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Przeworski, Alvarez, Cheibub, and Limongi: Democracy and development

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Przeworski, Alvarez, Cheibub, and Limongi. 2000. Democracy and development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brief Overview

Chapter 1: A typology of regime types.

Chapter 2: Economic growth does not explain the occurrence of democracy, only whether it will survive once it appears.

Chapter 3: In poor countries, neither type of regime can produce growth more effectively than the other. In wealthier countries, democracies grow faster.

Chapter 5: Strongest finding of the book: in dictatorships, people have more children (even controlling for development) than in democracies.


Chapter 1: Classifications of democracies and dictatorships


"Democracy is a system in which incumbents lose elections and leave office when the rules so dictate." (54) "Contestation" is key: ex-ante uncertainty (anyone can win), ex-post irreversibility (losers don't try to reverse results), repeatability (16). Operationalization:

Types of Democracy:

  1. Presidential
    • Construct: gov't [cabinet] "serves at the pleasure of the president" (30)
    • Operationalization: the pres. can dismiss the gov't (implicit)
  2. Parliamentary
    • Construct: gov't serves at pleasure of legislature (30)
    • Operationalization: the leg. "can dismiss the government" (30)
  3. Mixed
    • Construct: gov't answers to both legislature and president (30)
    • Operationalization: everything else, presumably. (implicit)

Anything that isn't a democracy (including, apparently, anarchy) (18, 54). Might be 'mobilizing' or 'exclusionary':

  1. Mobilizing
    • Construct: It organizes "permanent political participation" with a party and "elections" (31)
    • Operationalization: Had at least one political party (31)
  2. Exclusionary
    • Construct: Doesn't organize participation (31)
    • Operationalization: No parties. Whether it has "elections" doesn't matter. (31)

Types of dictatorship:

  1. Bureaucratic
    • Construct: Governs according to published, codified laws (32)
    • Operationalization: has a legislature (32)
  2. Autocratic
    • Construct: A "sultanistic" (Linz) regime, with "neither rules of operation nor publicly announced universalistic intentions." (32)
    • Operationalization: no legislature (32)
Not considered

The following are not part of the democracy/dictatorship definitions:

Chapter 2: "What makes democracies endure?"

This chapter is basically a rehashing of arguments in PACL's 1996 article, "What Makes Democracies Endure?"

There is a well-established correlation between democracy and development. Two hypotheses could explain this: H1 ("emerge"): either development causes democracy to emerge (endogenously), or H2 ("survive") democracy emerges exogenously and development simply helps it to survive. H2 wins.

Still, development is not a deterministic explanation of regime survival. Growth/crisis also appears to matter, at least in democracies (dictatorships appear resilient to crises--at least, if a dictatorship falls in crisis, it is replaced by a dictatorship, not by a democracy). But does democratic instability cause economic crisis, or does economic crisis cause instability? It's unclear (pg 112).

Disparity also matters a bit (threshold is GINI = 35). Changes in disparity can also matter. Both dem and dic are threatened when the rich get relatively richer, but only democracy is threatened if the poor get relatively poorer (pg 121).

Other questions: do cultural, social, and political variables also matter? If so, does their effect wash out the effect of economics?

Conclusion: predicting the emergence of democracy is hard, but predicting its survival is fairly easy. Income is the strongest predictor. Education, a balance among political forces, and parliamentarism also help. Diversity makes any regime type less stable. However, these are all probabilistic theories--suggesting that other (as yet untheorized) factors also matter.

Chapter 3: Does dictatorship perform better economically than democracy?

Some argue that dictatorships should be better than democracies at producing growth; nevertheless, there is no statistical relationship, at least in aggregrate tests. It is necessary to test this relationship separately in poor and rich countries, however, to see whether than is an interaction between regime type and prior level of development in producing growth. In countries that start poor, the different regimes have no discernable (different) affect on growth. In countries that start wealthy, democracies have slower growth in labor and capital stock, but they use both more productively over time. Growth under dictatorships appears to be labor-intensive and labor-exploitative.

Oddly, though, dictatorships are bipolar when it comes to growth (table on pg 177). The fastest and slowest growing economies were all dictatorships. Thus, although we notice that the "tigers" are all dictatorships, this observation is misleading; dictatorships do not do better over time. On average, they do worse. They are simply more volatile--dictatorships have a higher standard deviation.

(Criticism:They need to consider variations in dictatorships rather than lumping them into a single category. For example, they need to consider whether bureaucratic, totalitarian, personalistic, etc. etc. regimes are the same. They treat them as the same, but need to consider variations. This oversight might be forgiveable, though, given their intentions: they are trying to disprove Huntington's idea that you need to sacrifice democracy in order to enable development. Perhaps they have done that successfully by showing that democracies can grow as well as anything else. But they could have done much better by showing whether different types of "dictatorship" have different economic results.)

Conclusion: "There is no trade-off between democracy and development, not even in poor countries" (178).

Chapter 5: Political regimes and population growth

Often economists study economic growth in per capita terms, without realizing that per capita income is driven by two factors: macroeconomic growth and population change. Chapter 3 looked at economic growth. Now we look at population change.

The strongest relationship in the entire book is that regime type affects population growth. Dictatorships have higher fertility rates and lower life expectancies. On the whole, population grows faster in dictatorships. This is true even when we look at income strata separately (which is necessary because poverty also increases fertility rates).

There are two (economic) arguments as to why people have more children:

  1. The insurance model: we have children to make sure we'll be taken care of in our old age. This decision is affected by (a) each child's insurance value, (b) externalities in child-rearing, and (c) the opportunity costs [and other costs] of child rearing.
  2. The B-M-T (Becker, Murphy, and Tamura) model: When human capital is high, it becomes worthwhile to invest more in each of your children ("quality") rather than to invest in having more children ("quantity") (see p 257).

However, these economic arguments don't explain why regime type still matters even when we control for economic variables. The authors seek to create their own theory to explain this difference. Basically, PACL argue that democracies can credibly commit to assist the elderly. Dictatorships cannot; even if the economy is good this year and you're getting your pension, the dictator may cut your benefits off if the economy falls (or out of greed). However, in a democracy, you know you can force the government to pay benefits. And since democracies find it easier to credibly commit to taking care of you, parents are less concerned about having lots of kids. [They could have said it this way: Nobody wants to have to take care of their dying parents. We want to maximize our wealth, and would prefer not to have to spend our money on them if we can avoid it. Since this is likely to be a widespread desire (b/c many of us either have parents we don't want to support or else we are old and want government help), we know that the majority won't ever take away our benefits.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Przeworski, Adam (author)Alvarez, Michael (author)Cheibub, Jose Antonio (author)Limongi, Fernando (author)Comparative PoliticsDemocracyDevelopmentRegime TypeDictatorshipGrowthDemographyDemocratization

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