The Influence of Economic Development on Democratic Stability

Economic development has been argued to be a key factor in the stability of democratic societies, as noted by Seymour Lipset and Przeworski et al., however, it does not necessarily ensure stability as much as it fosters its development and maintenance.  Lipset’s Some Social Requisites of Democracy outlines many social and institutional requirements for the maintenance of a democratic government, including the necessity of free, fair and competitive elections, taken from Joseph Schumpeter’s qualifications for a democratic regime.  Lipset’s piece outlines important social consequences that may arise from an unstable economic system in a state, including the split between lower and upper classes, rather than a unified national culture, which could in turn result in the emergence of social norms that limit the political participation mainly of the lower class, consequences which would make the formation of a democratic state difficult or even impossible.

The effects of such events would demonstrate the opposite side of the argument that economic development ensures democratic stability, however, the argument it cannot be upheld solely by successful economic development and steady rates of inflation. Even though it is easier for a society to share middle class and democratic goals and values, the continuous harmony between economic classes in the state is not as pertinent as is the creation of institutions and a bureaucratic system based on these shared values, which ensure democratic stability most of all.

Even though poor democracies are at risk of failing, as mentioned in Przeworski et al., and it is the success of the economy over time that allows citizens to come together to create a bureaucratic system to maintain the democratic state, the economic stability of a state over a certain GDP level over time does not play as crucial a role in the success of the democracy, as in Greece for example. Although Greece has struggled financially, the democratic state has not crumbled under economic strain. The institutions and bureaucratic practices have endured, as well as the strong parliamentary system, which just reelected the prime minister in these difficult times, rather than resorting to drastic measures that could endanger the democratic values of the state.  Greece’s democratic stability, even through economic instability, demonstrates the point that economic development is not the essential quality for democratic stability, rather a complimenting piece of the puzzle.

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.


6 thoughts on “The Influence of Economic Development on Democratic Stability

  1. Is the foundation of “democracy” having a say in choices for the society? Is democracy the luxury bi-product of a successful economic society? Or, is it the cultural byproduct of a society that, through thick-and-thin, would not tolerate any other structure of corrective capabilities?

    “Even though it is easier for a society to share middle class and democratic goals and values, …”

    This is a declarative statement. Is it “easier”? How is it easier?

    “… the continuous harmony between economic classes in the state is not as pertinent as is the creation of institutions and a bureaucratic system based on these shared values, which ensure democratic stability most of all.”

    Which are those institutions? Clearly listing them assists the reader to evaluate the understanding of the point. Another mcaron17 comment states:

    “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.”

    Education. Is that a “shared” value essential to democracy? In its election results … with all the consequences of declared positions out there by the “electoral competition” … does Greece recognize the need to compromise and face the collective sacrifice required for the whole?

    I enjoyed very much the submissions. I’m excited by the subject matter of this particular blog discussion. It shows the desired inclination to awareness of ruling and conditions that contribute to choices. If anything, by the questions posited, greater supportive detail would be welcomed. Please, keep the exchanges coming!

  2. I believe it was Lipset that was trying to make a point that when a state has strong economy, it allows the lower class jobs or the secluded jobs such mining and farming which create a more diverse community and inject their political opinions into the mix which in turn keeps people from going to far to one side. This then creates a moderate or modest tension from the engaging political forces which is something that Lipset stresses. Going onto the case with Greece, the point I am trying to make is that a strong economy is crucially important but it is not everything. A strong economy helps produce more jobs, a strong education system, and many more. Democracy relies heavily on these two things along with a strong economy, but it the economy that fosters them. I guess what I am saying is that a strong economy is not THE essential piece, but is AN essential piece rather than a complimenting piece to the puzzle as you put it.

    • Right, Lipset and other modernization theorists believe that economic development fosters changes in the political culture that facilitate democracy.

  3. Lipset believes that the less per capita income a country has, the less likely they are to succeed in establishing a long-term democracy. He also believes that economic growth and prosperity are key as long as it is a gradual process, countries where economies grow too fast are likely to fail democratically. So while the economy is an important aspect, growth must happen a certain way for long term stability to be achieved.

  4. This is an interesting discussion — the link between economic development and democratic society. But it would seem that the question of what effect a robust economy has on promoting democracy assumes that that is in fact a causal relationship. In other words, does a robust economy cause democracy or does a democracy enable conditions for greater economic prosperity? Even more granularly, is it possible that the relationship is more cyclical than directly unidirectionally causal?

    For instance, the basis of social stability may create opportunities for economic trade, which in turn facilitates an educational system that simultaneously provides for more developed economic marketplaces and social systems, which in turn may help develop legal systems that encourage and protect industrial growth, and so on. These things may just fortuitously “wind up” over time.

    To the point of Greece, then, perhaps the reason it has not fallen into a failed state, despite shriveling GDP, is that it hasn’t had time to “unwind”.

    Incidentally, I have no good answers or other supporting evidence for any of these hypotheses – just the benefit of market-driven technology and constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech to make things complicated. 😉

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