Assessing Capabilities in Authoritarian Regimes

Kaleja, Ance (2014). 'Assessing Capabilities in Authoritarian Regimes' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

The worldwide economic crisis has recently challenged the prospects of many countries to achieve high performance rates in the area of economic and social rights. Many democratic states have found it difficult to ensure increasing standards of living for their population, resulting in an eroding trust in their political systems. Meanwhile, many autocracies have managed to deliver a good performance in the sphere of economic and social rights, according to various indicators of human development, often used as proxies for economic and social rights assessment. This suggests that authoritarian states can and often do provide economic and social rights, sometimes even outperforming democracies at similar levels of economic development. But whether this is enough evidence to justify or even support the advantages of authoritarian regimes in attaining economic and social rights is a question that deserves more attention in the existing academic research. Whether these authoritarian examples provide a stable trend or reasonable exceptions remains to be seen. To understand the link between economic and social rights and political regimes, the state and its institutions needs to be 'brought back' in solving the puzzle, as the importance of institutions particular to certain political regimes can be of a greater importance previously supposed.

This project seeks to analyze the institutional setting of certain authoritarian states that portray a surprising performance in the global indexes of economic and social rights (HDI, SERF Index). The theoretical expectation that exists in the international human rights discourse suggests that economic and social rights performance correlates with the economic esources available to the states. There are, however, several single and regional country exceptions, which show deviant cases that are authoritarian and have managed to provide better economic and social rights outcomes than their democratic counterparts with similar levels of economic resource availability. Research on these cases can provide new explanations on the causal mechanisms outlined in the relationship between economic and social rights and political regimes, and eventually help to draw conclusions about the possible advantages or disadvantages of certain political regimes.

Analyzing economic and social rights in authoritarian states through the capability lens requires to sacrifice a number of the normative claims made by capability approach theorists. In an environment of limited civil and political rights, can people still have the capability to be and do what they wish and value? Can the relatively high economic and social rights outcomes in the case of a number of authoritarian states be ascribed to factors that share a connection with a type of political regime or do they function independently of a particular ype of regime? Can valuable capabilities be provided by democratic and autoritarian states alike? With an alarming number of authoritarian states worldwide, this project aims to contribute to the understanding of economic and social rights in non-democratic regimes, outlining prospects for the future of these rights in a world of an authoritarian reality.

scroll to top