Democracy and Development: Lessons from China, India, and Others


Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Room 226, Cambridge, MA

William OverholtWilliam Overholt, Ash Center

About the Seminar
Case studies of democracy and economic development indicate that, in the earliest stages of economic and social development, democratic institutions modeled on the U.S. and western Europe empower an elite at the expense of weaker groups, exacerbate income and educational inequality, and inhibit efficient management of the economy. India and the Philippines have produced horrible social outcomes to date – morally unacceptable poverty, disease, inequality, and violence – although India’s efforts to emulate Chinese development strategies have borne considerable fruit. India could teach the world new lessons about combining development and democracy or it could fail at globalization and be crippled by social unrest.

In sharp contrast, the Asian miracle economies employ a mobilization system that can produce world history’s most impressive gains in all of these aspects. However, the mobilization system succeeds only in certain circumstances, namely when a society perceives such an existential threat that it is willing to abandon old institutions and urgently import best practice from all over the world. Moreover the mobilization system has inherent limits. One party dominance in the absence of an existential threat leads over a few decades to structural corruption and decline of the kind that is causing Japan and Malaysia to decay. At higher levels of development, people react against what is called the business model of national political management and it becomes less effective.

All successful Asian countries try to respond to these problems by creating systems of popular representation in which the ruling party has little risk of losing. Such efforts have succeeded in Singapore, but failed relatively quickly in Taiwan and South Korea. They appeared to succeed for a long time in Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but ultimately ended in decay. The failure of the Japanese and Taiwan efforts, along with those of Mexico and others, to create systems of popular representation that would guarantee continued ruling party dominance has discouraged Chinese leaders from continuing previously rapid political reform.

About William Overholt
William Overholt joined the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia in July 2008 and conducts research on development and governance issues. Previously, he served as a visiting scholar with the Institute for Asia and continues to be a frequent visitor and speaker at Harvard University. As the former director of RAND’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy, Overholt held a distinguished chair at the Center. He has long been an important analyst of Asia. Dr. Overholt is the author of America and Asia: The Coming Transformation of Asian Geopolitics (RAND, 2007), as well as The Rise of China (W.W. Norton, 1993), which won the Mainichi News/Asian Affairs Research Center Special Book Prize. He has also written or co-written Political Risk (Euromoney, 1982), Strategic Planning and Forecasting with William Ascher (John Wiley, 1983), and Asia’s Nuclear Future (Westview Press, 1976). In 1976, he founded the semi-annual Global Assessment, with Zbigniew Brzezinski, and edited it until 1988. He has also spent 21 years running research teams for investment banks, including Nomura Securities, Bankers Trust, and BankBoston, mostly in Hong Kong or Singapore. Prior to his banking career, he was at the Hudson Institute, directing planning studies.

Democracy Seminar Series
The Democracy Seminar Series brings distinguished speakers to Harvard Kennedy School for the academic year to address critical challenges facing democratic governance.