Keywords: human well-being, political participation, institutions, state capacity
Description: One of the greatest challenges in the 21st century is to address large, deep, and historic deficits in human development. We will draw from a recently published book (Democracy at Work: Pathways to Well-Being in Brazil, Wampler et al. 2019) to explore a crucial question: how does democracy – with all of its messy, contested, and, time-consuming features – advance well-being and improve citizens’ lives? The authors argue that differences in the local robustness of three democratic pathways (participatory institutions, rights-based social programmes, and inclusive state capacity) best explain variation in how democratic governments improve well-being. Novel data from Brazil and innovative analytic techniques show how three pathways independently and interactively contribute to well-being: Participatory institutions permit citizens to express voice and exercise vote, inclusive social programmes promote citizenship rights and access to public resources, and more capable local states use public resources according to democratic principles of rights protections and equal access. The analysis uncovers how democracy works to advance capabilities related to poverty, health, women’s empowerment, and education.