Democracy Failings

Data on 786 elections in 155 countries from 1974 to 2004 … [finds] that fraud may have affected the results in 41 percent of them. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising, since incumbent politicians who cheat to get reelected stay in office 2.5 times longer than they would have playing it fair and square. …

Above $2,700 per capita, democracies are less prone to violence than are autocracies. But most political violence happens in countries where income is far below that threshold; there, democracy is associated with a greater risk of bloodshed. … Although the risk of violence falls in the year before an election, it rises in the year after. … Election misconduct tends to be concentrated in countries that have low per capita incomes, small populations, rich natural resources and a lack of institutional checks and balances. Eastern Europe didn’t fit this picture. … Most of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, however, have all the characteristics that undermine elections, giving them a mere 3 percent chance of an honest vote … Afghanistan is not exceptional; in fact, electoral misconduct there was almost inevitable. …

Populist pressure does cause policies to deteriorate somewhat in the year before an election. … But governments that face frequent elections have significantly better economic policies when they are averaged over the political cycle, and governments that become subject to elections improve their policies. … [However] elections in which there is misconduct have, at best, no effect on economic policy because governments are off the hook of accountability. … One of the main ways incumbents steal elections is through patronage financed by looting the public purse.

More here.  Why again do we focus so much on “bringing democracy” to poor nations?

GD Star Rating
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • Mark

    Interesting that the product of the proportion of fraudulent elections and the expected benefit of election fraud should be 1. I wonder if that’s just a coincidence.

  • Kakun

    Supporting democracy isn’t about helping people- the usual reason given, at least amongst foreign policy academics, is that it’s aboutpromoting peace.

  • Elections != Democracy, and article doesn’t distinguish between the two at all. Even North Korea has “elections” of some sort.


    I view this phenomenon as a kind term confusion. When we say “democracy”, we really mean the familiar, liberal, semi-capitalist structure with a steady rule of law.

    We certainly don’t mean literal popular sovereignty democracy, where the people vote on policies.

  • Buck Farmer

    Did U.S. democracy have these same problems when our per capita income was below $2,700? Did the U.K., France? Any other currently functional democracies?

    1) Is this a function of absolute wealth or relative wealth? If relative wealth, how does the West having more money reduce the rule of law elsewhere?

    2) This is just a selection effect where cultures/institutions that were predisposed to democracy came to it first naturally and what we’re seeing now is cultures/institutions that are not so inclined having democracy grafted onto them?

    2.1) Is there something about the geographical/historical situation in Europe or the U.S. that predisposed it to functional democracy?

    These are all positive questions which I think ought to inform the normative one you asked, Robin.

  • josh

    What is democracy, Tomasz? North Korea is the “fter alpeople’s” republic all.

  • anon

    Mencius Moldbug sighting in 3..2..1…

  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments()

  • Alrenous


    I considered forwarding it to him, but he is extremely skeptical of data in this form.

    To add to the examples above; what does ‘per capita income $2700+’ actually select for? Is it income, or is it Europeans? The second possibility is just a bit confounding…. The data, properly considered, provokes more study, (which I don’t have grants for) not conclusions.

    Further, while I am short on geopolitical data, ‘autocracies above $2700’ sounds like China and Russia, both of which were recently communist.

    In short, even if perfectly accurate, the article could be utterly misleading…or not, and it’s exceptionally hard to tell the difference.

    Also, you do know the actual answer for ‘bringing democracy,’ right? Power/prestige/self-validation. These would be exactly the same if democracy actually worked, too.