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Inequality and Instability: The Relation of Land Tenure to Politics*

  • Bruce M. Russett (a1)
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1 “The Suppliants,” The Tragedies of Euripides, trans, by Way, Arthur S. (London 1894), 373.

2 de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America (Vintage edn., New York 1954), II, 266.

3 Kling, Merle, “Toward a Theory of Power and Political Instability in Latin America,” Western Political Quarterly, IX (March 1956), 2135. Note that land distribution is only one element of the “colonial economy” defined by Kling.

4 Tocqueville, 266.

5 See, for example, Parsons, Kenneth, et al., eds., Land Tenure (Madison 1958), and Froelich, Walter, Land Tenure, Industralization, and Social Stability (Milwaukee 1961).

6 Solow, Robert M., “Income Inequality Since the War,” in Postwar Economic Trends in the United States, ed. by Freeman, Ralph (New York 1960).

7 One must always introduce comparative data, particularly on land tenure, with certain caveats. The quality of data collection is not uniform from one country to the next, and in any case it cannot indicate the quality of the land in question. Nevertheless, while these caveats may be important with regard to a few distributions, they do not fundamentally alter the character of the data shown.

Although a few of the data presented were compiled some time ago, patterns of land tenure normally change but little over die years. Only for Bolivia, Taiwan and, to a lesser degree, Italy is there evidence of a significant change between the year given and 1960.

8 Alker, Hayward R. Jr., and Russett, Bruce M., “Indices for Comparing Inequality,” in Comparing Nations: The Use of Quantitative Data in Cross-National Research, ed. by R. L. Merritt and Stein Rokkan (1964, forthcoming).

9 The Gini number for a Lorenz curve is actually twice the area mentioned divided by the area (10,000 for 100 by 100 axes) of the whole square. Formula:

where x is the cumulated population percentage and f (x) is the height of the Lorenz curve. Cf. Jean Bowman, Mary, “A Graphical Analysis of Personal Income Distribution in the United States,” American Economic Review, XXXV (September 1945), 607–28. In Table 1 below, the Gini index is multiplied by 100.

10 With this definition, most of the indices fall between 11 and 17. Our use of logarithmic transformations in the correlations below compensates for this bunching.

In some ways it might have been more desirable to measure the average tenure of a party or coalition, but that solution raises other problems. When a government in the French Fourth Republic fell and was replaced by a new cabinet composed basically of the same parties, was this a new coalition or just the old one under a new Premier? The first answer immediately involves one in difficulties of comparability with other countries' experiences; the second answer would cause France to appear much more stable than any observer would agree was correct.

Measuring the tenure of the chief executive tells nothing about the form of government, nor about what Kling (p. 25) describes as concealed instability. A government may appear stable only as long as its repressive techniques succeed; when they fail, it may be violently and suddenly overthrown. Thus Trujillo's Dominican Republic was “stable” for several decades. Nevertheless it is difficult to see how “hidden instability” can be allowed for other than through some definition of a democratic-dictatorial continuum, which we attempt in index D below.

11 Cf. Rummel, Rudolph J., “Dimensions of Conflict Behavior Within and Between Nations,” in General Systems, Yearbook of the Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory (Ann Arbor 1963). The nature and limitations of the data used in this article will be discussed in Russett, Bruce al., World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators (New Haven 1964, forthcoming).

12 Eckstein, Harry, Internal War: The Problem of Anticipation, a report submitted to the Research Group in Psychology and the Social Sciences, Smithsonian Institution (Washington 1962), Appendix I.

13 Martin Lipset, Seymour, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy,” American Political Science Review, LIII (March 1959), 7374.

14 For a similar classification of regimes in the underdeveloped countries, see Almond, Gabriel A. and Coleman, James S., eds., The Politics of the Developing Areas (Princeton 1960), 579–81.

Lipset's categorization is of course crude and subject to a number of criticisms. For example, cf. Cutright, Phillips, “National Political Development: Measurement and Analysis,” American Sociological Review, XXVIII (April 1963), 253–64. The alternative index that Cutright suggests, however, really deals with the complexity of political institutions—quite a different matter.

15 For the three political variables, I used logarithmic transformations instead of the raw data.

16 Nor is great concentration of farmland always a prelude to violent revolution in predominantly agricultural societies. Even according to figures cited by the Communists, inequality in Czarist Russia and interwar China was less than in most of the countries listed in Table 1. Cf. V. I. Lenin, The Agrarian Program of Social Democracy, in Selected Works, in (New York, n.d.), 164–65; and Wu, Yuan-li, An Economic Survey of Communist China (New York 1956), 119. Wu lists several estimates, the most extreme of which was the report of the Hankow Land Commission, which he alleges was Communist-dominated. The Gini indices for Russia and China were, respectively, approximately 73.0 and 64.6.

Accordi to Pavlovsky, George, in Agricultural Russia on the Eve of the Revolution (London 1930), chap. 4, the difficulty in Russia stemmed less from the relative size of farm plots than from the fact that the absolute size of most holdings was too small to produce more than bare subsistence. Given the technological backwardness of the Russian peasant, this may well be true.

17 “Rich” countries and “societies where there are many alternative sources of wealth” are to some degree synonymous. Denmark and Australia, two rich nations often thought of as “agricultural,” actually have only 23 and 14 per cent, respectively, of their labor forces in agriculture.

18 The technique used was multiple regression. For a description and application of diis method, see Stokes, DonaldCampbell, Angus, and Miller, Warren, “Components of Electoral Decision,” American Political Science Review, LII (June 1958), 367–87. This procedure also allows us to test for the independent “explanatory” power of each variable with the other variables controlled.

19 This points up rather sharply the flaw in any attempt to use land distribution as an indicator of the degree of inequality in all wealth for advanced economies. Australia is widely acknowledged to be a highly egalitarian society.

20 Note that these definitions of stability say nothing about the rate of turnover among government personnel, but only about the stability of democratic forms of government. We have included India and the Philippines in the category “stable democracy” because, though independent only since the end of World War II, they met the above test. Nevertheless this decision is open to some question, as political conditions in these countries clearly are not die same as in Western Europe. If they instead were classified as “unstable democracies” it would, however, only very moderately change the pattern of the following table.

* This article is part of the research of the Yale Political Data Program, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. I am grateful to John Shingler and Seth Singleton for research assistance. An earlier version was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 1963.

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World Politics
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