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The Indigenous Roots of Representative Democracy

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  • Jeanet Bentzen
  • Jacob Gerner Hariri
  • James A. Robinson

Abstract

We document that rules for leadership succession in ethnic societies that antedate the modern state predict contemporary political regimes; leadership selection by election in indigenous societies is associated with contemporary representative democracy. The basic association, however, is conditioned on the relative strength of the indigenous groups within a country; stronger groups seem to have been able to shape national regime trajectories, weaker groups do not. This finding extends and qualifies a substantive qualitative literature, which has found in local democratic institutions of medieval Europe a positive impulse towards the development of representative democracy. It shows that contemporary regimes are shaped not only by colonial history and European influence; indigenous history also matters. For practitioners, our findings suggest that external reformers' capacity for regime-building should not be exaggerated.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeanet Bentzen & Jacob Gerner Hariri & James A. Robinson, 2015. "The Indigenous Roots of Representative Democracy," NBER Working Papers 21193, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21193
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    Cited by:

    1. Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, 2018. "Spatial Patterns of Development: A Meso Approach," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 10(1), pages 383-410, August.
    2. Michalopoulos, Stelios & Xue, Melanie Meng, 2019. "Folklore," CEPR Discussion Papers 13425, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, 2020. "Historical Legacies and African Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 58(1), pages 53-128, March.
    4. Jeanet Sinding Bentzen & Nicolai Kaarsen & Asger Moll Wingender, 2017. "Irrigation and Autocracy," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 1-53.

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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
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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