The Political Economy of Human Development
What are the causes and consequences of human development? In the twenty years since the publication of the first Human Development Report (HDR), political scientists have invested a great deal of time and effort into answering this question. So what do we know? In this paper we seek to review these labors, the fruits of which can be summarized as follows. Democracy causes, but is not caused by, economic development. While total economic growth is no higher as a result of democratic institutions, they are more conducive than non-democratic alternatives to the growth of per capita income, which is an important aspect of individual well-being. Democratic institutions are also conducive to improvements in the two other essential elements of human development, longevity and knowledge - democracy has a positive effect on indicators of education and health. Given these findings, it seems pertinent to ask why democracy has such effects. Our conclusion from the literature is that the positive impact of democratic institutions stems from their provision of accountability structures. But in providing these structures, what democracy offers is the opportunity for human development. It is no guarantee of its realization, and in the absence of factors such as information and participation this opportunity can be missed.