Are Democracies Least Corrupt?

May 8, 2009

[First published October 27, 2005] One of the extraordinary characteristics of dictatorships, especially absolutists ones, is their government corruption. This comes out in biographies of those who, for example, have lived in North Korea or in South Vietnam when it was defeated and occupied by the North. And under authoritarian regimes, this corruption seems only marginally less, as under the Chinese Nationalists before their defeat by Mao. My impression, consistent with that of others, has been the democracy is among the least corrupt types of government.

Now, this has been tested. Transparency International has provided for 2005 a perception of corruption index for 146 nations (here). Kenneth Sikorski added to this index the freedom house ranking of nations on their civil liberties and civil rights (from here), which measures their freedom, and found that the index included 67 free, 45 partly free, and 34 unfree nations (excluding North Korea). He then averaged these three political groups on their perceived corruption, as shown below (total scores for all nations in the group/number of nations in the group — personal communication):

Free (2901/67) = 43.3
Partly Free (4076/45) = 96.6
Not Free (3470/34 = 102.05

So, partly free and not free nations are perceived to be over twice as corrupt as democracies. This is another plus for democracies, of course. They don’t war on each other, have the least domestic violence, virtually never kill their own people, experience no famines, and also are least corrupt.

This gets almost embarrassing after awhile in relating this to people who ignorant of research on the democratic peace, as I did in a talk today. It seems that one is obsessed with a one-factor theory of humanity’s major problems. This runs counter to general intuition, and to common sense in the social sciences, which is that the socio-political world is complex with multiple causes and conditions interacting to produce events. No one factor is sufficient, so it is felt. Well, there is one major factor, and that is democratic freedom. The evidence, such as the above, is always available to doubters, if only they will look at it. All I can say is what Galileo Galilei said when his astronomical observations were doubted and he was persecuted for them. “Look through the telescope,” he responded.

Are Free People Happier and More Satisfied?

May 6, 2009

[First published November 14, 2005] One of the best sources for how values are distributed is the World Values Survey (here), and I have consulted its results a number of times, such as providing evidence on how Arab peoples view democracy (xx). Here, I want to provide their results on the relationship between freedom and subjective well being — happiness and satisfaction. I think all of us assume that the more freedom a people have the greater their happiness and satisfaction with their lives. If this is true, the utilitarian argument — policy should promote the greatest happiness and least pain — alone justifies promoting freedom.

Is it true?

The World Values Survey has published a study by Ronald Inglehart and Hans D. Klingemann, ” Genes, Culture, Democracy, and Happiness,” (in pdf; go here, and search under Hans Klingemann) which answer tries to question. Utilizing surveys done by the European Union over 25 years about respondents well being in 11 European nations, the authors first show that national language differences are not responsible for different survey responses on happiness and satisfaction. They moreover establish that there is not much change within nations over the 25 years. The correlation between earliest and latest EU survey in 1998 is .80. For the World Values Survey sample of 64 nations, it is .81, an amazing stability.

That out of the way, the author’s show that subjective well being is highly correlated with economic development (.70) as measured by GNP. No surprise there. But, they point out:

This process is not linear, however. The correlation weakens as one moves up the economic scale. Above $13,000 in 1995 purchasing power parity, there is no significant linkage between wealth and subjective wellbeing. The transition from a subsistence economy to moderate economic security has a large impact on happiness and life satisfaction, but above the level of Portugal or Spain, economic growth no longer makes a difference.

Another factor in subjective well being is so commonsensical to many of us that I hesitate mentioning it. But it is commonsensical to all but the Marxists out there, who won’t believe it anyway. That factor is whether a nation was communist or not:

Virtually all societies that experienced communist rule show relatively low levels of subjective well-being, even when compared with societies at a much lower economic level, such as India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Those societies that experienced communist rule for a relatively long time show lower levels than those that experienced it only since World War II.

Religion also plays a role, especially Protestantism. The author’s show that:

Virtually all historically Protestant societies show relatively high levels of subjective well being. A similar effect persists today in countries (the United States being an exception) where only small minority of the public regularly attends church. As Max Weber pointed out, Protestant societies were the first to industrialize, and although economic development now has spread throughout the world, Protestant societies still are relatively wealthy in large part because of this early lead.

Now for the most relevant part. Subject well-being is critical to the stability of a nation’s political institutions and particularly the stability of democracy. The authors measure freedom using the Freedom House annual freedom ratings (here), which they added together for 1981to 1988. Since the ratings summed for both civil liberties and political rights for a nation for a year vary from 2 to 14, with 2 being the freest, they subtracted the summed ratings for a nation from the highest total rating to reverse the freedom scale. This way so the highest total rating is the freest. They then plotted freedom against the percent of a nation’s people happy and satisfied with their life. It is below (click it to enlarge)

The correlation between well-being and freedom (liberal democracies, in effect) is .78. This is liner. The curvilinear (polynomial or logged correlation would be higher, since it would account for the slight sag in the middle of the distribution) of a number of partially free nations, some being electoral democracies such as Mexico and Turkey. Although the plot seems to imply that freedom is the cause of well-being (it can’t be the other way around), the author’s believe that this is in question, and that other factors may better account for well-being.

So, they did a multiple regression of well being against measures of a nation’s economic development, whether it was historically rule by Protestant elites of not, its years under communist rule, and its measure of freedom. These variables account for 80 percent of the variation in well being, a remarkable fit. They then removed independent variables with low significance in stages to achieve of fit of 78 percent of the variance with three significant variables in the order of their significance: GNP per capita, years under communist rule, and freedom. Aside from applying sample tests of significance to a universe of cases, a problem with their analysis, is the high multicollinearity among these three variables (on this problem, see my blog here). Without eliminating this intercorrelation, it is impossible from this regression alone to determine what variables are dominant.

They conclude:

These findings in no way refute the evidence that genetic factors play an important role in subjective well-being; we find that evidence compelling. But these findings do indicate that genetic factors are only part of the story. Happiness levels vary cross-culturally. Since cultures are constructed by human beings, this suggests that the pursuit of happiness is not completely futile. Genes may play a crucial role, but beliefs and values also are important. Our findings also indicate that varying levels of well-being are closely linked with a society’s political institutions: sharp declines in a society’s level of well-being can lead to the collapse of the social and political system; while high levels of well-being contribute to the survival and flourishing of democratic institutions.

We now know that a nation’s past communism, economic development, and freedom are closely related to well being. We still don’t know whether it is freedom that is the strongest factor. That it has the highest correlation with well being suggests that it is, but a proper analysis of this has yet to be done. I will do it, and give the conclusions here.

see the regression of human security on freedom

On Democratization and Its Globalization

April 24, 2009

[First published December 6, 2005] You may remember my blog on “Does Incomplete Democratization Risk War?”. I evaluated the book by Jack Snyder and Edward Mansfield on Electing To Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go To War, and concluded that their quantitative results about the war likeness of nations in transition to full democracy do not prove (show, establish, indicate) that they are more likely to make war than other nations. I warned, however, that their results are being misapplied to Iraq.

Well, here is a review of the book by John M. Owen IV that does so. To give you some priceless quotes:

According to the academics, Bush’s chief transgressions have had to do with foreign policy, especially the Iraq war — a mess that could have been avoided if only the president and his advisers had paid more attention to those who devote their lives to studying international relations. . . . [RJR: I am a former academic who has spent his life studying international relations, and I support Bush's foreign policy and Iraq War]

[On] Iraq, and in particular the notion that the United States can turn it into a democracy at an acceptable cost. In effect, Mansfield and Snyder have raised the estimate of these costs by pointing out one other reason this effort may fail — a reason that few seem to have thought of. . . . . What if, following the departure of U.S. troops, Iraq holds together but as an incomplete democratizer, with broad suffrage but anemic state institutions? Such an Iraq might well treat its own citizens better than the Baathist regime did. Its treatment of its neighbors, however, might be just as bad. . . .

If Mansfield and Snyder are correct about the bellicose tendencies of young, incompletely democratized states, the stakes of Iraq’s transition are higher than most have supposed. They are high enough, in fact, that those who called so loudly in the 1990s for an end to UN sanctions because Iraqis were dying but who are silent about the Iraqis who are dying now ought to reconsider their proud aloofness from the war. An aggressive Iraq, prone to attack Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Israel, is in no one’s interest. The odds may be long that Iraq will ever turn into a mature democracy of the sort envisaged by the Bush administration.

Note that Owen does not even let a wisp of doubt cross his mind that Mansfield and Snyder are wrong.

Larry Diamond, editor of the Journal Democracy has a very good article on “Universal Democrary? appearing in Policy Review Online. He says:

[Re Iraq] This is the most ambitious effort to foster deliberate political change since European colonial rule drew to a close in the early post-World War II era. Can it succeed? Since Iraq lacks virtually all of the classic favorable conditions, to ask whether it can soon become a democracy is to ask, really, whether any country can become a democracy. Which is to ask as well, can every country become a democracy?
[note that Iraq is not a fully functioning democracy, and under a constitution that has been approved by the Iraqi people]

My answer here is a cautiously optimistic one. The current moment is in many respects without historical precedent. Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries. But no less unique are these additional facts:

• This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy.

• The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies.

• The majority of states in the world are already democracies of one sort or another.

• There is no model of governance with any broad normative appeal or legitimacy in the world other than democracy.

• There is growing international legal and moral momentum toward the recognition of democracy as a basic human right of all peoples.

• States and international organizations are intruding on sovereignty in ever more numerous and audacious ways in order to promote democracy and freedom.

He concludes:

The fully global triumph of democracy is far from inevitable, yet it has never been more attainable. If we manage to sustain the process of global economic integration and growth while making freedom at least an important priority in our diplomacy, aid, and other international engagements, democracy will continue to expand in the world. History has proven that it is the best form of government. Gradually, more countries will become democratic while fewer revert to dictatorship. If we retain our power, reshape our strategy, and sustain our commitment, eventually — not in the next decade, but certainly by mid-century — every country in the world can be democratic.

Rule by Decree Best for China?

April 22, 2009

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[First published August 29, 2005] It is rare these days that I will be aghast at what I read in the press, but the article, “In China, democracy equals disaster,” by Gary Hogan in the Baltimore Sun (here) did it. At first I thought it was a parody and smiled as I read the first few paragraphs, but then it became all too clear that this was serious. For the rest of my reading I must have looked as though I was reading one of those beamed-up-to-an-alien starship stories. When I finished, I had to double-check my calendar to make sure indeed that I had not been transported by some quirk of nature back to the 1960s when this sort of article was popular.

Hogan begins by extolling the “Four Pests” campaign by Mao soon after the communists seized China. It was an attempt to eliminate sources of disease, such as flies and mosquitoes, by decreeing a daily quota to be killed and turned in. “And it worked,” says Hogan, and he uses this successful campaign as a model for the way China should be run. Oh yes, there was the “disastrous” Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, “But rule by imperial decree was and is the best way to govern the planet’s largest nation. . . . For China must be controlled. Tightly. A centralized oligarchy is vital for this. Democracy would be disastrous for China, for the United States and for everyone.

He concludes this incredibly article this way:

Like it or not, communism – or to use the boilerplate popularized by Mr. Deng, a “socialist market economy” – with its matrix of failsafe controls strictly applied by the Beijing leadership elite, works for China. And a workable China is in the best interests of the United States.

There is no recognition that the eradication of pests by quota was coincident with the eradication of human beings by the millions and later by quota also. While he does recognize that the Great Leap Forward was disastrous, he seems not to see the human horror in it leading to the world’s greatest famine that may have killed 30-40 million Chinese. And while also recognizing the disaster that was the Cultural Revolution, he seems unaware of the human toll, which may have been as high as 10 million (my calculation is about 7 million). China’s Communist Party, the government of China, was and still is (with it being the greatest executioner in the world today) a killing machine. Living bodies in, corpses out.

Then Hogan seems content that Chinese have no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, no freedom of association, no freedom to choose their leaders, no rule of law, no right to a fair trial. After all, they live in a “stable and predictable China, [which] is vastly preferable to the vagaries and vicissitudes of a 1.3 billion-strong democracy.”

I wish I could twitch my nose and as though a witch, whisk him off to live under this marvelously stable rule be decree.

Link of Note

China’s Bloody Century: Chapter 1: Introduction and Overview R.J. Rummel (1991)

I say:

Once control over all of China was won and consolidated, and the proper party machinery and instruments of control were generally in place, the communists launched numerous movements to systematically destroy the traditional Chinese social and political system and replace it with a totally socialist, top to bottom “dictatorship of the proletariat.” In the beginning their model was Stalin’s Soviet Union; Soviet advisors even helping to construct their own Gulag. Their principles were derived from Marxism-Leninism, as largely interpreted by Mao Tse-tung; their goals were to thoroughly transform China into a communist society. In this they were consistent with their beginnings, but they now had a whole country to work with, without the need to give tactical and strategic consideration to another force–the Nationalists or Japanese–seeking and capable of destroying them.

Now, beginning in 1950, carefully and nationally organized movement after movement rapidly followed each other: Land Reform, Suppressing Anti-communist Guerrillas, New Marriage system, Religious Reform, Democratic Reform, Suppressing Counterrevolutionaries, Anti-Rightist Struggle, Suppressing the “Five Black Categories,” etc. Each of these was a step towards the final communization of China; each was bloody. Self-consciously bloody. Witness what Mao himself had to say in a speech to party cadre in 1958: 

What’s so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46,000 scholars. In the course of our repression of counter-revolutionary elements, haven’t we put to death a number of the counter-revolutionary scholars? I had an argument with the democratic personages. They say we are behaving worse than Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty. That’s definitely not correct. We are 100 times ahead of Emperor Shih of the Chin Dynasty in repression of counter-revolutionary scholars.

Only when these movements and especially the final, total collectivization of the peasants and “Great Leap Forward” destroyed the agricultural system, causing the world’s greatest recorded famine–[at least] 27,000,000 starved too death–did the communist begin to draw back from or slacken their drives. Shortly after this famine, in the mid-1960s, an intra-party civil war erupted between Mao Tse-tung and his followers, who wanted to continue the mass-based revolution, and a more moderate, pragmatically oriented faction. This “cultural revolution” probably cost near [10 million] lives. Mao won, but only temporarily. With his death soon after, the pragmatists and “capitalist roaders” regained power and launched China in a more open, economically experimental direction; even, until the Tianamen Square demonstrations and subsequent massacres of 1989, on a more liberal path.

So, overall, counting the democide, nondemocidal famine, and battle dead, the total cost of Chinese communism has been about 73 million lives. But, they did temporarily eradicate the flies and mosquitoes

China’s Cultural Revolution
A Docudrama

Not a Parody — China’s White Paper on Democracy

April 2, 2009

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[First published October 20, 2005] China has published a white paper, “Building of Political Democracy in China.” (full paper here). This is a remarkable paper and provides an invaluable view of the Chinese communist elite’s perception of democracy, or what they believe would justify their dictatorship to the democracies. In short, what we see as red, they claim is truly blue. A few choice paragraphs:

In the course of their modern history, the Chinese people have waged unrelenting struggles and made arduous explorations in order to win their democratic rights. But only under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) did they really win the right to be masters of the state. The Chinese people dearly cherish and resolutely protect their hard-earned democratic achievements.

Because situations differ from one country to another, the paths the people of different countries take to win and develop democracy are different. Based on the specific conditions of China, the CPC and the Chinese people first engaged in a New Democratic Revolution, and after New China was founded in 1949, and proceeding from the actual situation of the primary stage of socialism, began to practice socialist democracy with its own characteristics. The experience over the past few decades has proved that embarking on this road of development of political democracy chosen by the Chinese people themselves not only realized the Chinese people’s demand to be masters of their own country, but is also gradually realizing their common ideal to build their country into a strong and modern socialist country. . . .

The experience of political civilization of mankind over a history of several millenniums is ample proof of the truth that the political system a country adopts and the road to democracy it takes must be in conformity with the conditions of that country. The socialist political democracy of China is rooted in the vast land of fertile soil on which the Chinese nation has depended for its subsistence and development over thousands of years. It grew out of the experience of the CPC and the Chinese people in their great practice of striving for national independence, liberation of the people and prosperity of the country. It is the apt choice suited to China’s conditions and meeting the requirement of social progress.

Then there is the choice part of the paper on “Respecting and Safeguarding Human Rights:”

Respecting and safeguarding human rights, ensuring that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedom according to law, represents an intrinsic requirement for the development of socialist democracy. Socialist democracy means that all power of the state belongs to the people and people enjoy in real terms the civil rights prescribed in the Constitution and law. China’s socialist democracy is a kind of democracy built on the basis that citizens’ rights are guaranteed and constantly developed.

As a committed representative of the Chinese people’s fundamental interests, the CPC has always taken as its basic task the maintenance of national sovereignty and independence, as well as the safeguarding and development of the various rights of the people, and regards the rights to subsistence and development as the paramount human rights. The CPC adheres to taking development as the task of first importance, implements the scientific concept of putting the people first and seeking an overall, coordinated and sustainable development, and strives to promote economic development and social progress to satisfy the people’s multiple needs and realize their all-round development.

The Chinese Constitution comprehensively stipulates the citizens’ basic rights and freedoms. Based on the Constitut ion, China has enacted a series of laws on the protection of human rights, and set up a relatively comprehensive legal system for the protection of human rights. On the basis of achievements made over the 50-plus years of economic and social development, the Chinese people are now enjoying human rights more comprehensive and fuller than they have ever enjoyed in the past.

All I can say is read my “Introduction and Overview” of China’s Bloody Century (here), and note that even with the recent advance in freedom of the Chinese people (still not democracy, even electorally), as Michael Backman says (from here):

China routinely executes hundreds and sometimes thousands of its citizens each year. There were 27,120 death sentences reported in China’s official media in the 1990s and more than 18,000 confirmed executions. More than 50 crimes are punishable by death. Famously, relatives of the executed are invoiced for bullets used in the dispatch.

Pre-trial confessions are still relied on extensively in place of forensic evidence and although torture is illegal it is still used to extract confessions. It is likely that many innocent people are executed each year on the basis of such “confessions”.

The legal system is poorly resourced. Many judges are poorly trained. They are nominated by local and provincial party committees and approved by local people’s congresses. The congresses provide the salaries, housing and other benefits for judges, many of whom are former military personnel with little or no legal training. There is not even a pretence of judicial independence: judges are expected to discuss sensitive cases with members of their local Communist Party political-legal committees before making rulings..

As to the Chinese Communist Party’s after 1949 beginning to “practice socialist democracy with its own characteristics,” what these characteristics were is well illustrated in the pie chart below.

Link of Note



The Dong Feng-5 (DF-5, NATO codename: CSS-4) is China’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Developed by China Academy of Launch Vehicle (CALT, also known as 1st Aerospace Academy), it is a silo-based, two-stage, liquid propellant ballistic missile. The missile carries a single 3 megatons nuclear warhead and has an effective range of 12,000km. The DF-5A is the improved variant with an extended range. The PLA currently deploys approximately 24~36 of this missile deployed in central China.

Following the success of the DF-4 (CSS-3) long-range ballistic missile, in 1964 China began to develop its first true ICBM capable of reaching the United States. The same design was also later used to develop China’s Chang Zheng (Long March) family space launch vehicle and became the foundation of the Chinese space programme.

RJR: And liberals and libertarians oppose our development of a missile space shield, which they still derisively call “Star Wars.” But, they offer no alternative defense except massive retaliation against Chinese ICBMs. Keep in mind what this would mean — the killing of tens of millions of Chinese people in retaliation for what a gang of Chinese communist thugs have done.

Links I Must Share

Terrorism Knowledge Base
RJR: this is an incredible resource, and even enables you to generate online your own terrorism time series charts.

Transparancy International
RJR: Provides a corruption index for most nations. Least corrupt is Iceland, U.S. is ranked 17th, under Germany and Hong Kong. At the bottom is Chad. China is 78th, along with Morocco, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Suriname. It seems from scanning the ranks that the democracies are the least corrupt. If no one correlated these ranking with democratic freedom, I will.

“Death With A Smile”
A docudrama of China’s Cultural Revolution

What To Do About Nukes?

January 31, 2009

[First published May 19, 2005] For a month diplomats gathered in New York about revising the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and wrung their hands over North Korea’s self-proclaimed, and apparently actual, possession of nuclear weapons, and Iran’s intent to develop them. What to do? What to do?

It seems the best that the diplomats can recommend is to guarantee North Korea that it will not be attacked by any power, including especially the United States, and to offer inducements, such as international recognition and the multilateral promise of food and material aid. Regarding Iran, the idea is the same — guarantees of its security, enhance trade, encouraged investment, and reactor fuel for nuclear power. In other words, if the thugs that rule are clever enough, and can get the resources they need to seem on the verge of developing nukes, then most of the world will appease them. Indeed, they will argue among themselves as to how to best appease these thugs.

Of course, something must be done in the short run about their possessing or soon to get nukes. But, I don’t believe appeasement works. It only feeds the thugs hunger for more, and only encourages other thugs to exploit this obvious fear so created to get their own goodies. A fundamental principle is at work here:

Appeasement begets appeasement.
But, what to do in the long run? This is another amazing case of few recognizing what is in front of their noses, such as our ability to produce invisible solids (glass). The solution is obvious, when it is pointed out. Consider: the United States, Britain, France, and Israel have nuclear weapons. (South Africa had six, but then in 1993 the South African Parliament committed the country against developing nuclear weapons, and the six were dismantled — at that time South Africa was on the road from Apartheid to being a full-fledged liberal democracy, which was achieved the following year.) Note that none of these democratic nuclear powers perceive the other as a threat or as a matter of security, and have developed no defenses against the others, ALTHOUGH THEY HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS. It is just inconceivable that such democracies would go to nuclear war against each other. The only purpose of their nukes is protection against the thugs of this world, or, in the case of France, as also a ticket to the Big Power Club.

So, what to do for the long run elimination of the supreme danger of nuclear weapons? Pure and simple:

Foster democratic freedom
In a world of democracies, there should be complete nuclear disarmament, for democracies have no need for military forces against each other.

And so an interventionist policy of freeing people from their enslavement to the whims of thugs and ordinary dictators is also to wage peace and denuclearization.

Link of Note

” The anomalies killing nonproliferation” (5/18/05) By Ramesh Thakur

Ramesh Thakur is senior vice rector of the UN University in Tokyo. He says:

Significant gaps exist in the legal and institutional framework to combat today’s real threats. It is impossible to defang tyrants of their nuclear weapons the day after they acquire and use them. The UN seems incapable of doing so the day before: The Security Council can hardly table the North Korean threat for discussion and resolution.

If international institutions cannot cope, states will try to do so themselves, either unilaterally or in concert with like-minded allies. If prevention is strategically necessary and morally justified but legally not permitted, then the existing framework of laws and rules — not the anticipatory military action — is defective.

In other words, international law is an ass, and so is the fundamental legal norm against intervention in the affairs of a state.

Never Again Series

When Democracy Endures

January 29, 2009

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[First published August 31, 2005] Research by Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi has shown the importance of economic development and growth in the survival of democracies. In the study, “What Makes Democracies Endure,” they did a second analysis, now with Michael Alvarez and Josà Antonio Cheibub, in which they studied other conditions that enhance the survival of democracy. I need not extensively quote from this article, since it is in the Journal of Democracy (7.1, 1996) available online.

The basis of this study is:

135 countries observed annually between 1950 or the year of independence or the first year when economic data are available (“entry” year) and 1990 or the last year for which data are available (“exit” year), for a total of 4,318 country-years. We found 224 regimes, of which 101 were democracies and 123 dictatorships, observing 40 transitions to dictatorship and 50 to democracy. Among democratic regimes, there were 50 parliamentary systems, 46 presidential systems, and 8 mixed systems.

Their conclusion:

If a country, any randomly selected country, is to have a democratic regime next year, what conditions should be present in that country and around the world this year? The answer is: democracy, affluence, growth with moderate inflation, declining inequality, a favorable international climate, and parliamentary institutions.

I can’t resist mentioning a few gems:

It may seem tautological to say that a country should have a democratic regime this year in order to have a democracy next year. We do so in order to dispel the myth, prevalent in certain intellectual and political circles (particularly in the United States) since the late 1950s, that the route to democracy is a circuitous one. The claim is that 1) dictatorships are better at generating economic development in poor countries, and that 2) once countries have developed, their dictatorial regimes will give way to democracy. To get to democracy, then, one had to support, or at least tolerate, dictatorships.
Both of the above propositions, however, are false.

. . . . An overthrow of democracy at any time during the past history of a country shortens the life expectancy of any democratic regime in that country. To the extent that political learning does occur, then, it seems that the lessons learned by antidemocratic forces from the past subversion of democracy are more effective than the traditions that can be relied on by democrats.

. . . . the survival of democracies does depend on their institutional systems. Parliamentary regimes last longer, much longer, than presidential ones. Majority-producing electoral institutions are conducive to the survival of presidential systems: presidential systems facing legislative deadlock are particularly brittle. Both systems are vulnerable to bad economic performance, but presidential democracies are less likely to survive even when the economy grows than are parliamentary systems when the economy declines. The evidence that parliamentary democracy survives longer and under a broader spectrum of conditions than presidential democracy thus seems incontrovertible.

. . . . For a variety of reasons, however, this is not an optimistic conclusion. Poverty is a trap. Few countries with annual per-capita income below $1,000 develop under any regime: their average rate of growth is less than 1 percent a year; many experience prolonged economic decline. When poor countries stagnate, whatever democracies happen to spring up tend to die quickly. Poverty breeds poverty and dictatorship.
Institutional choice offers a partial escape from this trap: parliamentary systems in the poorest countries, while still very fragile, are almost twice as likely to survive as presidential democracies, and four times as likely when they grow economically. Yet since it appears that poor countries are more likely to choose presidentialism, little solace is offered by the possibility of institutional engineering.

. . . . In sum, the secret of democratic durability seems to lie in economic development–not, as the theory dominant in the 1960s had it, under dictatorship, but under democracy based on parliamentary institutions.

What about Afghanistan and Iraq’s democratic institutions? Afghanistan has a Presidential system of direct election (Constitution here). The President is elected, “by receiving more than 50% of the votes cast through free, general, secret, and direct voting.” The National Assembly consists of two houses. In the House of Representatives, members represent regions by direct election, their number proportional to a region’s population. For the Senate, however, 2/3rds are elected or appointed from provincial councils, and 1/3rd are appointed by the President (50% must be women).

As to the draft Iraq Constitution (here), it creates a parliamentary system. Its legislature consists of two houses, one of which is a Council of Representatives (Parliament) to be elected by a nation-wide direct, secret ballot. A second house is a Council of Union, which will include representatives of provinces and regions. The President of the Republic is to be determined by a 2/3rds majority of the Council of Representatives.

So, in light of the above research of Adam Przeworski and colleagues, the constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq are positive for the success of their democracies. Although Afghanistan has created a presidential system, it provides in its two houses and regional councils a means for many interests to be represented in the government and, if a significant segment of the population, to make their interests respected. Similarly, with the proposed Iraqi parliamentary system, and even more so. Clearly, small parties will have to be invited to form a collation with the larger parties in order to achieve the 2/3rds necessary to elect a president. As I noted yesterday, although both are at that low level of national income which makes the success of democracy a serious question, both promise rapid development. This, along with their democratic institutions, make their democratic suvival more than a hope.

Link of Note

“Democracy, Cappitalism and Development” By Khandakar Elahi and Constantine P Danopoulos (2004)


In social science, a passionate debate continues about the expected effect of democracy on development. Many authors believe that democracy dampens development. This paper discredits this view by clarifying the debate’s critical conceptions- democracy, capitalism and development. In the non-communist state, private individuals inspire economic development, because they own the major portion of the nation=s resources. Since individuals are selfish by nature, they ordinarily improve their economic welfare if they enjoy ‘fair freedoms’ meaning that the social environment of fair freedom is the key to economic development in the non-communist state. Capitalism guarantees this environment, which suggests that the desirable functioning of capitalism is the clue to economic development. Democracy is the only system of governance that can guarantee long run peaceful functioning of the capitalist economy. Thus, a nation cannot remain poor if she is governed according to the principles of democracy.

This study, along with the two of Adam Przeworski and colleagues, suggest that there will be continued rapid growth of democracies among poor nations, and that democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq will survive as long as we continue to secure them against insurrection and terrorists.

When will the world be least 90 percent democratic? Between 2022 and 2076.

See the last question on the page.


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