Are Political Leaders as Influential as We Thought?

When thinking of a President, Prime Minister, Dictator, King and Queen, etc. we tend to think of them as the highest authority figure for that country; historically they pass and enforce laws, negotiate with other countries, wage wars, and sign treaties. They are the men and women who run that country day-in and day-out. However, I, along with the authors of these readings, challenge those thoughts of a superior ruler and instead supplement them with an economic argument.

Democracy has been seen to endure in many countries due to a vast and growing economy. Many factors play a role in the formation, enhancement, and decline of democracy; these include, but are not limited to income, economic growth, trade relations, national GDP, and GDP per capita. We can see statistically in Treisman’s piece that the economy of a given country is proportional to the stability of a countries’ political system. We also hear from Inglehart and Welzel’s article that “today, it seems clear that the causality runs mainly from economic development to democratization.” We can conclude from Inglehart and Welzel that economic growth and stability supports a system of democracy. Treisman would agree, but not fully…

Treisman took a different look at democracy with in a given country. He, like many, looked at economics first, but was then able to tie in national leader’s political longevity and agendas to create statistical analyses that depict political leaders affect on democracy within their country. What he concluded was that “structural factors such as economic development shape political regimes, but not immediately… their effects are ‘switched on and off’ by the contingencies of leadership.” I agree with Treisman, the democracy of a country is determined by both economic factors and also by the political leaders agenda. He mentions how reactionary autocratic leaders can prolong not only economic development, which leads to democratization, but they also try to extend their tenure. Treisman argues that political agendas made to extent a leader’s tenure actually move the country into a more democratic system, which allows for the more democratic incumbent to take power.

In conclusion, I have found that political leaders have little to do with the stability of their democracy, but rather are riding a wave of economic growth. When that wave crashes they are left to flounder in attempts to hold onto their tenure, and by doing so they move their country further into democracy.

I chose an article from The New York Times article about the U.S opening relations with Cuban, which highlighted some key points about the gradual economic development of Cuba. They hinted at the Fidel Castro Regime, which caused a great divide within Cuba and how his fleeting attempts for a dictatorship was met with an even stronger, more democratic group. This more democratic group has grown and is now a major reason why the U.S is restoring Cuban relations.

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2 thoughts on “Are Political Leaders as Influential as We Thought?

  1. It would be interesting to see how the various theories interact in Cuba following the restoration of relations between the United States and the Cuban regime. If the embargo set against Cuba is finally removed by the U.S. Congress it will be interesting how much of the modernization theory holds true. Increased trade with Cuba would increase the economic and technological progress of the island nation and it would be interesting to see how the lives and views of the Cuban people react as a result. I know that Raul Castro has said that even in the event of the embargo ending Cuba will remain on the path of Communism, so it seems like Castro is determined to not allow any economic change to undermine his current regime. Castro also said that he would step down in 2018 and allow the country to select a new leader, and it would be interesting to observe and see if any of the predictions or trends discussed in the Treisman article regarding economic growth under new leadership has any merit or if Cuba continues along its present state.

  2. It seems like you’re simplifying the process too much. You argue that democratic leaders are merely riding waves of economic growth, and that those waves determine the stability of the each country’s democracy, but surely examples like India contradict that idea. India has experienced an economic surge in recent years, but that surge hasn’t caused its Freedom House ratings to improve substantially, and it remains on the boundary between ‘Free’ and ‘Partly Free.’ Economic growth doesn’t affect every citizen equally—it has varying influence on people according to their existing social and economic status. Given this, it seems flippant to entirely dismiss the idea that domestic policies implemented by leaders, like increased education funding and freedom of speech protections, could lead to social and cultural changes without the need for strong economic growth. In a related vein, leaders also have the ability to help shape the economic growth of their countries through subsidies and tax benefits and other types of government spending. So it seems far-fetched to argue that leaders are simply passengers on an uncontrollable wave of economic growth or decline.

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