There is much rhetorical and even some tangible support by the developed states for democratisation processes in the poorer countries. Most people there nevertheless enjoy little genuine democratic participation or even government responsiveness to their needs. This fact is commonly explained by indigenous factors, often related to the history and culture of particular societies. My essay outlines a competing explanation by reference to global institutional factors, involving fixed features of our global economic system. It also explores possible global institutional reforms that, insofar as the offered explanation is correct, should greatly improve the prospects for democracy and responsive government in the developing world.