We often hear about how the US has no business spreading democracy to other nations by force, or how Islamic societies are not capable of functioning as liberal democracies. But how well do these conclusions stand up to the historical trends in the evolution of democracy?
First, consider that economic growth is exponential and accelerating, and the trendline of world economic growth is now close to 5% a year at Purchasing Power Parity.
Next, consider that conflict between nations drops as freedom and economic growth increases. No two nations that are both democracies and have per capita incomes greater than $10,000 a year have ever gone to war with each other, and the number of countries meeting these two criteria continues to rise.
Lastly, let us measure the spread of democracy across the world in recent times. The map below is the result of research conducted by Freedom House (source : Wikipedia). Countries in green are free, yellow are partially free, and red are unfree.
From this, a few observations can be made :
1) The Western Hemisphere has done a much better job of establishing democracy than the Eastern Hemisphere, with 90% of Western Hemisphere residents living in green counties.
2) India is hugely important to any discussion of increasing democracy in the world, given its size and what it is surrounded by. The US would do well to cultivate broader ties with India as quickly as possible, and India would do well to cooperate rather than revert back to 'non-aligned' nonsense.
The next question is, is there a rate at which the nations of the world have evolved towards democracy? The same research from freedom house shows the growth in green countries at the expense of red countries from 1972 to today.
The march towards democracy appears to be quite solid, and includes such events as the collapse of the USSR and liberation of Eastern Europe. This chart unfortunately treats all countries equally, regardless of size, and thus does not take into account that Democracy in India is more valuable to the world than democracy in Estonia. Nonetheless, a population-weighted chart would still show a similarly rapid migration from red to yellow to green - 1 billion people have upgraded at least one level since 1972 alone.
The question now becomes, have the prospects for democracy saturated, where any nation that had the basic cultural foundations of democracy has already become one, and those without this foundation will take a very long time to adapt? Or is the trend we see in the chart still alive? To believe that the evolution of nations towards democracy will continue unabated, two things have to occur :
1) China will have to move from the red column to the yellow column. China is rapidly closing in on a GDP per capita greater than $10,000 per year, and this has usually corelated to greater political freedom in most nations. I believe China will make such reforms by 2015, when they see that their robust economic growth has trouble advancing further without such freedoms. Such a change in China would move the entire center of gravity of the world's governments significantly towards freedom.
2) Afghanistan and Iraq will have to become genuine green countries. There are many reasons to believe that this will be achieved in Iraq by 2008. Anti-Americans, who are generally opposed to democracy, have attempted to sabotage these efforts, but have exhausted most of the tricks available to them. Once these two beacons of democracy are established, the rest of the region will have an open flank exposed to the winds of freedom.
These two events will trigger another wave of the democratic domino effect in countries throughout the continent of Asia. Many countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Iran all have GDP growth rates greater than 6%, and in order to continue this growth, political freedom is a necessity that they will have eventually evolve towards. Catalysts like the two events above could be just the thing to move more reds to yellows and yellows to greens.