lördag 21 juli 2012

Sven Oskarsson & Sten Widmalm (ed.): Myt eller verklighet? Om samband mellan demokrati och ekonomisk tillväxt ("Myth or reality? On connections between democracy and economic growth")

I've been rather remiss in my blogging lately, which is connected with my efforts to find and buy a house I can afford as well as preparing to move into it. Anyway, I'll try to get some quickie reviews done. First up, another book on the democracy.

This is a book by people used to teaching students, and it shows in its didactic structure. The first chapter gives a quick overview of various theories of modernity - development - democracy. Second chapter takes a closer look at a specific theory of modernization, pioneered by Seymour Martin Lipset: that economic growth leads to socioeconomic changes which will lead to increasingly democratic rule. Then follows a couple of chapters on the general empirical support for the theory, a half-dozen or so chapters looking at various countries from the perspective of the theory, and a final chapter summarizing the findings of the book.

First off, the theory argues, economic modernization will change the class structure of society, creating a growing and more affluent middle class. It'll also lead to improved education and a better educated population, which'll lead to democratic values rooting themselves more firmly among more citizens. Education furthers the growth of more tolerant norms and reduces the attraction of anti-democratic extremist parties. Third, economic development strengthens civilian society, leading to more non-government, voluntary organizations that keep a check on elected power (and also teaches democratic values).

The correlation has been shown in empirical research to be quite quite clear and statistically rather weak. So the theory has met with a lot of criticism, and efforts have been made to deal with that criticism. One research approach has involved looking at the degree of socio-economic modernization, not just looking at GNP per capita, which has often been used as a proxy variable for modernization/economic development. And modernization can't just involve increased per capita incomes, it also requires that the increased wealth is somewhat equitably shared among the citizens of the country.

Turns out that when you take that variable into account, the theory gets that much stronger. Not only do countries with a more equal distribution of income tend to be more democratic, when combined with more equality, increased wealth also tends to correlate with increased tolerance towards various minorities (like homosexuals and immigrants).

The third chapter looks closer at this aspect and concludes that democracy will be more common among nations where the market economy won't result in very large economic disparities, where the costs of repression are high and where the tax base is comparatively mobile (which'll lead governments to refrain from overtaxing it, thus reducing the incentive for it to embrace anti-democratic methods to protect its wealth.

There's more in this book that's worth reading (although the chapters devoted to case studies of countries like France, Russia etc didn't do much for me as they mostly merely illustrated the theory and gave short overvies of those countries' recent political history – not a bad thing, but not really giving me any deeper insights into the theory and its empirical support or lack thereof).

Definitely worth your time if you can read Swedish. Recommended.

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