When Democracy Endures

January 29, 2009

click me^–>

[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.

Why Are We fighting In Iraq?

January 29, 2009

[First published November 2, 2005] The foreign policy of the United States, the War on Terror, and the War in Iraq is predicated on the democratic peace. President bush has expressed this explicitly in describing his Forward Strategy of Freedom. Secretary Rumsfeld has mentioned it, and Secretary Rice has accepted it as background to her speeches on democracy. Because of the democratic peace, even President Clinton made promoting democracy one of the pillars of his foreign policy.

The democratic peace is now the best empirically established theory and most widely held among students of international relations. The theory, which goes back to the Philosopher Immanuel Kant in his Perpetual Peace (1795), is that:

The republican constitution . . . gives a favorable prospect for the desired consequence, i.e., perpetual peace. The reason is this: if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. . . . But, on the other hand, in a constitution which is not republican, and under which the subjects are not citizens, a declaration of war is the easiest thing in the world to decide upon, because war does not require of the ruler, who is the proprietor and not a member of the state, the least sacrifice of the pleasures of his table, the chase, his country houses, his court functions, and the like. He may, therefore, resolve on war as on a pleasure party for the most trivial reasons, and with perfect indifference leave the justification which decency requires to the diplomatic corps who are ever ready to provide it.

Indeed, we now know from research done over the last three decades that this is true. The table below shows that since 1816, there have been no wars between democracies, although 371 bilateral wars when one or both sides were nondemocracies.

A second table below shows that there have been only three cases of violence ending in deaths between democracies over the 190 years since 1816. Two of these involved Peru and Ecuador in 1981 and 1984 (26 to 100 killed in the first, and 1 to 25 in the second case of violence). In 1981 Peru was only marginally democratic, as was Ecuador, but less so. This was also true of Peru and Ecuador in 1984. The only other case of violence over these near two centuries was marginally democratic Ecuador (initiator) vs. the U.S. in 1954 in which 1-25 were killed. Only three cases, and none since 1984 despite there being 117 democracies today.

There is much more to the democratic peace then the avoidance of war or international violence. Democracies have been involved in many wars, some they launched themselves (Afghanistan and Iraq being the most recent example). However, by an order of magnitude or more, democracies fight the least severe wars in killed compared to authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.

Moreover, in general, democratic nations are the most internally peaceful — they have the least violence in number killed in rebellions, civil wars, civil unrest, anti-government riots, violent strikes, and coups.

Also, and perhaps most important, modern democracies seldom murder their own citizens. Democide (genocide and mass murder) is an evil of militarism (as in Burma), monarchism (Russia’s Peter the Great), theocratism (Iran), fascism (Hitler), and communism. Over the whole 20th Century during which governments murdered about 174,000,000 people, only 149,000 deaths were due to barely democratic regimes — nearly 100,000 to the far left Spanish Republican government during its 1936-39 civil war, 10,000 to Peru’s (1980-87) fight with communist guerrillas, 25,000 to India, 4,000 to Colombia, 2,000 to the U.S.A. (largely because of lynching in the early years of the century), and lesser numbers to a smattering of democracies. Among these democracies committing democide, none were liberal democracies at the time (when American domestic democide occurred women could not vote and minorities were systematically and legally segregated, harassed, and denied the vote in many states), and one might argue that some were not democracies at all. No democratically free people, liberal democracies of which there are about 88 today, have murdered their own.

How do we understand this nonviolence, peaceful nature of democracy? Kant had part of the answer. Democratic people usually oppose war. But not always. There are two other factors. One is that with democratic institutions comes a democratic culture of negotiation, compromise, and tolerance. And two, there is a civil society of independent and interlocking institutions and groups –churches, businesses, schools, and social, political, and recreation groups — that not only stitch and bond democratic society together, but also cross pressure interests so that the stakes in a conflict are never too high, and the conflicts themselves are isolated. Such a democratic culture and society also encompasses democratic nations, enfolding them in a dynamic democratic field of cross national governmental and nongovernmental organizations, multinational businesses, trade, cultural and educational exchanges, which are similarly bond the nations together and cross pressure interest that might favor violence. Moreover, the basic norm of negotiating and tolerating differences is shared among democracies, which is one reason democracies cannot well negotiate with dictatorship, to whom it is only war by other means.

So, why are we fighting in Iraq and fostering democratic freedom there and elsewhere? The answer is to promote an end to war, and democide, and to minimize internal political violence. In other words, it is to foster global human security. Surely, this is worth fighting for.