Is Every Democracy in a Hard Place?
Democracies around the world face many threats. Some are new while others are old. Sometimes the threats reflect changing circumstances. However, others involve problems that have compounded over generations. Economic inequality, severe polarization, and poor governance threaten American democracy. Europe faces ongoing issues surrounding economic and political integration compounded by rising nationalism. Even Japan faces new stresses after the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe. Nonetheless, democracies in hard places face even greater challenges. Moreover, the very idea of democracy is genuinely part of the debate.
Tomorrow’s episode features Scott Mainwaring. He argues Argentina was a very hard place for democracy in its early years. It had three different economic crises where per capita GDP declined 20%. Inflation in Argentina was over 3000% in 1989. Over time inflation declined to more manageable levels. However, it began to spike again around 2012. At this time inflation is at 58% in Argentina. It’s unimaginable when we consider how 8% inflation in the United States has sparked so much frustration with the economy. Of course, economic uncertainty led to political instability. In a two week time frame beginning on December 20, 2001 Argentina had five different presidents.
Despite all the economic and political challenges Argentina has preserved its democratic form of government. Other countries throughout this series have done the same through daunting challenges. Certainly, some of the countries are more democratic than others. Moreover, many of the countries continue to face democratic setbacks. Indeed, Benin is arguably no longer a democracy at all. Nonetheless, they offer examples where it is possible to preserve democratic governance under challenging circumstances. They offer inspiration for moments where democracy seems impossible. Americans often believe they can teach others about democracy. But I find it’s democracies in hard places who have the most to teach us.