Pippa Norris – Making Democratic Governance Work

Here’s something new by Pippa Norris. Definitely worth reading

“Making Democratic Governance Work : How Regimes Shape Prosperity, Welfare, and Peace”

This book focuses on three core questions. Is democratic governance good for economic prosperity? Has this type of regime accelerated progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, social welfare, and human development? Does it generate a peace-dividend and reduce conflict at home? Despite the importance of understanding these questions and the vast research literature generated, remarkably little consensus has emerged about any of these issues. Within the international community, democracy and governance are widely advocated as intrinsically desirable and important goals. Nevertheless, alternative schools of thought continue to dispute their consequences – and thus the most effective strategy for achieving a range of critical developmental objectives. Some believe that human development is largely determined by structural conditions in each society, such as geographic location, natural resources, and the reservoir of human capital, so that regimes have minimal impact. Others advocate promoting democracy to insure that leaders are responsive to social needs and accountable to citizens for achieving better schools, clinics, and wages. Yet others counter that governance capacity is essential for delivering basic public services, and state-building is essential in post-conflict reconstruction prior to holding elections. This book advances the argument that both liberal democracy and state capacity need to be strengthened in parallel to ensure effective development, within the constraints posed by structural conditions. Liberal democracy allows citizens to express their demands, to hold public officials to account, and to rid themselves of incompetent, corrupt, or ineffective leaders. Yet rising public demands that cannot be met by the state are a recipe for frustration, generating disillusionment with incumbent officeholders, or, if discontent spreads to becomes more diffuse, with the way that the regime works, or even ultimately with the promise of liberal democracy ideals. Thus governance capacity is also predicted to play a vital role in advancing human security, so that states have the capacity to respond effectively to citizen’s demands. The argument is demonstrated using systematic evidence gathered from countries worldwide during recent decades and selected cases illustrating the effects of regime change on development.

You can order the book here. 

Democracy, Redistribution and Equality

Via ABCDemocracy I came across this great article in the Brazilian Political Science Review by Adam Przeworski, one of the most important political scientists in the field of democracy and political economy. Here is the abstract of Przeworski’s paper Democracy, Redistribution and Equality: 

The article argues that economic inequality inevitably generates political inequality, which in turn reproduces economic inequality. Basic concepts are introduced first along with strong caveats concerning the quality of the cross- national data on income distributions; historical patterns of income inequality are summarized next, and with these preliminaries, a distinction is made between redistribution of consumption at a particular time and equalization of income earning capacities over time. Following this economic considerations, the article discussion moves to political factors that may block redistributions.

And for those working in the field of open government, money and politics; here are some interesting thoughts:

The impact of money on politics cannot be reduced to “corruption.” True, corruption scandals abound: suitcases filled in cash are found in the prime minister’s office, government contracts are awarded to firms co-owned by government ministers, public officials exit politics to cushy jobs in private companies they favored, insider trades are rampant, political parties are found to have bank accounts in Switzerland, local governments operate systematic bribe schedules on contractors, the list goes on and on. Moreover, such scandals are by no means limited to less developed countries or to young democracies: these examples are drawn from Germany, Spain, France, Italy, United States, and Belgium. But reducing the political role of money to instances of “corruption” is deeply misleading. Conceptualized as “corruption,” the influence of money becomes something anomalous, out-of-ordinary. We are told that when special interests bribe legislators or bureaucrats, democracy is corrupted. And then nothing needs to be said when special interests make legal political contributions. In order to exist and to participate in elections, political parties need money. Because election results matter for the private interests, they understandably seek to befriend parties and influence results of elections. The logic of political competition is inexorable. That the same acts are legal in some countries and illegal in other systems – some U.S. political financing practices would constitute corruption in several democracies – is in the end of secondary importance. The influence of money on politics is a structural feature of democracy in economically unequal societies.


The relation between money and politics can be to some extent mitigated so that the impact of economic inequality on political inequality varies across countries. Various regulatory schemes have been proposed and various are in use but we have no systematic knowledge of their effects. Perhaps instead of legal regulation, more effective are mechanisms by which poor people can pool their resources in order to counterbalance the influence of the rich. Unions provided this mechanism in the past and still do in some countries: income inequality is lower in countries which continue to have encompassing unions (Scheve and Stasavage 2009)22 Non-governmental organizations now play some of this role and, as the 2008 Obama campaign has shown, perhaps the internet will provide an alternative mechanism. But perfect political equality is impossible in economically unequal societies. Something is wrong when a plurality of citizens in a democracy answer the question about which institutions have most power in their country with “banks.23 Perhaps the most plausible explanation of the persistence of inequality is the feedback from political to economic inequality. High economic inequality generates high political inequality, disproportionate political influence of the rich perpetuates the inequality.

Definitely worth reading.

Does Democracy Improve the Quality of Life for its Citizens?

In an article published in the Journal of Politics John Gerring, Strom Thacker and Rodrigo Alfaro examine the relationship between democracy and social welfare. Here’s the abstract of Democracy and Human Development [PDF]

Does democracy improve the quality of life for its citizens? Scholars have long assumed that it does, but recent research has called this orthodoxy into question. This article reviews this body of work, develops a series of causal pathways through which democracy might improve social welfare, and tests two hypotheses: (a) that a country’s level of democracy in a given year affects its level of human development and (b) that its stock of democracy over the past century affects its level of human development. Using infant mortality rates as a core measure of human development, we conduct a series of time-series—cross-national statistical tests of these two hypotheses. We find only slight evidence for the first proposition, but substantial support for the second. Thus, we argue that the best way to think about the relationship between democracy and development is as a time-dependent, historical phenomenon.

And a snapshot of the conclusion, which makes a rather timely call for expectation management regarding the short-term effects of democratic transitions:

The practical implications of this argument introduce grounds for both optimism and caution with respect to the ability of developing countries to improve their levels of human development. Realistically, countries should not expect large immediate dividends in human development to result from democratic transitions. On the other hand, given sufficient time, democracy should begin to yield important, tangible benefits to the underprivileged in society. In a world characterized by chronically short time horizons, the substantial political challenge is to allow democratic institutions the time necessary to realize these persistent but distal benefits. 

Such a cautious note should also resonate with some open government advocates who tend to overestimate the effects of reforms in the short term while neglecting long-term perspectives. 

Source: John Gerring, Strom C. Thacker and Rodrigo Alfaro (2012). Democracy and Human Development. The Journal of Politics, 74 , pp 1-17 

Determinants of Emergence and Survival of Democracy

Just found at ABCDemocracy Blog a post about an interesting paper at the Journal of Conflict Resolution, by Martin Gassebner, Michael J. Lamla, and James Raymond Vreeland.

Here’s the abstract of the paper “Extreme Bounds of Democracy”:

What determines the emergence and survival of democracy? The authors apply extreme bounds analysis to test the robustness of fifty-nine factors proposed in the literature, evaluating over three million regressions with data from 165 countries from 1976 to 2002. The most robust determinants of the transition to democracy are gross domestic product (GDP) growth (a negative effect), past transitions (a positive effect), and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development membership (a positive effect). There is some evidence that fuel exporters and Muslim countries are less likely to see democracy emerge, although the latter finding is driven entirely by oil-producing Muslim countries. Regarding the survival of democracy, the most robust determinants are GDP per capita (a positive effect) and past transitions (a negative effect). There is some evidence that having a former military leader as the chief executive has a negative effect, while having other democracies as neighbors has a reinforcing effect.

You can read the full paper here [PDF]. And if you are interested in issues of political theory and democracy, make sure you start reading ABCDemocracy.