Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Welcome and Mission Statement

by Isobel Coleman
April 7, 2011

Naheed Ahmadi Farid, an Afghan parliamentary candidate, casts her ballot at a polling station in Herat, Afghanistan, September 18, 2010 (Rehab Homavandi/Courtesy Reuters).

Welcome to Democracy in Development.

These are interesting times for those who care deeply about the spread of freedom and prosperity in the world today. There are tremendous reasons for optimism—from improvements in global health and rising levels of education, to the spread of beneficial new technologies and media, expanding middle classes, greater rights for women, and emerging democracies around the globe. To be sure, deprivation, poor governance, war, disease, violations of human rights, extremism, and many other ills remain acute. Moreover, the global economic crisis and the rise of a powerful alternative model in China’s “authoritarian capitalism” have shaken faith in open markets and democracy.

However,  I continue to believe in a capitalist, democratic system as the best means of advancing liberty and economic growth; while it has its limitations and drawbacks, I am not convinced there is any better alternative.  Many years post-graduate school, I am still inspired by the work of economist Amartya Sen, who views development as an expansive concept not limited to simple questions of income. “Economic growth cannot sensibly be treated as an end in itself,” Professor Sen wrote in Development as Freedom. “Development has to be more concerned with enhancing the lives we lead and the freedoms we enjoy.”

I want this blog to be a forum for discussing events involving the developing world, as well as U.S. policy on development, democracy, and all things related. The blog will convey not only my own work but also that of CFR’s Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative (CSM&D), where I serve as director. CSM&D is a new research initiative focusing on a range of related topics, including economic and political reform, entrepreneurship, education, the promotion of civil society, women’s empowerment, and combating extremism.

Democracy in Development will explore many of these issues by examining policy debates, gathering insights from thinkers and doers, presenting stories from my travels and conversations, and offering personal reflections. I will focus mainly on the Middle East and South Asia, regions I travel to frequently and write about often. Current developments in the Middle East, including the prospect of political change along with continuing economic challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere, certainly give ample food for thought. So too do the ongoing security, economic, and political concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Sometimes I will post longer pieces; other times I will include links to and discussions of articles elsewhere. I know it is a crowded field, so I will do my best to keep my posts engaging and informative. I welcome comments and debate. I look forward to a two-way street of ideas.

Welcome aboard.

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