aid, data, democracy, why do we need human rights

Why Do We Need Human Rights? (35): Why Do We Need Democracy?

The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

Democracy is a human right. In the past, I’ve  listed a number of reasons why we should prefer democracy over other forms of government (here and here for example). I’ve now come across another reason, one that may not be convincing or relevant to everyone, but still it’s mildly interesting:

1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames...

Lisbon, Portugal, during the great earthquake of 1 November 1755. This copper engraving, made that year, shows the city in ruins and in flames. Tsunamis rush upon the shore, destroying the wharfs. The engraving is also noteworthy in showing highly disturbed water in the harbor, which sank many ships. Passengers in the left foreground show signs of panic.

All things — including wealth — being equal, earthquakes kill more people in dictatorships than in democracies, write NYU political scientists Alastair Smith and Alejandro Quiroz Flores. The reason that democratically elected leaders prepare their countries for disaster better is because they fear they’ll be voted out of office if their governments are caught unprepared. (Dictators obviously tend to worry less about election outcomes.) A recent World Bank study backs up this argument, with an added wrinkle: institutionalized autocracies, like China’s, tend to outperform non-institutionalized or corrupt autocracies as well as young democracies when it comes to preventing earthquake deaths. Still, another study finds that politicians in democratic elections benefit even more from doling out disaster relief after a catastrophe than they do from preparing for disasters yet to come. (source)

More on democracy and human rights here, here and here. More on earthquakes and accountability.

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One thought on “Why Do We Need Human Rights? (35): Why Do We Need Democracy?

  1. Interesting to note is that the research of the academics in my country shows otherwise. In democratic nations, where leaders are only in power for a certain time frame, they cannot plan for the future beyond which they will be in power. In addition, they often cater to the majority to be re-elected, rather than making hard decisions for the good of everyone.

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