Today’s Debates in International Development

Democracy Works: Alternative Voices from the South

Ann Bernstein
Presentation by
Ann Bernstein heads the Centre for Development and Enterprise, South Africa.  CDE is regarded by many including the London Financial Times as the country’s leading policy centre for social and economic …

In 2014, the United Nations acknowledged that “study after study show declining faith among young people…with declining levels of participation” in democracy.  Compounding this declining faith in democracy is a rising ideological competitor in the form of economically successful authoritarian regimes.

As much as young people are recognized as dreamers and agents of change, these characterizations tend to be the result of youth wanting to see an improvement in their quality of life.  In emerging countries such improvements are often delivered through economic growth, and in cases such as China and Singapore youth populations can honestly say their standard of living has gotten better year after year.  These examples can lead youth to become disillusioned with democracy.

Quality of life, however, is not measurable only in terms of indicators such as income levels, consumption, and GDP — though almost all of the world’s most prosperous countries are democracies.  Other, arguably more important aspects such as human rights, liberty, and freedom are also vital components.