Monday, February 18, 2013

Thanks, presidents, for promoting democracies

Happy President's Day! Let's celebrate with some info about democracies.

The benefits of democracy as a form of government necessary in every country have been much debated, particularly in the past decade since President Bush used "spreading democracy" as one of the many reasons behind several unpopular wars. Sure, democracy is great for us, but do we have the right to insist upon it in every other country as well? Well, we certainly don't have the ability to impose it everywhere, as we learned, (and the very concept is contradictory), but as Steven Pinker writes in The Better Angels of Our Nature, there is an excellent reason to promote democracy worldwide: democracies are less violent.

He writes, "From 1955 to 2008 autocracies were three and a half times more likely to commit genocides than were full or partial democracies … democracies are less likely to wage interstate wars, to have large-scale civil wars, and to commit genocides." Totalitarian governments of the 20th century racked up a death toll of 4 percent of their populations, authoritarian governments killed 1 percent, but democracies only killed four tenths of 1 percent. He posits that democracies are a vaccine to the spread of virulent ideologies, a way to make sure bad ideas are more often eclipsed by good ones. So it's great news that the number of democracies is growing, as shown in this chart from that book:

Openness to trade is another big factor in making a state less violent, too. The more international trade a country has, the less likely they are to fight wars. This is the type of stuff Kant theorized about centuries ago; we now have the data to back the theories up. So, this President's Day, let's give the presidents a thank-you for centuries of maintaining our relatively stable, open democracy ... not just for ourselves but for serving as an example worldwide.

James Monroe, by John Vanderlyn