Social Exclusion and Political Change BY HAUKE HARTMANN AND DANIEL SCHRAAD-TISCHLER
the electoral process declined. Freedom of expression
is becoming more limited throughout Eastern Europe,
and in several countries, the quality of the rule of law
either stayed at low levels (Latin America) or deteriorated markedly (Eastern Europe).
PROSPERITY AND INJUSTICE
Even among developed democracies in the OECD, there is considerable variation in the extent to which social justice is developed. 5 What is striking, again, is the fact that a country’s rating on social justice does not depend solely on its respective economic
strength and prosperity.
The U. S. provides the clearest example. Although still
the world’s largest economy, with one of the highest
GDPs per capita in the OECD, it lags in almost all areas
of social justice. At a rank of 27, the U.S. lands near the
bottom of the index, scoring only slightly better than
its neighbor Mexico ( 30) and new OECD member Chile
( 29). In the individual categories, the U.S. shows especially large deficits in social safety net programs (29th),
health (23rd) and access to education (20th).
Educational opportunities depend heavily on social
and economic background. The growing gap between
rich and poor is a problem throughout the OECD, but
the distribution of income in the U. S. is one of the most
unequal among the countries examined in the report.
Such a high level of inequality—not only in incomes
and wealth, but also in opportunities—provides a fertile ground for social protest movements, especially
when social networks function as powerful catalysts.
While many Occupy movements in the U.S. and elsewhere do not represent the poor in their rank and file—
with many members actually coming from middle-class
backgrounds—their emergence does represent a genuine, widespread frustration with the lack of opportunity. And even if the Occupy movement remains fragile,
it has already had a strong impact on public discourse.
Such a strong link between social protest and claims
for better or “real” democracy can currently be observed
in many other OECD states, such as Spain. While the linkage bet ween a decline in social justice and an increase
in social protest in the more affluent OECD countries
is obvious, none of these demonstrations and protest
movements fundamentally affects the political stability of these democracies. That’s in sharp contrast to
the systemic crises experienced by some of the poorer
countries of the developing world, where social conflict has been accompanied by the deterioration in the
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012
quality of democracy, resulting in regime changes in
countries such as Madagascar and Thailand, and instability in Senegal and Ukraine.
SOCIAL S TANDARDS, POLITICAL
STABILIT Y AND THE QUALIT Y
In mapping the socioeconomic framework that may contribute to social protest and political unrest, we see differences between restrictive authoritarian
regimes (in which social unrest has been repressed or
aimed at regime change), weak democracies/moder-ate autocracies (in which political stability has eroded)
and OECD member states (in which protesters have in
most cases demanded a reform or deepening of democracy rather than its abolition or greater levels of restrictions). In other words, the potential for social protest
to translate into political unrest varies according to regime type because of the way in which protesters direct their anger or frustration.
Admittedly, this is a rough distinction. But it is an important one. It is not simply that low or decreasing levels
of socioeconomic development and high or increasing
levels of social injustice provoke political unrest. Rather,
it is important to examine whether such unrest is allowed
to express itself peacefully, whether it is directed against
the political regime in power, whether it is targeted at
furthering inclusion, or whether it aims at restricting
inclusion in a nationalist, populist or xenophobic sense.
To complete the analysis, we look at the country sample of the BTI listing where political stability decreased
significantly. [see figure 4]
Authoritarian regimes (noted in purple), where political protest is highly restricted, are differentiated from
democracies (noted in blue), which range from highly
defective ones, such as Russia (which holds free—but
not necessarily fair—elections, and where political participation and rule of law is restricted) to stable and advanced democracies like Slovakia.
To assess to what extent civil society can protest, negotiate and participate freely in the political decision-making process, we introduce the composite indicator
of “civic engagement.” This consists of the BTI indicator scores for social capital, traditions of civil society,
conflict management, and civil society participation.
Of the 28 countries where political stability has eroded,
12 countries are autocracies. Bahrain, Thailand, Tunisia,
and Venezuela stand out in this list, because their level of
social inclusion is far above the average of all BTI countries