New book explores how financial institutions can spread democracy


BINGHAMTON, NY -- The widely criticized structural adjustment policies of international financial institutions can help spread democracy around the world, according to a new book co-authored by a researcher at the Binghamton University, State University of New York.   

          Human Rights and Structural Adjustment: The Impact of the IMF and World Bank (Cambride University Press) notes that since the late seventies, ‘structural adjustment’ has been a central part of the development strategy for the ‘third world.’       

          According to one of the authors, David Cingranelli, professor of political science at Binghamton University, loans made by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been conditional on developing countries pursuing rapid economic liberalization programs, as it was believed this would strengthen their economies in the long run.   

          Unfortunately, the structural changes negotiated by the World Bank and IMF usually caused increased hardships for the poor. These hardships often lead to greater civil strife, leading many governments around the world to violate human rights.

          Most of the previous literature has suggested that structural adjustment programs also undermined democratic procedures in developing countries, because negotiations with the World Bank and IMF rarely included the legislatures of developing countries - the legislature being the heart of any democratic system. However, based on an analysis of outcomes in 131 developing countries between 1981 and 2003, the authors showed that countries under structural adjustment conditionality the longest have better developed democratic institutions, have elections that are more free and fair, have more freedom to form and join organizations, and have more freedom of speech and press.

          “We certainly did not expect these findings,” Cingranelli said. “Our study may show that the World Bank and IMF can improve the human rights practices of developing countries if they choose to do so. Another possibility is that democratization was the unintended consequence of structural adjustment policies, because the policies stimulated social movements to resist them. Those social movements or resistance may have been the basis of, or at least contributed to, the further development of democracy in authoritarian or nascent democratic regimes.”

           Cingranelli’s co-author is M. Rodwan Abouharb, an assistant professor of political science at Louisiana State University. Abouharb’s research examines human rights and civil and international conflict.

           Cingranelli is also co-director of the CIRI Human Rights Data Project, and former president of the Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Association. 

Last Updated: 9/17/13