ERF 21st Annual Conference : “Democracy and Economic Development in the Middle East” ⎯ Tunisie, 20-22/03/2015
The Economic Research Forum’s (ERF) Annual Conference has become the premiere regional event for Middle East economists, where new ideas are born, nourished and promoted; where the community of researchers meets; and where excellence is celebrated. This year’s conference will be held in Tunisia, March 20-22, 2015, in collaboration with the Tunisian Economic Association. The main theme of the plenary sessions is “Democracy and Economic Development.”
Besides the plenary sessions, which will feature world renowned economists, political scientists and policy makers, there will be six parallel sessions daily. Parallel sessions will see the presentation of more than 40 papers under the themes of Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, International Economics, Finance, Labor and Human Development and Institutional Economics. In addition, there will be two special sessions showcasing the work by ERF on the themes of “Transition in the Arab World” and “Inequality in the Arab World.” As always, the closing session will be devoted to celebrating the six winners of what has become a regional mark of excellence: The Best Paper Award.
The choice of “Democracy and Economic Development” as the main theme of the conference is prompted by two observations: First, several countries in the region are engaged in a messy democratization process; Second, the causal relationship between democracy and economic development (and reverse causation) is anything but clear and conclusive.
To be sure, democracy is important in its own right. In addition, as former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once famously remarked, “… [It] is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” We also know that all rich and advanced countries are democracies. The problem is that the transition to democracy is associated with high levels of uncertainty, economic difficulties and rising popular demands. Failing to manage this transition can be costly and may jeopardize the transition process altogether. Beyond the transition, both theory and empirical evidence are inconclusive when it comes to the impact of democracy on economic growth and distribution, on the one hand, and the impact of growth and distribution on democracy, on the other. Moreover, democracy is not monolithic and has different faces (especially in terms of design and practice), and thus may have varying repercussions on policymaking and development. In this context, the objectives of the three plenary sessions of this conference are to address the debates surrounding the link between democracy and development, the possible impact of different forms of democracy on development and how to best navigate the transition towards democracy in the Arab world.
Plenary Session 1: The Relationship between Democracy and Development
To disentangle the relationship between democracy and economic development, the speakers in this session will adopt a medium to long term perspective, addressing such questions as: Do countries become democratic when their levels of income reach a certain level, or does democracy come about as a result of historical events or critical junctures? What is the role of inequality and class structure in bringing about more democratic societies? Viewed from the opposite perspective, what is the impact of democracy on development, and does it always deliver acceptable socio-economic outcomes? Are there economic and social circumstances, such as levels of development or conflicts, where a dictatorship may outperform a democratic regime?
With respect to the Arab countries, the speakers could further address questions such as: Why did the region suffer from a “democratic deficit” for a long time? To what extent did oil, conflicts, political Islam, and colonialism contribute to this outcome? What prompted the recent uprisings? Why did they occur in some countries, but not in others? And how serious is the ensuing polarization for prospects of democracy?
Plenary Session 2: Forms of Democracy and Development
This session starts from the observation that democracy comes in many forms, apparently with different results in terms of economic growth, equity and overall welfare. The question is what makes one form of democracy more successful than another? To explore this question, the speakers will address such questions as: To what extent can the variations in economic outcomes be attributed to the way democratic institutions are designed and the manner in which they behave, especially in terms of checks and balances, transparency, accountability and broad political inclusion? Which features of democratic institutions are most relevant and critical for achieving positive developmental outcomes? Are there forms of democracy, such as presidential or parliamentary; features of electoral processes; and/or systems of political finance that are empirically found to be better than others?
Turning to the Arab countries, what are the implications of the above for the Arab countries in transition? In particular, what should these countries do to create good democratic systems and what are the pitfalls they should avoid?
Plenary Session 3: Navigating the Transition to Democracy
Informed by the findings of the previous plenary sessions, this session will more broadly examine the experiences of countries that went through democratic transitions to draw lessons for the Arab countries currently navigating their own transitions. To this end, the speakers will address such questions as: Is there a pattern for successful political and economic transitions or is the process country specific? How long does it take to achieve political and economic stability and at what cost? What prevents countries in transition from sliding back into undemocratic governance? Finally, how were social mass movements transformed into a political power base for new regimes?
In addition to the above questions, the speakers may also deal with the role of religion and the military in transition processes. Finally, they may speculate about what can be expected going forward.
- June 19, 2014: Deadline for submissions
- August 21, 2014: Notification of selected proposals
- December 4, 2014: Deadline for receiving written papers
- January 14, 2015: Notification of acceptance of papers for presentation
- March 19, 2015: Pre-conference activities
- March 20, 2015: Conference begins
- March 22, 2015: Conference ends
- May 3, 2015: Revision of papers for publication in the ERF working paper series completed