The Economics of Young Democracies: Policies and Performance
Since the “third wave” of democratization began in 1974, nearly 100 states have adopted democratic forms of government, including, of course, most of the former Soviet bloc nations. Policy-makers in the west have expressed the hope that this democratic wave will extend even further, to the Middle East and onward to China. But the durability of this new democratic age remains an open question. By some accounts, at least half of the world’s young democracies—often referred to in the academic literature as being “unconsolidated” or “fragile”—are still struggling to develop their political institutions, and several have reverted back to authoritarian rule. Among the countries in the early stages of democratic institution building are states vital to U.S. national security interests, including Afghanistan and Iraq. The ability of fledgling democracies to maintain popular support depends in part on the ability of their governments to deliver economic policies that meet with widespread approval. But what sorts of economic policies are these, and are they necessarily the same as the policies required for tackling difficult issues of economic stabilization and reform? Conversely, what sorts of economic policies are most likely to spark a backlash against young and fragile democratic regimes? Do the leaders of young democracies face trade-offs as they ponder their electoral and economic strategies? These are among the questions we explore in this paper, which provides an overview of the monograph we are currently writing on the economics of young democracies. We do so first by exploring the hypothesized relationships between democratic politics and economic policy, as well as the findings of several important empirical studies with respect to the economic performance of young democracies around the world. We then provide some descriptive statistics on how the new democracies have fared in practice, making use of a new dataset that we have compiled (and which, among other things, is more up-to-date than most others cited herein). Do the data reveal any distinctive economic patterns with respect to democratic consolidation and reversal? We will show that they do. In particular, we find that deteriorating or stagnant economic performance constitutes a red flag or warning signal that the country is at risk of democratic reversal. Moreover, we find considerable variation in economic performance, suggesting that the design of political institutions in new democracies may have a significant influence on the probability of their survival.
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