Economic Development and the Stability of Democracy

While the stability of democracy is dependent on many factors in today’s complex political landscape, it is overtly clear that economic development is the primary factor in ensuring that stability. As presented in “What Makes Democracies Endure?” and “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy”, the statistics overwhelmingly support the argument that a strong, stable economy is vital in maintaining democracy. To be specific, Adam Przeworski et Al. conclude that a country with a per-capita income greater than $6,000 “can be expected to live forever” and that “no democratic system has ever fallen in a country where per-capita income exceeds $6,055.” Understanding that there are very few economies that have achieved this level of success, the authors give a range of statistics that all point towards a successful economy stabilizing democracy. As the per-capita income of a country increases from $1,000 all the way up to the $6,000 range they claim will last forever, the projected lifespan of that democracy more than doubles with each increase.

To reduce economic success to per-capita income leaves out several crucial points in explaining why a strong economy supports the stability of democracy. While Seymour Martin Lipset ultimately concludes that a strong economy alone does not ensure the stabilization of democracy, he does raise several convincing points that contradict his findings. Throughout his paper, he places emphasis on education and electoral competition as two by-products of strong economies that work hand in hand to stabilize democracy. The basic idea of this argument being that with a strong economy, “isolated” jobs such as mining and agriculture are spread out amongst a diverse community, injecting different opinions into the political community keeping those workers away from extremism. Moreover, this diverse political community allows for a “relatively moderate tension among the contending political forces,” something that Lipset argues is a requirement of democracy. It is the strength of the economy that creates this positive domino effect of stronger education and, in turn, a more stable democracy, proving that the strength of the economy is the very foundation of democracy.

The recent failure of Greece’s economy and its subsequent bailout and political turmoil further prove the importance of economic development in a stable democracy. While there was no real threat of a regime change, the scrutiny that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras came under when he was forced to go back on his economic promise to Greece’s citizens tore the country and its government apart. After being pushed out of office as the result of this economic downfall, he has left Greece in a helpless state that only the resurgence of the economy can fix.


Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. By Seymour Martin Lipset.

What Makes Democracies Endure? By Adam Przeworski, Michael Alvarez, Jose Antoni Cheibub & Fernando Limongi.


2 thoughts on “Economic Development and the Stability of Democracy

  1. I agree that economic development is a strong factor in the stability of democracy, but only because of the factors it produces. Although in “What makes Democracies Endure?” it is shown that the increase in per capita income significantly increases the lifespan of a democracy, other factors mentioned by Lipset such as education(quantified by literacy rates) and urbanization are significant byproducts of a strong economy. Without these byproducts democracy would dwindle.Education in my opinion especially helps to stabilize democracy because as Lipset states education “will reduce the intensity of their (the lower class) commitment to given ideologies and make them less receptive to supporting extremist ones” (Lipset,83). This shows that education is the key to building a strong democracy because it allows people to think for themselves and not be led astray by dictators who have done so in the past.

  2. Greece’s GDP per capita in 2014 was $22,000 –Przeworski et al would predict the endurance of democracy based on that simple fact.

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