The Impact of Economic Development on the Existence of Democracy

Lipset and Przeworski et. Al agree that the stability of a democracy is closely tied to economic development. Przworski et Al argue though, that in addition to economic development, minimal economic inequality, beneficial foreign relations and having a parliamentary system help bolster a democracy. Lipset, also goes further than just economic development, claiming that political legitimacy is required for a democracy to prosper.

Przeworski et. Al provides convincing support for the importance of a growing democracy throughout his paper. For example, Prezworski et. Al reported that democracies “with an annual income of less than $1,000 are extremely fragile: based on our study, the probability that one will die during a particular year is 0.12” (Przeworski et. AL 2). The rate at which democracies fail continues to decline as annual per-capita income increases. This evidence as well as other data strongly indicate that economic development increases the longevity of a democracy.

If it were the case that economic development ensured democratic development though, it would be difficult to explain the existing democracy of Greece. Greece has been all over the news lately due to its inability to pay back debt, requiring the country to be bailed out by the European Union. The economy in Greece is in great peril, so much so, that citizens have resorted to spending all their money on material goods to avoid having their money diminish in value as Greece is forced to increase inflation. Greece’s government seems to be doing everything wrong yet the democracy is still intact and their next election is set for Sunday (Montanino).

The democracy of Greece suggests that there might be more factors at play than just economic development. One reason Greece could still be around, mentioned by Przeworski et. AL, is that a parliamentary government allows goals to be achieved faster, which would be necessary in a volatile economy. This could be one reason Greece’s democracy has not crumbled. Another reason could be that democracy has been present for long enough in Greece, that the institutions of democracy have achieved legitimacy, meaning that the citizens have accepted the democratic regime and don’t even consider switching to a non-democratic regime. This could be especially true for Greece since ancient Greece is accredited with coming up with democracy in the first place, which could instill a sense of pride in Grecians to continue their tradition of democracy no matter how bad the economy becomes.

The case of Greece indicates that even though a democracy may need economic development to gain legitimacy, economic development and success may no longer be necessary once the democracy is legitimized.

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

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

Greece’s election and the future of the bailout program. Andrea Montanino.


4 thoughts on “The Impact of Economic Development on the Existence of Democracy

  1. I like the point made about Greece’s history with democracy. Looking at democracy and its relationship with the economy through a historical lens, the Great Depression is a very interesting time period. Countries responded differently to the economic crises. The Untied States did not collapse into a dictatorship, nor did Britain under such economic strain, but countries such as Germany did. Potentially Germany’s lack of experience in democratic procedure led to the relatively rapid relapse to authoritarian rule as economic conditions worsened. This scenario exemplifies the complexity of the economy’s effect on democracy.

  2. I believe that the case with Greece is a great starting point in showing that economic stability does not necessarily correlate to democracy stability. I do believe though, that economic stability is the most important of all. Without a strong economy a government such as a democracy cannot function at the highest level. The fact that countries that that have democratic governments have never fallen where the per capita income of that country is $6,000 or greater proves that a strong economy does have a major influence on whether or not the countries democratic style of government will survive or not. I do agree with Lipset that there are other things such as education and strong electoral competition that allow democracy to be stable and successful. Overall, a strong economy helps bring about jobs and stronger education system that ultimately bring about a stronger democracy. So I guess what I am saying is that the strong economy is the bigger picture that contains smaller but significant pieces that help make countries have a stable democracy.

  3. It seems to me that economic development is necessary but not sufficient for the development of a democracy. I agree with przworski that additional elements are needed, especially the absence of income equality. Without equal opportunity, economic development won’t bring benefits to all. Lack of access to upward mobility can lead to political unrest that destabilizes a growing democracy

  4. Recent history largely supports eonomic development as a prerequisite for some version of democracy. Much of Asia’s economic growth over the last 50 years has been initiated by strong central governments that later evolved into more open democracies as the economies became self sustaining and the populatons became empowered. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and now even China have all moved directionally, if not completely toward democracy from initially authoritarian regimes. Conversely, where authoritarian regimes have clung to power and enriched themselves at the expense of their citizenry, economies have failed to develop as social unrest takes hold in the absence of economic opportunity. Putting down social unrest ironically strengthens the autihoritarian state and lessens the likelihood of it evolving into a democracy. Iraq, Libya and Syria are examples of authoritarian regimes that failed to empower their populations or provide them with economic opportunity. Democracies have not taken hold in these countries and the citzens remain mired in poverty.These countries have the ability to change their circumstances, but the installed regimes must be willing to evolve.

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