In The Future of Freedom, what is the relationship between economic growth and democratization?

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Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom appeared in 2003. It examines democracy and the factors that lead to it. He argues that economic growth is a prerequisite for democracy. However, economic growth does not guarantee that democracy will flourish.

Zakaria argues that capitalism destroyed the older systems of feudalism...

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Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom appeared in 2003. It examines democracy and the factors that lead to it. He argues that economic growth is a prerequisite for democracy. However, economic growth does not guarantee that democracy will flourish.

Zakaria argues that capitalism destroyed the older systems of feudalism and monarchism. Businessmen emerged as the dominant force in society. It happened first in England as entrepreneurial success often led to political power. In England, the gentry became the dominant political class by the nineteenth century, and three prominent prime ministers came from their ranks.

In America, the road to liberal democracy was ultimately easier than that of England. There were no well-entrenched nobles in the U.S. There was no feudal past. In a sense, the country had a natural middle class.

Although England and America led the world in economic change, liberal democracy came late to both countries. Zakaria argues that neither was a true democracy until the mid-twentieth century.

"But the political system has never been as dysfunctional," Zakaria writes about the U.S. as it enters the twenty-first century. In view of the events that occurred since the book's publication, many of the views expressed in the book need to be updated. The collapse of the West's economic system in 2008, the rise of Donald Trump, Brexit, and other events have reshaped the modern world.

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Another aspect of Zakaria’s analysis worth mentioning is that he does not exclude the possibility of democracies being formed in countries where economic growth is weak or where free market precepts have not been implemented. He refers to these states as “illiberal democracies,” but he argues that they will prove to be less sustainable than democratic societies based on a growth-oriented market economy. Illiberal democracies combine democratic features, like elections, with authoritarian structures, a denial of personal freedoms, and the use of autarchic economic policies. A good example of this under current conditions could be Russia, or even Iran. In an article for the journal Foreign Affairs entitled “The rise of illiberal democracy,” Zakaria dealt with this idea, writing, “Democratically elected regimes, often ones that have been reelected or reaffirmed through referenda, are routinely ignoring constitutional limits on their power and depriving their citizens of basic rights and freedoms.” In his view, the most successful democracies—that is, countries most successful in implementing a Western-style liberal democracy—were ones which had enjoyed high levels of growth and higher rates of income, such as Chile in Latin America or South Korea in Asia. So in the traditional, Western idea of “liberal democracy,” it is true to say that an open economy with steady growth rates precedes the establishment of democratic institutions. But the other side of Zakaria’s argument is that an increasing number of states around the world are deviating from this path. Hence his use of the term “illiberal democracy.”

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As presented by Zakaria, the relationship between economic growth and democratization is that economic growth, under a stable government, allows for the democratization of society and governmental authority (democratization is distinguished from liberty, which is social and political freedoms constitutionally enumerated and protected). A growing and stable economy precedes a democratized society and government. 

Contemporary global economy is now largely democratized--the mass majority opinion has power over the elitist opinion--which represents a new economic force in world history.

Over the last half-century economic growth has enriched hundreds of millions in the industrial world, turning consumption, saving, and investing into a mass phenomenon.

Democratized economy has forced social structures to adapt to accommodate economic changes. "[E]conomic power ... has been shifting downward" from the economic elite to the democratized "many that are the middle class." The investment power wielded by workers' pension funds overshadow the "assets of the most exclusive investment group," which are "dwarfed" by the growing economic power of middle class investment sources.

The democratization of governments (illustrated by majority referendum votes overriding or subverting established law) results in "sapping" government by diluting its authority and by overriding the controls put in place to safeguard liberty. That this occurs, asserts Zakaria, is proven by the increase of globally extensive illegal movements of "people, drugs, money, and weapons ... [because] fueled by broad technological, social, and economic changes." The consequence is the intensifying tension between "the forces that drive democratization of authority" and state authority that governs.

Zakaria distinguishes between democracy and liberty. Democracy is rule by majority opinion (which Jefferson opposed, preferring elite representatives), while liberty is freedom to live according to social and political power constitutionally defined and constitutionally extended without prejudice.

[Hirsch, Kett, Trefil, The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.]

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