By William Easterly
Social Research, Vol. 77, No. 4, pp. 1075-1104
The Development Establishment today tolerates a shocking double standard on democracy for the rich versus democracy for the poor. Despite both the moral and pragmatic argument for democratic rights for all, development policy discussions give little emphasis to rights for the poor. Worse, influential Western policymakers and thought leaders sing praises of autocrats such as Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who has strong record of repressing minority groups and political opponents.
Democratic accountability is important to governance, and fundamental in promoting development. To begin with the obvious Civics 101 view, accountability is a crucial mechanism to ensure that government does good and not ill to those affected by its actions. Under democracy, citizens can use many mechanisms — such as voting, popular protests, and spoken and written criticisms — to penalize governments that are harming individuals (even if it is only a minority of individuals).
The same mechanisms reward political actors that do good by, for example, supplying public goods. When such mechanisms work, the government is accountable to its citizens. The opposite of accountability is impunity — the government can do whatever it wants to its citizens without consequences.