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When is Democracy an Equilibrium?: Theory and Evidence from Colombia's "La Violencia"

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  • Mario Chacon
  • James A. Robinson
  • Ragnar Torvik

Abstract

The conventional wisdom in political science is that for a democracy to be consolidated, all groups must have a chance to attain power. If they do not then they will subvert democracy and choose to fight for power. In this paper we show that this wisdom is seriously incomplete because it considers absolute, not relative payoffs. Although the probability of winning an election increases with the size of a group, so does the probability of winning a fight. Thus in a situation where all groups have a high chance of winning an election, they may also have a high chance of winning a fight. Indeed, in a natural model, we show that democracy may never be consolidated in such a situation. Rather, democracy may only be stable when one group is dominant. We provide a test of a key aspect of our model using data from "La Violencia", a political conflict in Colombia during the years 1946-1950 between the Liberal and Conservative parties. Consistent with our results, and contrary to the conventional wisdom, we show that fighting between the parties was more intense in municipalities where the support of the parties was more evenly balanced.

Suggested Citation

  • Mario Chacon & James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik, 2006. "When is Democracy an Equilibrium?: Theory and Evidence from Colombia's "La Violencia"," NBER Working Papers 12789, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12789
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    Cited by:

    1. Juan F Vargas, 2009. "Military empowerment and civilian targeting in civil war," Documentos de Trabajo 005282, Universidad del Rosario.
    2. Art Durnev & Sergei Guriev, 2007. "The Resource Curse: A Corporate Transparency Channel," Working Papers w0108, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR).
    3. Manuel Fernàndez, 2012. "Violencia y derechos de propiedad: El caso de La Violencia en Colombia," Revista ESPE - Ensayos sobre Política Económica, Banco de la Republica de Colombia, vol. 30(69), pages 112-147, December.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior

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