase worryingly higher than other countries; see “Marriage rate down, divorce rate up as more,” Viola Zhou, Sept. 2017; also “The Rising Chinese Divorce Rate,” 2019, ThoughtCo.), a plummeting birth rate (with 2018 producing the fewest babies since 1961; see “China’s birth rate falls again,” Sidney Leng, 2019), a suicide rate that “accounts for over one-quarter of suicides worldwide” (see World Population Review 2019), and an abortion rate of 9 million annually (or 24,648 babies aborted per day).
Consider as well Singapore, another country touted as one the Philippines should look up to: a city-state of stifling expression, assembly, and association laws, ruled basically by a single party. And their citizens gave up their freedoms for what?
Admittedly, Singapore is one of the most economically developed countries around but at what human cost? An income inequality higher than South Korea and Japan, with one out of four marriages ending in divorce, average marriages ending after 10 years, with over 50,000 children coming from a broken marriage, with suicide the leading cause of death for those between 10 and 29 years old.
NOT PERFECT BUT STILL BETTER THAN OTHERS
Indeed, there are many different forms of democracies and the US system we inherited is but one of them. But for all its flaws, it also happens to be the longest continually operating constitutional system in existence today presiding over the world’s largest economy.
Our democracy has been criticized for being a “sham,” a “shell.” That may be and there may be some truth in it but — as we have seen — ours still is a better society and better because of it.
We live in a county where individual dignity and self-respect is realized by us governing and ruling ourselves. Not by a few technocrats or foreigners. And — more importantly — when we say ourselves, we mean to include our elderly and those that went before them and the babies that have just been conceived and those still yet to come.
People complain about Philippine democracy (and our adherence to the rule of law) because it’s messy and slow. Here’s a shocker: it’s supposed to be messy and slow! The system is designed to protect us not only from the dictates of a few but also from our passing passions and the temptation of quick fixes.
It encourages people to study, debate, and ponder, and eventually come up with a deliberate solution for the common good because of the (wise) assumption that the government does not and cannot know and solve everything.
We have in us a great constitutional system. We just need to trust it so we can actually start implementing it.
Winston Churchill once said: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”
And from anonymous: democracy may give every fool an equal vote as to who governs but in other political systems it’s the fool that governs.
Because that other way leads to genocide, inhumanity, soulless commercialism, loss of rights.
People should stop talking about getting rid of democracy. It does the country no good. The alternative many are suggesting is rule by a cabal and by foreigners.
Instead, lets value, cherish, and protect our democratic system built on human rights and the rule of law. And work together to make it even better.
H. L. Mencken is right: The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy. n a
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.