Democracy is slowly spreading around the world. From the Middle Est to Latin America and Asia, many autocracies are taking gradual steps towards more democratic and accountable forms of government, or have become fully-fledged and well functioning democracies. The US administration is determined to consolidate political freedoms in many developing countries under its sphere of influence; indeed, expansion of democracy has become a cornerstone of American foreign policy.
There are many reasons to celebrate the current democratic wave. Democracy is associated with less injustice and abuse, with basic civic and political freedoms, and with greater sensitivity by Governments for the true priorities of its citizens.
But this correlation goes missing when one looks at the dimensions of time rather than space. Countries that become democracies do not achieve faster economic growth after their political transition; and viceversa, democracies that fail and relapse into autocracy do not do worse than before.
A democracy born in an open economic environment, with a well functioning market system, widespread foreign direct investment, and sizable international trade, is likely to consolidate economic liberalism, stabilize expectations, and hence lead to more investment and faster growth. Conversely, if an economy is tightly controlled by the state, has protectionist barriers against foreign imports and capital movements, or relies on rents from exhaustible resources to obtain foreign currency, transition to democracy can be plagued by populism and struggles for redistribution, hurting economic growth.
So we cannot have democracy if a state is not able to respect human free will.