Does Economic Development Cause Democracy?

Left: Professor                                Center: Student                                    Right: Gadfly

  1. Let’s talk about “Modernization: Theories and Facts;”
  2.    By Przeworski and Limongi (1997).
  3. Don’t forget your goal by the end of today’s class,
  4.    To form a hypothesis worth researching,
  5.       For World Politics.[1]
  7. This professor demanded,
  8. That graduate students join the ranks,
  9. Of the best academics,
  10. Publishing in top-tier journals of political science.
  11. So what are the central questions of the study
  12.     Under consideration?
  13. The future summa cum laude student answered:
  14. What is the cause of a political regime?
  15. Is it a certain level of economic development?
  16. Why do they rise, last-long, or fall?
  17. What creates the structure of democracy—to waterfall?
  18. This student preferred culture:
  19. Or does a certain history sound democracy’s call?
  20. The authors distinguish two theories;
  21.    Examining economic development and democracy.
  22. What are the mechanisms that mediate,
  23.    Economic development and the dynamics of political regimes?
  24. ‘Tis a narrow analysis of political regime dynamics;
  25. Ignored are factors of religion,
  26. Colonial legacy, position in the world system,
  27. Income distribution and diffusion.
  28. Even though other scientists have observed,
  29.    The former often do induce democratic swerves.
  30. What about Lipset’s relationship,
  31.    ‘Tween economic development and democracy?
  32. The aggregate patterns of economic development
  33. And the incidence of democratic regimes,
  34. Is strong and totally obvious.
  35. It appears as a slam dunk study.
  36. According to the initial evidence of Przeworski and Limongi:
  37.   A probit analysis of regimes conditional upon,
  38.      Per capita income; i.e., level of development,
  39.        Correctly classifies 77 percent,
  40.           Of 4,126 annual observations.
  41. Now who would like to distinguish the two theories;
  42.    Why might economic development cause democracy?
  43. First, democracies may be more likely to emerge,
  44. As a country develops economically.
  45. Second, a democracy may develop independently
  46. Of economic development, yet, perhaps;
  47. Democracy may better survive in developed countries.
  48. It is important to recall, at this point,
  49.    That countries in this study are either
  50.       A democracy or a dictatorship; and,
  51.           Democracy is born when a dictatorship dies.
  52. This creative student is best at,
  53. Interrupting status quo investigations:
  54. Isn’t there a regime in one country,
  55. Somewhere on Earth today,
  56. Which surpasses the best ingredients of;
  57. The best democracy can implement?
  58. A great blog question.
  59.    See Political Pipeline’s challenges.[2]
  60. Moving on. The first explanation is endogenous.
  61.    Who can tell me something about this?
  62. The endogenous translation is modernization theory:
  63. A general process, whereas democratization,
  64. Comprises the final stage of democracy’s game.
  65. Modernization is apparent in gradual differentiation
  66. And specialization of social structures;
  67. An organic separation of political structures
  68. From other structures—there is a fertilizing,
  69. Of democratization.
  70. Yes. The authors state, “The specific causal chains
  71.     Consist of sequences of industrialization, urbanization,
  72.      Education, communication, mobilization,
  73.       And political incorporation, among innumerable others:
  74.        A progressive accumulation of social changes that ready a society
  75.         To proceed to its culmination, democratization.”[3]
  76. A student offered a clarification:
  77. Democracy is endogenous because it results,
  78. From development under authoritarianism.
  79. Thus, once a country expands economically,
  80. There is a threshold where it transforms to a democracy.
  81. Perhaps more well to do citizens require inclusion
  82. In the politics of their society.
  83. But what if the data shows that dictatorships are equally,
  84.    Likely to die or arise at any level of GDP per capita;
  85.       What do you surmise?
  86. As Therborn stressed: many European countries,
  87. Democratized because of wars, not because of the economy!
  88. What about foreign pressures found in the party literature?
  89. This was the moment,
  90. For the writing down of hypotheses.
  91. Once it passed, a student interjected:
  92. How is democracy exogenous?
  93. Democracy survives if a country is developed,
  94.    But democracy is not a product of modernization.
  95. How is this different from the endogenous aspect?
  96. Przeworski and Limongi look at 135 countries between,
  97. 1950 and 1990.
  98. All regimes were classified as democracies or dictatorships;
  99. 101 democratic and 123 authoritarian; see,
  100. Accounting for 224 regimes.
  101. Dollars were held to 1985 prices.
  102. Keep going.
  103. If democracy emerges due to
  104. Economic development; if ‘tis true,
  105. Then transitions to democracy,
  106. Would be very likely when,
  107. Authoritarian regimes reach an economic threshold,
  108. Of economic development.
  109. What is the threshold?
  110. It’s volatile until per capita income of dictatorships,
  111. Reaches a level of about $6,000; after that,
  112. Dictatorships become more stable,
  113. For various reasons.
  114. He paused:
  115. But I believe they use the threshold of $4,115.
  116. Yes. Huntington rightly said that dictatorships exhibit,
  117.    A bell shaped pattern of instability.
  118. A student drove the point home:
  119. Dictatorships survived for years in wealthy countries.
  120. Yes. Even discounting countries deriving
  121.    More than one-half of their revenue stream,
  122.       From oil exporting—some dictatorships do grow rapidly,
  123.          And show no signs of relenting or transforming,
  124.             To a democracy.
  125. See Singapore, East Germany, Taiwan, the USSR,
  126.   Spain, Bulgaria, Argentina, and Mexico.
  127. But is this unfair to modernization theory?
  128. You mean; all the modernizing consequences need time,
  129.     To accumulate before democracy can secrete a design?
  130.         A democratic regime for the citizens to finalize?
  131. Crickets.
  132. Ah, yes, [the professor laughed] my favorite quote:
  133.     “But for most dictatorships this premise is vacuous:
  134.       Only 19 dictatorships—to remind, out of 123—
  135.        Did develop over longer periods of time
  136.         And reached ‘modernity.’”[4]
  137. Poland reached the threshold of democracy in 1974;
  138.   Experienced an economic crisis in 1979,
  139.   A mass movement for democracy in 1980,
  140.   Surpassed the threshold again in 1985,
  141.   And became a democracy, finally, in 1989.
  142. Yet Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Portugal;
  143. Even South Korea and Greece,
  144. Are accurate cases for modernization theorists!
  145. True. It’s true that they are the few,
  146.    That fit the theory under review.
  147. There must be solid points,
  148. For the theory still to be yielded.
  149. Modernization may denote why democracy,
  150.    Is established in countries that developed
  151.     Over a long period of time.
  152. Then again, explaining something over centuries,
  153.    Leaves you open to an ex post fallacy.
  154. Random hazards are a serious concern:
  155.    The Taiwanese dictatorship, for example,
  156.      Probably democratized for geopolitical reasons.
  157. Thus it is not premature,
  158.    To say that economic development
  159.       Does not cause the downfall,
  160.          Of a dictator’s political walls.
  161. On the other hand,
  162. Thirty-two democracies spent 736 years,
  163. With incomes above $6,055 and,
  164. Remained democracies!
  165. Yet 39 of 69 democracies in the poorer countries,
  166.      Did downward spiral to dictatorial control.
  167. Lipset thought democracies survive in affluent countries,
  168.    Because wealth impacts the intensity of distributional conflicts.
  169. The idea is that democracies share,
  170. But in a dictatorship you risk,
  171. Either being in, or out,
  172. And being out is horrific.
  173. And the gain from winning the dictatorship is smaller.
  174.    For much would be destroyed in the war for power.
  175. I would think that poorer countries,
  176. Would have less to lose via a process,
  177. To control all political resources.
  178. So far, the evidence strongly confirms
  179.    The exogenous version.
  180. Hence, an established democracy,
  181.     Will more likely survive economic storms.
  182. The probability that a democracy will die
  183.     After GDP surpasses $4,000 per person,
  184.       Is roughly zilch, or,
  185.          Two in a thousand years—need I say more?
  186. So the endogenous theory is wrong.
  187. Yes, and, did our sage, Lipset,
  188.    Misplace any other theories?
  189. Yes, I’m sorry to articulate.
  190. Lipset thought that rapid economic development,
  191. Could help facilitate fascism or other,
  192. Non-democracy states.
  193. Correct. Rapid economic growth is not destabilizing,
  194.    For either dictatorships or democracies.
  195. However, poor democracies are extremely fragile,
  196.     When faced with an economic crisis.
  197. In countries with an average income under $2,000,
  198.     12 democracies fell according to 107 years of data,
  199.        The following year.
  200. Yet when a country’s GDP per capita income is above $6,055;
  201.     “A miracle occurs: in the 252 years during which
  202.        Wealthy democracies experienced economic crises,
  203.          None ever fell.”[5]
  204. Boomshanka.
  205. Thus the exogenous way remains true.[6]
  206. This survival story is useful.
  207. And rapid growth leading to instability remains false.
  208. What did Przeworski and Limongi say,
  209.    About Huntington’s waves?
  210. In their study from 1950 to 1990,
  211. The established countries followed Huntington’s analysis:
  212. The second wave of democratization; 1943 to 1962,
  213. ‘Twas followed by the second reverse wave; 1958 to 1975,
  214. ‘Twas followed by the third wave of democratization; 1974 to the end.
  215. Yet the new countries that became independent,
  216. After 1950, expose something entirely different.
  217. Over the time of the study, they find,
  218. These countries increasingly became democracies.
  219. There was no reverse wave in the path of time.
  220. Indeed, the reverse wave during the 1960s,
  221.    Was largely due to the emergence of new countries;
  222.       Not the transformation of democracies to dictatorial regimes.
  223. The professor became quite serious:
  224. History does not repeat itself!
  225.   Even if progress is like herding stray cats!
  226. Kroar followed the logic:
  227. Following Barrington Moore,[7]
  228. The Western European route to democracy,
  229. Was unique and furthermore; not expected to be repeated,
  230. For others around the globe.
  231. Another key finding to understand:
  232. The stability of democracy increases significantly more,
  233. According to economic development in the old regimes,
  234. Rather than in the new countries.
  235. In fact, the probability of transitions to democracy in new countries,
  236. Actually declines as new countries develop under authoritarian decree.
  237. So the hope of modernization theory;
  238. That economic development will promote democracy,
  239. Is particularly disheartening,
  240. For new Third World countries.
  241. Economic development actually lowered the probability,
  242.    Of a dictatorship falling by 1.90 percent,
  243.       In the new countries.
  244. The provocative professor thus asked:
  245. So why study modernization theory?
  246. Modernization theory does hold true,
  247. For many of the old countries,
  248. Including those in Eastern Europe.
  249. Yet wouldn’t Moore suggest that it took centuries,
  250.     For democracy to emerge?
  251. It was not simply an economic threshold which foretold,
  252.     “Democracy is about to start its political show.”
  253. What about Weber and The Protestant Ethic
  254. And the Spirit of Capitalism?
  255. Doesn’t democracy require a cultural foundation?
  256. Thus Lipset, we are thankful, brought to our attention,
  257.    A study that was vehemently argued for a generation.[8]
  258. The central question:
  259. Why does a democracy form?
  260. Is today’s research topic to explore?
  261. Correct. So get in groups of four.
  262.    Determine a hypothesis to explore:
  263.       “What causes a democracy to be born?”
  264. But if your wish is to find a regime,
  265.    Wiser than democracy;
  266. If your curiosity demands this study,
  267.    Then feel free to attempt those hypotheses.
  268. After a few minutes,
  269. The professor listened to the students.
  270. It became quite apparent,
  271. Which students were naturally positivists,
  272. And those normative post-positivist dreamers.
  273. Suddenly, the professor smiled widely
  274. And inhaled crafty intellectual exchanges.
  275. At the post-democracy theory table,
  276. Hope filled the air.
  277. Despotism was drowned via structure.

[1] Vol. 49, No. 2 (Jan., 1997), pp. 155-183.

[2] I deviate from the analysis here because the dichotomy provided by the authors brilliantly simplifies in order to closely examine the research question. Yet, some democracies are “better” than others—considering equal opportunity amongst denizens. I mean, I advance that there is a “normative core” which may be the next type of political regime after democracy. If this is indeed the case, then meaningful consequences are easily apparent; such as, what differentiates countries in the democratic core and countries in the normative core. Like most writers, I so far have evaded a full theory [to operationalize the normative core]. On the other hand, I do propose that a country in the normative core showcases actual equal opportunity in higher education and healthcare. Meaning, financial costs do not affect citizens’ choices in these arenas. I have articulated this theory as a “Challenge” on my blog—Political Pipeline. The exact post is here:  There is a Picture showing the theory there too (towards bottom).

[3] Page 158.

[4] Page 160.

[5] Page 169.

[6] Excluding Argentina.

[7] Moore. 1993. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy : lord and peasant in the making of the modern world.Boston: Beacon Press.

[8] Lipset, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” American Political Science Review (1959); and, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. World Politics (1997), 155-83.


3 thoughts on “Does Economic Development Cause Democracy?

  1. Pingback: Learn Comparative Politics–Week 2 Reading « Political Pipeline

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