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Free to Squander? Democracy, Institutional Design, and Economic Sustainability, 1975–2000

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  • Indra de Soysa
  • Jennifer Bailey
  • Eric Neumayer

Abstract

While democracy’s effect on economic growth has come under intense empirical scrutiny, its effect on economic sustainability has been noticeably neglected. We assess the effects of regime type and democratic institutional design on economic, or “weak” sustainability. Sustainability requires that stocks of capital do not depreciate in value over time. The World Bank gauges the rate of net investment in manufactured, human, and natural capital, a unified indicator of weak sustainability (the genuine savings rate). All four indicators of democracy we examine show that freer societies have higher genuine savings rates because they invest more in human capital, create less CO2 damage, and extract fewer natural resources per economic unit produced, even if they show lower net investment in manufactured capital. Democracies may trade off immediate material welfare gains for future pay-offs. This finding justifies why scholars should assess the effects of regime type on more than just immediate growth or the rate of change of manufactured capital. Among democracies, we find that pure parliamentary systems spend more on education than do presidential ones, but exhibit no statistically significant difference for the overall genuine savings rate. Proportional representation electoral systems fare worse than plurality when it comes to genuine and net national savings, even though they do better on education spending. The results taken together show that differences in regime type and democratic institutional design allow for different trade-offs. The results are robust to a range of specifications and a developing country only sub- sample.

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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Macroeconomics with number 0412004.

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Date of creation: 09 Dec 2004
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Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:0412004

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