Environment Development

Contradicting Developments

On Monday 6 February the ISN examined three different ways of thinking about development. High up on the international agenda are both human development and sustainable development. That makes sense. After all, those of us who are lucky enough to lead healthy and fulfilling lives still make up a minority of the world’s population. Too many people are trapped in conflict zones, live in fear of oppression, or do not even get a basic education. At the same time, climate change, resource depletion and environmental pollution have become serious security issues, and many would agree that effective measures to counter a number of worrying ecological trends need be implemented sooner rather than later.

But just how sustainable is human development? Well, as the following chart illustrates, until now it has not been sustainable at all. The chart plots countries’ HDI scores against their ecological footprint. The HDI score measures human development. The ecological footprint, which was explained in more detail in yesterday’s blog, tells us how many planets would be required if every person in the world wanted to have the same lifestyle as the average citizen in a given country:

Government Human Rights Economy

Europe’s Eroding Democracies

Window to democracy? Photo: mr.beutel/flickr

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy index 2011, democracy throughout the world has once again come under stress in 2011. If the EIU has got it right, 48 countries have become less democratic, compared to 41 that were able to increase their democracy score. This might come as a surprise to those who expected a rather different outcome due to the effect which Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites supposedly have on freedom of expression – but that is another story.

There were, of course, regional differences in this wider downward trend. It is just that this time around, some of the regions that were best known for their democratic underperformance and stagnation have become more democratic while “taken-for-granted” democracies have started to backslide in recent years.

The encouraging news is that the waves of protest that rocked the Arab world in 2011 seem to have had a positive effect on democracy, at least in some countries. Tunisia in particular, the country with the highest increase in its democracy score in 2011, changed its regime type from ‘authoritarian’ to ‘hybrid’ (the EIU report distinguishes four types of political regime: ‘full democracies’, ‘flawed democracies’, ‘hybrid regimes’ and ‘authoritarian regimes’). While uprisings are still ongoing in other countries of the MENA region, and while the path to democracy remains a stony one, there nevertheless is further potential for more democratic change in the months and years ahead. Many Sub-Saharan African countries have also scored higher on the latest EIU democracy index than in the previous year.

Uncategorized Government History

Grzegorz Ekiert on the Insignificance of Communist Legacies

Soviet Union Administrative Divisions 1989. Map: Wikimedia

Grzegorz Ekiert from Harvard University visited the CSS on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 and held a seminar on the question: “Do communist legacies matter?”  In short, Mr. Ekiert’s answer was “not very much.” But this was not his main point. Instead, he focused on what this means for conventional approaches to understanding the social world.

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, many political scientists thought that formerly communist countries would have a bumpy road ahead with respect to democratization. After all, the communist system had infringed on most features of people’s lives. For outsiders at least, this made it hard to believe that several decades of communist rule had not changed the respective societies profoundly. As we now know, however, many Central and Eastern European countries, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania democratized relatively painlessly and joined the European Union within a few years. In some places, transitions to democracy went so smoothly, and communist legacies seem to have mattered so little, that a number of analysts have started to question whether it still makes sense to focus on these legacies.

One of these thinkers is Mr Ekiert. He argues that previous approaches to explaining post-communist transitions have failed, and that it is time to look for alternatives. That was why he began to think about the relationship between continuity and change in history. Is it possible, he asks, that political scientists have, in recent decades, too narrowly focused on change at the expense of continuity? Could it be  that there are “deep historical continuities” at work – continuities so powerful and long-lasting that the conventional frameworks of political science fail to explain them?

International Relations Government History

Jack Goldstone on Theories of Revolution and the Arab Revolutions of 2011

The game is over for Mr Mubarak and Mr Ben Ali. Photo: Wassim Ben Rhouma/flickr
On Thursday 10 November Ralph Stamm and I attended a CIS lecture by Jack A Goldstone, the Virginia E and John T Hazel Jr Professor at the George Mason School of Public Policy. Mr Goldstone has done extensive research on revolutions and social movements and has closely followed the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, which were at the center of his talk “Not 1848, Not 1989: Theories of Revolution and the Arab Revolutions of 2011.”
As the title suggests, Goldstone’s talk compared the revolutions of 1848, 1989, and 2011. At the outset, he gave his view of the likely outcome of the revolutionary processes in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which he identified as the clearest cases of genuinely revolutionary uprisings in 2011. While initially many people dreamed of creating perfectly functioning democracies and quite a few still fear the rise and dominance of radical Islamist movements, Mr Goldstone expects a middle ground: what he called “troubled democratic outcomes” in both countries.
He then compared the revolutionary periods of 1848 and 1989. In both of these cases, revolutions broke out in several countries in quick succession. While the uprisings were similar in many respects – in terms of mobilization tactics, for example – the outcomes differed. Why was this? Because revolutions never take place in a void: their social, political and economic context matters. In different contexts, we are likely to see different outcomes.