Evelyne Huber, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and John D. Stephens
The paradoxes of contemporary democracy
Formal, participatory, and social dimensions
Formal democracy as promoting participatory democracy, but this seem not to be the
case in Latin America or eastern Europe.
Formal democracy is defined as a political system that combines four features:
regular free and fair elections, universal suffrage, accountability of the state’s
administrative organs to the elected representatives, and effective guarantees for
freedom of expression and association as well as protection against arbitrary state
action. Formal democracy, however, does not entail an equal distribution of political
power. Participatory democracy consists of these four features plus high levels of
participation. Social democracy will consist of these five features plus equality in
social and economic outcomes.
Formal democracy can support advances toward social democracy where higher
levels of political mobilisation support reformist political movements and social
democratic policies. Egalitarian social policies in turn enable more citizens to
participate in the political process and thus contribute to the consolidation and
deepening of democracy. But formal democracy might also remain formal. Another
possibility is the turn towards a demobilisation and a “delegative democracy” that
sharply reduces the accountability of the government.
On the conditions of formal democracy
Democracy is a matter of power sharing and they focus on three clusters of power as
shaping the conditions for democratisation.
1. The balance of class power
2. The structure of the state and state-society relations
3. Transnational structures of power are grounded in the international economy
and the systems of states.
These power clusters are seen as important to maintain formal democracy but also
critical in deepening formal democracy toward more fully participatory democracy
and advancing toward social and economic equality.
On the conditions of participatory and social democracy
The focus here is on political participation in a broad sense, including not only voting
but also all forms of relevant political mobilisation as well as citizens demands into
the political process. Determinants for participatory and social democracy are tightly
tied to class power relations. The social democratic policy pattern is not limited to
social policy. It includes the outcomes of bargaining between employers of unions.
Different studies have shown that SD has not come on the expense of economic
growth, and shows strong links between different factors as workers right,
unemployment, wage policy, etc. and SD. The relation between state and civil
society is another factor that is pointed out. Given the close links between
organisation and participation in the political process, the density of civil society and
the degree of civil mobilisation and participation will be different in different societies.
Subordinate class power is primarily a consequence of class organisation, so it
varies with the density of the civil society. The autonomy as well as the instrumental
capacity of the state is critically important for advances toward social democracy.
Any policy-based advance toward social democracy requires significant instrumental
state capacity: the greater the state’s capacity to implement policies effectively, the
greater the degree to which citizens’ mobilisation and participation will translate into
influences on social outcomes. Both the state relations to class and civil society
points to the same factors for formal and social democracy. Looking at the relation to
transnational structures of power, there are different trajectories. The
internationalisation of financial markets has eliminated some of the supply side tools,
which were central to social democracy’s economic model. Institutions like the WB,
IMF and the US have promoted the neoliberal model to the extend that it has closed
off considerations of alternative social democratic policy and, by closing these
alternatives, has made popular mobilisation and participation less meaningful.
Determinants of formal democracy in contemporary Latin America
o Transitional phase vs. consolidation phase
Conditions that are favourable for transition may not necessarily be equally
favourable for consolidation. The fragmentations of the state apparatus that enabled
the transition to formal economies became an obstacle in the consolidation phase. In
practice, many new formal democracies has continued to be formal and not achieved
the full consolidation in functioning democratic rules and institutions. In addition they
tend to lack the accountability, which is part of defining formal democracy.
What pushed for initial liberalisation towards democratisation was pressure from a
rapidly re-emerging civil society. But these social movements declined after the first
democratic elections. The deficiencies of formal democracy can easily be explained
by the lack of strong organisations of subordinate classes. Strong organisations of
labour and electoral strength of prolabour parties are crucial determinants of the
effective implementation of redistributive policies in advanced industrial democracies.
The neoliberal adjustment policies implemented to different degrees in virtually all
new democracies have moved the balance of class power to capital and aggravated
previously high socioeconomic inequality. The combination of financial liberalisation
and privatisation of state enterprises has led to a high concentration of economic
assets. Economic concentration means the concentration not only of wealth but also
of power. The beneficiaries of neoliberal reforms, then, have become very powerful
constituencies and obstacles to the pursuit of social democratic policies. In all Latin
American formal democracies little has been done to strengthen organised labour
and other popular organisations that could function as effective mobilisers of
redistributive pressures.
State-society relations – Social democratic policies are premised on the fact that the
market has inegalitarian consequences that can be corrected only by state
intervention. Aside from the political will and power base to undertake redistributive
state intervention, a state apparatus must be capable must be capable of executing
such policies in a consistent, coherent and effective matter. The lack of such a state
is a major problem in the new democracies of LA. Most of these new democracies
inherited a state apparatus characterised by fragmentation, overlapping,
responsibilities, nonmeritocratic hiring, and often corruption.
Transnational structures of power – The international system has had a depressing
effect on citizen participation. External pressures to adopt neoliberal policies have
reduced the space for policy debates and greatly constrained citizen participation. As
policies favouring the unrestrained functioning of the market are imposed on and
adopted by increasing numbers of countries, the losers in the new economic order
lose not only income, job security, and government supports, but often much of their
political voice as well. Consequently, lower class organisation is weakened, further
reducing chances for social democratic policies to correct growing socioeconomic
inequalities. Financial internationalisation reduces governments capacity to influence
interest rates in order to stimulate investment. The dominant mode of integration of
the new Latin American democracies into the world economy deprives governments
of some of the crucial traditional policy instruments to increase employment, raise
real wages, and finance redistributive social policies.
The relationship between capitalist development and democracy proves powerful in
accounting for current developments in LA. The apparent contradiction between
advances in formal democracy and mounting obstacles in deepening democracy
towards more participation and dealing with socioeconomic inequality finds a
consistent explanation if we look at the impact of the three clusters of power and their
interaction.