Archive for April, 2015

Why Institutions Matter: Insights from Ronald Coase

Mary Shirley

Noble laureate Ronald Coase was instrumental in exploring the effect transaction costs and property rights exerted on the structure and functioning of the economy as well as the influence of formal and informal institutions.  Coase maintained that economists should study real markets rather than theoretical ones and that economic theories should be the basis for empirical work, which would in turn lead to a re-evaluation of those theories.  By basing research and analysis on real world examples instead of relying on “blackboard economics,” economists could produce a range of alternative solutions to problems that would maximize the overall economic benefit.

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Democracy Works: Alternative Voices from the South

Ann Bernstein

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.

How Can Democracy Deliver?

Robin Sitoula

Although democracy today is widely recognized as the best available form of government, in many nominally democratic countries it still has not taken root and has not been implemented in its full form. This happens because democracy is commonly equated with elections, yet even free and fair elections do not automatically mean that other equally important aspects of democracy are in place. They include the rule of law, transparent decision-making, accountability of public officials, and basic fairness of the system. But apart from political rights and civil liberties, democracy also requires economic freedom in order to thrive and live up to the expectations of its people. Without markets that provide jobs and create prosperity, democracy cannot deliver the standard of living and the level of economic opportunity that citizens want.


Independent Media, Access to Information, & Accountability

Tasneem Ahmar

Democratic governance hinges on the general public’s access to information. The rights of free speech and free press should enable uninhibited and uncensored flows of information. In addition, “sunshine” laws should mandate greater transparency in how governments operate. Useful access, however, requires more than the disclosure of raw data; it requires explanation and interpretation. Reliable intermediaries such as independent think tanks, associations, researchers, writers, and above all the media are called upon to provide such analysis. Media, or the so-called “fourth estate,” refers to newspapers and periodicals in print as well as news and public affairs programs on radio and television, and, more recently, blogs and other online information and opinion sources. When independent from government and other undue influence, media constitute a critical component of a working democracy.