1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance

What Choices Do Democracies Have in Globalizing Economies?

Date: 27 - 28 Apr 2000



Democratization has expanded a great deal in most regions of the world. A large number of authoritarian regimes have lost power in competitive elections as citizens demand better forms of representation, openness and accountability in the governance of their societies. Despite its unevenness and setbacks in many countries, democratization continues to offer prospects for improving the institutions of government and encouraging participation in public affairs in the new millennium.

However, the worldwide quest for democracy is challenged by another major trend that has grown in strength with globalization and is also likely to dominate in the new millennium—the increasingly technocratic style of economic policy making at the national and global level. Globalization and pressures for open economies and sound finance increasingly mean that governments are restricting economic policy making to experts and insulating key public institutions, such as central banks, fiscal authorities and finance ministries, from democratic scrutiny.

If citizens believe that newly established democratic institutions are being ignored or downgraded in the making of decisions that affect their lives, they may seek solutions outside of these institutions. As the Seattle ministerial meeting of the WTO and recent events at the World Economic Forum have shown, people are already angrily protesting a variant of technocratic governance in the trade policy field, with some groups even questioning the legitimacy of the multilateral trade system itself. This may have negative consequences for political stability and economic development on the whole.

The UNRISD conference on Technocratic Policy Making and Democratization provided an opportunity to discuss the emerging tension between democracy and insulated styles of policy making.There were two keynote addresses and five sessions in which panelists — academics, multilateral agency staff, NGO activists, government authorities and unionists — presented and discussed their views and took questions from the floor. Examples from Argentina, Benin, Chile, Czech Republic, the European Union, Hungary, India, Japan, Malawi and the Republic of Korea were discussed.

This conference was co-ordinated by Yusuf Bangura.