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Democracy and Economic Growth: A Historical Perspective

  • John Gerring (a1), Philip Bond (a2), William T. Barndt (a3) and Carola Moreno (a1)

Recent studies appear to show that democracy has no robust association with economic growth. Yet all such work assumes that the causal effect of democracy can be measured by a country's regime status in a particular year (T), which is correlated with its growth performance in a subsequent period (T+l). The authors argue that democracy must be understood as a stock, rather than a level, measure. That is, a country's growth performance is affected by the number of years it has been democratic, in addition to the degree of democracy experienced during that period. In this fashion, democracy is reconceptualized as a historical, rather than a contemporary, variable—with the assumption that long-run historical patterns may help scholars to understand present trends. The authors speculate that these secular-historical influences operate through four causal pathways, each of which may be understood as a type of capital: physical capital, human capital, social capital, and political capital. This argument is tested in a crosscountry analysis and is shown to be robust in a wide variety of specifications and formats.

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1 See, e.g., Barro Robert J., “Democracy and Growth,” Journal of Economic Growth 1 (March 1996); Feng Yi, “Democracy, Political Stability and Economic Growth,” BritishJournal ofPolitical Science 27 (July 1997); idem, Democracy, Governance, and Economic Performance: Theory and Evidence (Cambridge: MIT Press 2003); Jonathan Krieckhaus, “The Regime Debate Revisited: A Sensitivity Analysis of Democracy's Economic Effect,” British Journal of Political Science (forthcoming); Kurzman Charles K., Werum Regina W., and Burkhart Ross E., “Democracy's Effect on Economic Growth: A Pooled Time-Series Analysis, 1951–1980,” Studies in Comparative International Development 37 (January 2002); Przeworski Adam and Limongi Fernando, “Political Regimes and Economic Growth,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 7 (Summer 1993); idem, “Modernization: Theories and Facts,” World Politics 49 (January 1997); Przeworski Adam, Alvarez Michael, Jose Cheibub Antonio, and Limongi Fernando, Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Material Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002). Elias Papaioannou and Gregorios Siourounis and Dani Rodrik and Romain Wacziarg find a relationship between episodes of democratization (if sustained) and growth rates in subsequent years, though they make no claims about the effect of democracy per se on growth performance; see Papaioannou and Siourounis, “Democratization and Growth,” Working Paper (London Business School, October 2004); and Rodrik and Wacziarg, “Do Democratic Transitions Produce Bad Economic Outcomes?” (Manuscript, December 2004). Barro finds that “growth is increasing in democracy at low levels of democracy, but the relation turns negative once a moderate amount of political freedom is attained”; Barro, Determinants of Economic Growth (Cambridge: MIT Press 1997). A few recent studies find a positive overall relationship between democracy and growth, but this is not the standard finding. These recent studies include Bhalla Surjit S., “Freedom and Economic Growth: A Virtuous Cycle?” in Hadenius Axel, ed., Democracy's Victory and Crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1997); and Leblang David A., “Political Democracy and Economic Growth: Pooled Cross-Sectional and Time-Series Evidence,” BritishJour-nal of Political Science 27 (July 1997).

2 See, e.g., Chan Sylvia, Liberalism, Democracy and Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002); Woo-Cumings Meredith, ed., The Developmental State (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 1999).

3 See Lee Kuan Yew, quoted in The Economist, August 27,1994, 15.

4 Even studies by economic historians that look at the relationship between democracy and growth in early periods of development tend to conceptualize this relationship as contemporaneous (simultaneous). See, e.g., Lindert Peter H., “Voice and Growth: Was Churchill Right?” Journal of Economic History 63 (June 2003).

5 Collier Ruth Berins and and Collier David, Shaping the Political Arena: Critical junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1991); [Hite Catherine and Cesarini Paola, eds., Authoritarian Legacies and Democracy in Latin America and Southern Europe (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press 2004); Mahoney James, The Legacies ofLiberalism: Path Dependence and Political Regimes in Central America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2002).

6 Besley Timothy and Burgess Robin, “Land Reform, Poverty Reduction and Growth: Evidence from India,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 (May 2000); Sokoloff Kenneth L. and Engerman Stanley L., “Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14 (Summer 2000). But see Forbes Kristin, “A Reassessment of the Relationship between Inequality and Growth,” American Economic Review 90 (September 2000).

7 Lenski Gerhard, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1966); Lipset Seymour Martin., “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” American Political Science Review 53 (March 1959); Meltzer Allan H. and Richard Scott F., “A Rational Theory of the Size ofGovernment,” Journal of Political Economy 89 (1981); Muller Edward N., “Democracy, Economic Development, and Income Inequality,” American Sociological Review 53 (February 1988).

8 Chong Alberto, “Inequality, Democracy, and Persistence: Is There a Political Kuznets Curve?” Economics and Politics 16 (July 2004).

9 Mark Gradstein and Branko Milanovic, “Does Liberte=Egalite? A Survey of the Empirical Links between Democracy and Inequality with Some Evidence on the Transition Economies,” Working Paper Series no. 261 (CESifo, 2000); Tavares Jose and Wacziarg Romain, “How Democracy Affects Growth,” European Economic Review 45 (August 2001).

10 Barro (fn. 1, 1997); Xavier X. Sala-i-Martin, “Fifteen Years of New Growth Economics: What Have We Learnt?” (Manuscript, Department of Economics, Columbia University, 2002).

11 Baum Matthew A. and Lake David A., “The Political Economy of Growth: Democracy and Human Capital,” American Journal of Political Science 47 (April 2003); Dreze Jean and Sen Amartya, Hunger and Public-Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1989); Feng (fn. 1,2003).

12 John Gerring, Strom Thacker, and Rodrigo Alfaro, “Democracy and Human Development” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., September 2005).

13 Guiso Luigi, Sapienza Paola, and Zingales Luigi, The Role of Social Capital in Financial Development, American Economic Review 94, no. 3 (2004). See also Knack Stephen and Keefer Philip, “Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation,” QuarterlyJournal ofEconomics 112 (1997); Woolcock Michael, “Social Capital and Economic Development: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis and Policy Framework,” Theory and Society 27 (April 1998).

14 Putnam Robert D., ed., Democracies in Flux (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002); Warren Mark E., Democracy and Trust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999).

15 For purposes of discussion, we shall assume that large budget deficits, high inflation, high tariff barriers, and heavy regulatory burdens usually have negative consequences over the long term. This does not mean that the state should withdraw from the marketplace; it means, rather, that economic policies should be “market augmenting.” Azfar Omar and Cadwell Charles, eds., Market-Augmenting Government: The Institutional Foundationsfor Prosperity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 2002). The security of property rights depends upon the intelligent engagement of the state. North Douglass C., Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1990); idem, “The Historical Evolution of Polities,” Working Paper (Department of Economics, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., 1994).

16 Mobarak Ahmed Mushfiq, “Democracy, Volatility and Development,” Review of Economics and Statistics 87 (May 2005).

17 Przeworski Adam and Maravall Jose Maria, eds., Democracy and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003); Roberto Rigobon and Dani Rodrik, “Rule of Law, Democracy, Openness, and Income: Estimating the Interrelationships” NBER Working Paper 10750 (September 2004).

18 Ades Alberto and Telia Rafael Di, “The New Economics of Corruption: A Survey and Some New Results,” in Heywood Paul, ed., Political Corruption (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1997); Keefer Philip and Knack Stephen, “Why Don't Poor Countries Catch Up? A Cross-National Test of an Institutional Explanation,” Economic Inquiry 35 (1997); Mauro Paolo, “Corruption and Growth,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 110 (August 1995).

19 Stinchcombe Arthur L., “Social Structure and Organizations,” in March James, ed., Handbook of Organizations (Chicago: Rand McNally 1965).

20 Surowiecki James, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations (New York: Doubleday 2004).

21 Clare Lombardelli, James Proudman, James Talbot, “Committees versus Individuals: An Experimental Analysis of Monetary Policy Decision Making,” InternationalJournal of Central Banking (May 2005); Blinder Alan S. and Morgan John, “Are Two Heads Better Than One? Monetary Policy by Committee,” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 37, no. 5 (2005).

22 Sartori Giovanni, The Theory of Democracy Revisited (Chatham, U.K.: Chatham House 1987), 152.

23 Dornbusch Rudiger and Edwards Sebastian, eds., The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1991).

24 Remmer Karen L., “The Political Impact of Economic Crisis in Latin America in the 1980s,” American Political Science Review 85 (September 1991); Weyland Kurt, The Politics of Market Reform in Fragile Democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2002).

25 Duch Raymond M., “A Developmental Model of Heterogeneous Economic Voting in New Democracies,” American Political Science Review 95 (December 2001).

26 Lewis-Beck Michael and Stegmaier Mary, “Economic Determinants of Electoral Outcomes,” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (June 2000).

27 Stokes Susan Carol, Markets, Mandates, and Democracy: Neoliberalism by Surprise in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001); Stokes, ed., Public Supportfor Market Reforms in New Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002).

28 North (fn. 15, 1990) 6.

29 See, e.g., Huntington Samuel P., Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press 1968); Polsby Nelson, “The Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives,” American Political Science Review 62 (March 1968). Note that the concept of institutionalization has deep intellectual roots and may be traced back to work by Henry Sumner Maine, Ferdinand Tonnies, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Talcott Parsons. See Polsby, 145.

30 Marcus Harold G., A History of Ethiopia, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

31 Hardin Russell, Liberalism, Constitutionalism, and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999).

32 See, e.g., Crozier Michel J., Huntington Samuel P., and Watanuki Joji, The Crisis of Democracy (New York: New York University Press, 1975)

33 Chua Amy, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (New York: Random House 2003); Fein Helen, More Murder in the Middle: Life-Integrity Violations and Democracy in the World, 1987, Human Rights Quarterly 17, no. 1 (1995); Mousseau Demet Yalcin, “Democratizing with Ethnic Divisions: A Source of Conflict?” Journal of Peace Research 38 (September 2001); Papaioannou and Siourounis (fn. 1); Snyder Jack L., From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict (New York: W. W. Norton 2000).

34 O'Donnell Guillermo and Schmitter Philippe, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1986).

35 Eckstein Susan, ed., Power and Popular Protest: Latin American SocialMovements (Durham: University of North Carolina Press 1989); Escobar Arturo and Alvarez Sonia, eds., The Making of Social Movements in Latin America (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press 1992); Stepan Alfred P., Democratizing Brazil: Problems of Transition and Consolidation (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1989); Tarrow Sidney, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998).

36 Haggard Stephan and Kaufman Robert R., The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1995), 184-86.

37 Tilly Charles, “Parliamentarization of Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834,” Theory and Society 26 (1997).

38 Olson Mancur, The Rise and Decline ofNations (New Haven: Yale University Press 1982).

39 Huntingdon Samuel P., Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press 1968).

40 Sanchez-Cuenca Ignacio, “Power, Rules, and Compliance,” in Maravall Jose Maria and Przeworski Adam, eds., Democracy and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003), 68. Alternative definitions tend to converge on key points, though terminology differs, for which, too, see Maravall and Przeworski.

41 This conclusion echoes and dissents from Clague Christopher, Keefer Philip, Knack Stephen, and Olson Mancur, Property and Contract Rights in Autocracies and Democracies, Journal of Economic Growth 1, no. 2 (1996).

42 Schumpeter Joseph A., Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper and Bros., 1942/1950), 269.

43 Vanhanen Tatu, The Process ofDemocratization: A Comparative Study of 147 States, 1980–88 (New York: Crane Russak 1990).

44 Przeworski et al. (fn. 1).

45 On conceptualizing and measuring democracy, see Bollen Kenneth A. and Paxton Pamela, “Subjective Measures of Liberal Democracy,” Comparative Political Studies 33 (February 2001); Collier David and Adcock Robert, “Democracy and Dichotomies: A Pragmatic Approach to Choices about Concepts Annual Review of Political Science 2 (June 1999); Mainwaring Scott, Brinks Daniel, and Perez-Linan Anibal, “Classifying Political Regimes in Latin America, 1945–1999,” Studies in Comparative and International Development 36 (October 2001); Munck Gerardo L. and Verkuilen Jay, “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: Alternative Indices,” Comparative Political Studies 35 (February 2002); Przeworski et al. (fn. 1).

46 Among extant studies of democracy and growth we have found only a few that approach the concept of democracy over time, for example, Weede Erich, “Legitimacy, Democracy, and Comparative Economic Growth Reconsidered,” European Sociological Review 12 (December 1996); and we have found none that stretches back to encompass the entire twentieth century.

47 Monty G. Marshall and Keith Jaggers “Polity IV Dataset Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–1999” (2000). Page numbers cited refer to Dataset User's Manual.

48 Bollen and Paxton (fn. 45); Bowman Kirk, Lehoucq Fabrice, and Mahoney James, “Measuring Political Democracy: Case Expertise, Data Adequacy, and Central America” Comparative Political Studies 38 (October 2005); Munck and Verkuilen (fn. 45); Shawn Treier and Simon Jackman, “Democracy as a Latent Variable” (Paper presented at the Political Methodology meetings, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St.Paul, July 2003).

49 Correlations between Polity2 and other democracy indices (introduced below in the text) are as follows: “Political Rights” (Freedom House) = -.85; “Liberal Democracy” (Bollen) =.92; “Democracy index” (Vanhanen) = .85.

50 Freedom in the World, survey methodology, on the Freedom House Web site: www.freedomhouse. org/research/freeworld/2000/methodology.htm.

51 Bollen Kenneth A., “Liberal Democracy: Validity and Method Factors in Cross-National Measures,” American Journal of Political Science 37 (November 1993); Vanhanen (fn. 43); Arthur S. Banks, “Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive” (Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Social Analysis, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1994).

52 We see no reason to suppose that a longer period of measurement—which might, in principle, stretch back to 1850—would alter any of the findings presented here.

53 This recoding affects the following countries: Albania (1900–1912, Ottoman Empire), Andorra (1900-present, France), Armenia (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Azerbaijan (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Belarus (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Bosnia-Herzegovina (1908–17, Austria-Hungary; Yugoslavia 1929–91), Croatia (1900–1917, Austria-Hungary; Yugoslavia, 1929–91), Czech Republic (1900–1917, Austria-Hungary), Slovakia (1900–1917, Austria-Hungary), Estonia (1900–1916 and 1941–90, Russia/USSR), Finland (1900–1916, Russia), Georgia (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Iraq (1900–1917, Ottoman Empire), Palestine/Israel (1900–1917, Ottoman Empire), Kazakhstan (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Kyrgyzstan (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Latvia (1900–1917 and 1941–90, Russia/USSR), Lithuania (1900–1917 and 1941–90, Russia/USSR), Macedonia (1922–90, Yugoslavia), Moldova (1900–1945, Romania; 1946–90, USSR), Mongolia (1900–1920, China), Bangladesh (1947–71, Pakistan), Slovenia (1900–1917, Austria-Hungary; 1929–91, Yugoslavia), Syria (1900–1917, Ottoman Empire), Tajikistan (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Turkmenistan (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), Ukraine (1900–1917 and 1920–90, Russia/USSR), Uzbekistan (1900–1990, Russia/USSR), and East Timor (1976–99, Indonesia).

54 In an alternative coding of this variable we assign a score of -10 (the lowest score on the Polity2 variable) to missing data from preindependence years (rather than the usual default score of 0). The historical variable constructed from this alternative coding procedure shows virtually identical results to those displayed in Table 1. Thus, in fixed-effect tests it does not matter what sort of coding procedure is used to fill in missing data from years prior to a country's independence. These scores, the reader will recall, matter only for the construction of the stock variable; they are not observations in the data analysis (no growth data is available for periods prior to independence).

55 For a recent review, see Temple Jonathan, “The New Growth Evidence,” Journal of Economic Literature 37 (March 1999).

56 World Bank, World Development Indicators (data file) (Washington, D.C.: World Bank 2003).

57 Summers Robert and Heston Alan, “The Penn World Table (Mark 5): An Expanded Set of International Comparisons, 1950–1988,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 106 (May 1991).

58 See Nuxoll Daniel A., “Differences in Relative Prices and International Differences in Growth Rates,” American Economic Review 84 (December 1994); and Temple (fn. 56), 118–19.

59 For further discussion of the debate between annual and aggregated temporal data, see Attanasio Orazio P., Picci Lucio, and Scorcu Antonello E., Saving, Growth and Investment: A Macroeconomic Analysis Using a Panel of Countries, Review of Economics and Statistics 82, no. 2 (2000); and Papaioannou and Siourounis (fn. 1). The annual format appears to be considerably more common in recent studies.

60 Nathaniel Beck and Katz Jonathan, “What to Do (and Not to Do) with Time-Series Cross-Section Data,” American Political Science Review 89 (September 1995).

61 See, e.g., Przeworski et al. (fn. 1).

62 Burkhart Ross E. and Lewis-Beck Michael, “Comparative Democracy: The Economic Development Thesis,” American Political Science Review 88 (December 1994); Londregan John B. and Poole Keith T., “Does High Income Promote Democracy?” World Politics 49 (October 1996); Helliwell John, “Empirical Linkages Between Democracy and Economic Growth,” British Journal of Political Science 24 (1994), 233-34, cited in Baum and Lake (fn. 11), 340.

63 Levine Ross and Renelt David, “A Sensitivity Analysis of Cross-Country Growth Regressions,” American Economic Review 82 (September 1992); Sala-i-Martin Xavier X., “I Just Ran Two Million Regressions,” American Economic Review 87 (May 1997); Temple (fn. 55).

64 A recent reevaiuation of cross-country growth empirics concludes that the log of GDP per capita is the only variable that is robust across all models; Bleaney Michael and Nishiyama Akira, “Explaining Growth: A Contest between Models,” Journal of Economic Growth 7 (March 2002), 45.

65 World Bank (fn.56).

66 Summers and Heston (fn. 57).

67 Newey Whitney K. and West Kenneth D., “A Simple, Positive Semi-Definite, Heteroskedasticity and Autocorrelation Consistent Covariance Matrix,” Econometrica 55 (May 1987).

68 World Bank (fn. 56).

69 These variables, drawn from the Banks (fn. 51) data set, are added together to form a composite index (construction of index by the authors).

70 World Bank (fn. 56).

71 Ibid.

72 These variables are added together to form a composite index (construction by the authors). Monty Marshall, “Major Armed Conflicts and Conflict Regions, 1946–1997,” data set from CIDCM, University of Maryland (1999), obtained via the State Failure Task Force data set, (accessed April 25, 2005).

73 World Bank (fn. 56).

74 We interpolate missing values for illiteracy, life expectancy, and population growth in order to maintain a consistent sample (failing to do so would have significantly reduced the sample size and perhaps biased our results).

75 See Papaioannou and Siourounis (fn. 1); Przeworski et al. (fn. 1).

76 An additional test—not shown—divides the sample into (1) observations where a country registers a “positive” democratic stock (>0) and (2) observations where a country registers a “negative” democratic stock (<0). This tests the possibility that our aggregate results are being driven by influential groups of long-term democracies or long-term autocracies. Reassuringly, the coefficients and standard errors for our key variable, democracy stock, are virtually constant across these two subsamples, suggesting that there is a relatively consistent democratic growth effect for deep autocracies and deep democracies.

77 The number of years that a country growing at rate g takes to double its income is given by ln 2/ln

78 Temporal delays and nonlinear causal relationships are possible only if one moves beyond the realm of interests, opinions, and coercion tout court. For example, if a person does not fully realize his or her true interests then some delay between cause and effect might be anticipated.

79 Pierson Paul, Politics in Time: History, Institutions, and Social Analysis (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2004).

80 Mahoney James and Rueschemeyer Dietrich, eds., Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003); Steinmo Sven, Thelen Kathleen, and Longstreth Frank, eds., Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1992); Waldner David, State Building and Late Development (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 1999).

81 Pierson(fn. 79), 97–99.

82 Acemoglu Daron, Johnson Simon, and Robinson James A., “Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation,” American Economic Review 91 (December 2001); John Luke Gallup and Jeffrey D. Sachs, “Geography and Economic Development,” CID Working Paper no. 1 (March 1999); Porta Rafael La, Lopez-de-Silanes Florencio, Shleifer Andrei, and Vishny Robert W., “The Quality of Government Journal of Economics, Law and Organization 15 (March 1999).

83 LaPortaetal. (fn. 82).

84 Alesina Alberto, Devleeschauwer Arnaud, Easterly William, Kurlat Sergio, and Wacziarg Romain, Fractionalization, Journal of Economic Growth 8, no. 2 (2003).

85 Arellano Manuel and Bond Stephen, “Some Tests of Specification for Panel Data: Monte Carlo Evidence and an Application to Employment Equations,” Review of Economic Studies 58 (April 1991).

* For comments and suggestions we are grateful to Victor Aguirregabiria, Larry Bartels, Patrick Johnston, Stephen Kalberg, Jonathan Krieckhaus, Charles Kurzman, Evan Lieberman, Jim Mahoney, Cathie Martin, Mushfiq Mobarak, Jas Sekhon, Richard Snyder, Nicolas van de Walk, and Joshua Yesnowitz. This research was funded by a generous grant from the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University.

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