The Edmond Sun

Opinion

November 12, 2013

Are democracies better at dealing with disasters?

WASHINGTON — In an earlier post, I talked about how the economic conditions in the Philippines could play a role in the severity of the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan, but what about the country's politics?

The Philippines is classified as "partly free" by Freedom House and has endemic problems with corruption and cronyism. But the country is an electoral democracy with an increasingly open political process, and recent progress has been made in reaching a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and tackling corruption. Will improving democratic conditions in the country make any difference in the country's disaster relief efforts? They could.

Events like earthquakes, typhoons and droughts are acts of God and politically neutral. (Let's ignore climate change for the moment.) But the level of development in a country will often determine the extent of the damage. Chile, for instance, experienced a more severe earthquake than Haiti in 2010 according to the Richter Scale, but only a fraction of the death toll.

There's some research to suggest that democracies are better at preparing for disasters and responding to them than autocracies. Take for instance, Myanmar's blocking of international aid after Cyclone Nargis or China's crackdown on those who questioned the shoddy construction that made the death toll from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake much higher than it needed to be.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen famously argued that famines do not occur in functioning democracies, because democracies ''have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentive to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes.''

In a 2002 paper, London School of Economics economists Timothy Besley and Robin Burgess built on this argument in a study of how Indian regions responded to falls in food production and crop flood damage. They found that Indian states "where newspaper circulation is higher and electoral accountability greater" were far more responsive in responding to people's needs in the wake of disasters.

In 2010, Alejandro Quiroz Flores and Alastair Smith developed the idea further, arguing that democratic countries have greater incentives to prepare for disasters and put response systems in place than autocracies. "You have a better chance surviving a disaster in a poor democracy than a rich autocracy," Smith says.

In democracies, leaders take a political hit when casualty numbers are high and the response by authorities is perceived as inadequate. (Think Bush after Katrina.) If the number of casualties are low and the response and the authorities are seen as responsive, a leader can even benefit politically. (Think Obama after Sandy.)

The incentives work differently for autocracies. Leaders depend not on public support but on the loyalty of their closest followers. So funds that could be spent on improving infrastructure or developing disaster response systems are better spent on enriching the leader's cronies.

Disasters can hurt autocratic governments by concentrating displaced people in small areas and giving opposition leaders a focal point to rally around. The Fores/Smith paper argues that the anti-government protests that followed the 1985 Mexico City earthquake helped the city develop a stronger civil society, leading eventually to the direct election of the city's mayor and the erosion of the PRI party's monopoly on power. Patrick Meier argues in iRevolution that online organizing in the wake of disasters can serve a similar function.

Here's where the bad news comes in for the Philippines. The country's infrastructure is in rough shape after years of underinvestment. With one recent president convicted of corruption and another charged with election fraud, it would be understandable for Filipinos to be skeptical of their leaders.

Indeed, there's already something of a blame game developing between President Benigno Aquino III and the local authorities in devastated Tacloban city. Hopefully this controversy will put some pressure on authorities to take steps to prevent the next storm from being quite so deadly.

               

           

 

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Instead of mothballing Navy ships, give them to our allies

    A bitter debate has raged in the Pentagon for several months about the wisdom of taking the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington out of service to save money. The Washington, at 24 years old a relatively young vessel, is due for a costly refit, a routine procedure that all of the 11 large carriers in service undergo regularly.

    April 18, 2014

  • The pessimist’s guide to grizzly bears and Earth Day

    This coming Friday, to “celebrate Earth Day,” the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. “Bears” is about grizzly bears.
    The trailer says, “From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family.”
    Talk about your misguided “Hollywood values.” I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live about 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still. ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Digging out of the CIA-Senate quagmire

    Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The White House, the CIA and the Senate still have to negotiate which portions of the report will be redacted before it is made public. But this is an important step in resolving the ugly dispute that has erupted between the intelligence committee and the intelligence agency.
    The dispute presents two very serious questions. Was the program consistent with American values and did it produce valuable intelligence? And is effective congressional oversight of secret activities possible in our democracy?

    April 15, 2014

  • Los Angeles Times: Congress extend jobless benefits again

    How’s this for irony: Having allowed federal unemployment benefits to run out in December, some lawmakers are balking at a bill to renew them retroactively because it might be hard to figure out who should receive them. Congress made this task far harder than it should have been, but the technical challenges aren’t insurmountable. Lawmakers should restore the benefits now and leave them in place until the unemployment rate reaches a more reasonable level.

    April 14, 2014

  • Many nations invested in Israel

    Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yoram Ettinger recently spoke to a gathering at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. The event began with a presentation by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, who told the attendee that the  upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover was an occasion for them to embrace the children of God, which is all of humanity.

    April 14, 2014

  • Coming soon: More ways to get to know your doctor

    Last week, the federal government released a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, is posting on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.
    This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don’t want to leave choosing a doctor to chance. But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what’s missing and how to interpret it.

    April 14, 2014

  • HEY HINK: Hateful bullies attempt to muffle free speech

    Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.

    April 11, 2014

  • Putting Oklahoma parents in charge

    Oklahoma’s public schools serve many children very well. Still, for various reasons, some students’ needs are better met in private schools, in virtual schools or elsewhere. That is why two state lawmakers have introduced legislation to give parents debit cards, literally, to shop for the educational services that work best for their children.

    April 11, 2014

  • Israelis, Palestinians are losing their chance

    Developments in the Middle East suggest that prospects of success for the Israeli-Palestinian talks, to which Secretary of State John Kerry has devoted countless hours and trips, are weakening.

    April 11, 2014

  • Teens might trade naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 11, 2014

Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
Disagree
Undecided
     View Results