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Democracy, What Is It Good For?
[pic]Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
In an earlier post, we reported on our research joint with Suresh Naidu and Pascual Restrepo, “Democracy, Redistribution and Inequality”, which showed very limited effects of democracy on inequality.
So one would be excused for paraphrasing Edwin Starr’s famous song and Ian Morris’s forthcoming book, War! What Is It Good for?, and ask “democracy, what is it good for?”
Certainly not economic growth, most would reason.
This conclusion is based on a consensus engulfing both academia and the popular press that democracy is at its best irrelevant for growth, and perhaps even a hindrance.
For example, Tom Friedman wrote in the pages of The New York Times:
One-party nondemocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century,”
Friedman wasn’t making this up. Robert Barro, who has written several papers on the topic, argued in his book Getting it Right: Markets and Choices in a Free Society:
More political rights do not have an effect on growth… The first lesson is that democracy is not the key to economic growth.
A recent survey of the recent literature similarly concludes:
The net effect of democracy on growth performance cross-nationally over the last five decades is negative or null.
Equally dominant is the view that democracy isn’t right for low-income countries (which are often the ones trying to turn their societies into democracies). The pages of The New York Times again summarize what most of the popular press seems to have accepted as axiomatic, this time in the words of David Brooks defending the Egyptian military coup,
It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.
Judge Posner also agrees with this conclusion (even though, to the best of our knowledge, he does not go so far as supporting Egypt’s murderous generals), and writes
Dictatorship will often be optimal for very poor countries. Such countries tend not only to have simple economies but also to lack the cultural and institutional preconditions to democracy.
Our paper “Democracy, Redistribution and Inequality” was in fact part of a broader project investigating the implications of democracy for both economic growth and inequality.
Our main paper (again joint with Suresh Naidu and Pascual Restrepo) is out, and as the title suggests “Democracy Does Cause Growth, it sharply disagrees with this consensus.
The curious thing is that our paper is not actually the first one to find a positive effect of democracy and economic growth, but it is true that the literature contains many papers that find no effects or sometimes even negative effects.
We think there is a simple reason for this, which can be seen in the next figure. This figure shows the evolution of GDP per capita following a democratization event compared to nondemocracies (all democratizations are lined up to date 0 so as to visually trace out average growth following democratization relative to the control countries in which there is no democratization).

The first thing that jumps out from the figure is that a typical democratization takes place when a country is undergoing an economic crisis (a point first emphasized in an earlier paper we wrote with Simon Johnson and Pierre Yared, “Income and Democracy”, and later investigated in greater detail in work by Markus Brückner and Antonio Ciccone.
What this implies is that unless one takes care of modeling the dynamics of GDP per capita carefully, one can reach any conclusion one likes from this pattern. Imagine, for example, aggregating the data into five-year intervals (as much of the previous literature does) and consider shifting where these five intervals start from in this figure. You will quickly convince yourself that one could easily find that democracy could be bad for growth (because GDP per capita is declining in the five-year interval in which democratizations are taking place).
Another major problem plaguing the previous literature is that many of the measures of democracy are ridden with measurement error. To deal with this problem, we follow work by Elias Papaioannou and Gregorios Siourounis, and constructed a 0-1 index of democracy using multiple sources, which minimizes the extent of measurement error (in particular by removing spurious movements in the democracy score of many low-income countries).
Using such an index, annual observations, country fixed effects (so as to control for various institutional and other country-level determinants of both democracy and economic growth) and econometric models that control for the dynamics of GDP per capita, we find quite well-estimated positive effects of democracy on growth.
In fact, once these 0-1 measures are used and the dynamics of GDP per capita are control for (even in a very rudimentary fashion), the positive effects of democracy on growth are very robust.
We also report instrumental-variables estimates, exploiting the fact that democratizations often occur in the form of regional waves (as noted by Samuel Huntington in The Third Wave). These estimates also show robust positive effects of democracy on GDP per capita of similar magnitude to the other models we report.
Our baseline estimates suggest that a country that democratizes increases its GDP per capita by about 20% in the next 20-30 years. Not a trivial effect at all.
Is there any evidence that democracy is only good for already developed economies? The answer is no. Though we do find that democratizations are associated with larger increases in GDP per capita in countries with higher levels of secondary schooling, there is no evidence that democracy is bad for economic growth in low income economies or even in economies with low levels of schooling.
In all, the evidence seems to be fairly clear that democracy is good for economic growth.
Why? This is a harder question to answer. Our evidence shows that democracies are better at implementing economic reforms, and also increase education. They also probably increase the provision of public goods (though the evidence here is a little less robust).
But none of this is conclusive evidence.
Our results from the two papers combined thus suggest an intriguing pattern: contrary to what many have presumed, democracy doesn’t have a huge effect on inequality. But also contrary to what seems to have been almost a consensus, democracy does have a robust and fairly sizable positive effect on economic growth.
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[pic]Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Democracy vs. Inequality
[pic]Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
President Obama’s State of the Union address promised a renewed focus on economic inequality in the last two years of his administration. But many have already despaired about the ability of American democracy to tackle increasing economic inequalities. Indeed, wage and income inequality have continued to rise over the last four decades during both periods of economic expansion and contraction. But these trends are not unique to the United States. Many OECD countries have also experienced increasing wage income inequality over the last several decades.
That these widening gaps between rich and poor should be taking place in established democracies is puzzling. The workhorse models of democracy are based on the idea that the median voter will use his democratic power to redistribute resources away from the rich towards himself. When the gap between the rich (or mean income in society) and the median voter (who is typically close to the median of the income distribution) is greater, this redistributive tendency should be greater.
Moreover, as Meltzer and Richard’s seminal paper emphasized, the more democratic is a society (meaning the wider is the voting franchise), the more redistribution there should be. This is a simple consequence of the fact that with ae wider franchise, expanded towards the bottom of the income distribution, the median voter will be poorer and thus keener on redistributing away from the rich towards herself.
These strong predictions notwithstanding, the evidence on this topic is decidedly mixed.
Our recent paper, joint with Suresh Naidu and Pascual Restrepo, “Democracy, Redistribution and Inequality” revisits these questions.
Theoretically, we point out why the relationship between democracy, redistribution and inequality may be more complex, and thus more tenuous, than the above expectations might suggest.
First, democracy may be “captured” or “constrained”. In particular, even though democracy clearly changes the distribution of de jure power in society, policy outcomes and inequality depend not just on the de jure but also the de facto distribution of power. This is a point we had previously argued in “Persistence of Power, Elites and Institutions”. Elites who see their de jure power eroded by democratization may sufficiently increase their investments in de facto power, for example by controlling local law enforcement, mobilizing non-state armed actors, lobbying, or capturing the party system. This will then enable them to continue their control of the political process. If so, we would not see much impact of democratization on redistribution and inequality. Even if not thus captured, a democracy may be constrained by either other de jure institutions such as constitutions, conservative political parties, and judiciaries, or by de facto threats of coups, capital flight, or widespread tax evasion by the elite.
Second, democracy may lead to “Inequality-Increasing Market Opportunities”. Nondemocracy may exclude a large fraction of the population from productive occupations, for example from skilled occupations and entrepreneurship, as starkly illustrated by Apartheid South Africa or perhaps also by the former Soviet Union. To the extent that there is significant heterogeneity within this population, the freedom to take part in economic activities on a more level playing field with the previous elite may actually increase inequality within the excluded or repressed group and consequently within the entire society.
Finally, consistent with Stigler’s “Director’s Law”, democracy may transfer political power to the middle class—-rather than the poor. If so, redistribution may increase and inequality may be curtailed only if the middle class is in favor of such redistribution.
So theory may not speak as loudly as one might have first thought.
What about the facts? This is where the previous literature has been pretty contentious. Some have found inequality-reducing effects of democracy and some not.
We argue that these questions cannot be easily answered with cross-sectional (cross-national) regressions because democracies are significantly different from nondemocracies in so many dimensions.
Instead, we provide evidence from panel data regressions (with fixed effects) from a consistent post-war sample.
The facts are intriguing.
First, there is a robust and quantitatively large effect of democracy on tax revenues as a percentage of GDP (and also on total government revenues as a percentage of GDP). The long-run effect of democracy is about a 16 percent increase in tax revenues as a fraction of GDP.
Second, there is also a significant impact of democracy on secondary school enrollment and the extent of structural transformation, for example as captured by the nonagricultural share of employment or output.
Third, and in stark contrast to these results, there is a much more limited effect of democracy on inequality. Democracy just doesn’t seem to affect inequality much. Though this might reflect the poorer quality of inequality data, there is likely more to this lack of correlation between democracy and inequality. In fact, we do find heterogeneous effects of democracy on inequality consistent with the theories mentioned above, which would not have been possible if the poor quality of inequality data made it hard to find any empirical relationship.
Overall, our results suggest that democracy does represent a real shift in political power away from elites and has first-order consequences for redistribution and government policy. But the impact of democracy on inequality may be more limited than one might have expected.
Though our work does not shed light on why this is so, there are several plausible hypotheses. The limited impact of democracy on inequality might be because recent increases in inequality are “market induced” in the sense of being caused by technological change. But equally, this may be because, as in the Director’s Law, the middle classes use democracy to redistribute to themselves.
But the Director’s s Law is unlikely to explain the inability of the US political system to confront inequality, since the middle classes have largely been losers in the widening inequality trends.
Could it be that US democracy is captured? This seems unlikely when looked at from the viewpoint of our typical models of captured democracies. But perhaps there are other ways of thinking about this problem that might relate the increasingly paralyzing gridlock in US politics to capture-related ideas.

Asian Democracy
[pic]Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
Following on our recent post on Democracy’s Pains, Eric Randolph’s interesting article in The National provides more details on the pains of Asian democracy.
This extended quote from the article is informative:
Having traditionally been seen as the main advocates and defenders of democracy, the middle classes can no longer be counted on to support it. Their protests helped bring down the elected governments of Joseph Estrada in the Philippines in 2001, Hugo Chavez (temporarily) in Venezuela in 2002 and Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand in 2006. Even more worrying has been their willingness to turn to the army for help – Kurlantzick found that nearly half the military coups in developing nations over the past 20 years had significant support from the middle class.
The root of the problem in each of these examples was quite simple: democracy arrived in a country where the traditional elite was vastly outnumbered by the poor. That gave rise to populist leaders with reckless economic policies and a willingness to exploit nationalistic and religious chauvinism to win the support of the poor majority.
For the educated middle classes, the results of this equation can be horrifying, spawning opposition-crushing autocrats like Vladimir Putin, Islamist incompetents like the Muslim Brotherhood or corrupt demagogues like Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan. Suddenly, a military regime can seem like a pleasant alternative.
Tough times for democracy ahead.
Democracy's pains
[pic]Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
Disillusionment with political leaders is spreading across the globe. In the United States, the approval ratings of the President and the Congress are at all-time lows, and probably for good reason. There is general dissatisfaction with the ruling class across much of Europe, particularly in the South. But this is much broader than a Western world phenomenon.
Protests and alternatives to the Congress Party’s domination of Indian politics are growing, fueling support for fringe activists such as Anna Hazare, the new anticorruption Am Aadmi (common man) party, and the prime ministerial ambitions of Narendra Modi.
In Turkey, hundreds of thousands poured into the streets in the summer to protest Prime Minister Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, and the discontent is now spreading more broadly with the unfolding corruption scandals in which many of the leaders of Erdoğan’s ruling party appear to be implicated.
Discontent with the rule of establishment politicians is also growing in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia.
So what’s going on?
Two factors seem to be at work, one healthy, one unhealthy.
First, citizens seem to be increasingly unwilling to put up with the antics of unaccountable political elites, often all too willing to pursue policies that their voters do not approve of.
Protests against the ruling parties have the potential of bringing greater accountability in imperfect electoral democracies such as India or Turkey. Where the ballot box offers few attractive alternatives, non-electoral constraints on politicians have an important role to play.
The role of such protests is much greater in places like Cambodia where elections are fraud-ridden and Prime Minister Hun Sen rules in the manner of an autocrat.
The situation isn’t too dissimilar in the United States and Europe, even if some of the discontent, such as the Tea Party’s anti-government spending fervor or the anti-Europe backlash fanned by the UK Independence Party or other parties with anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant rhetoric in continental Europe, is fueled as much by confusion as by a viable alternative to policies that governments embattled by the financial and fiscal crisis have had to adopt.
All in all, even if the details vary across countries and even if some of the discontent is driven by confused notions and sometimes even by unsavory characters and ideas, a greater unwillingness by the masses to let their political elites run amok is broadly welcome. Democracy will function better, and has a better chance of approximating our ideal “inclusive political institutions,” when complemented by non-electoral constraints, which includes not just the media but also the willingness of ordinary people to get up and protest in the streets.
The second sort is quite different, however. In several countries, vocal and well-organized minorities are proving unwilling to accept elected governments that have brought to power previously disempowered groups.
In Egypt, the unwillingness of many urban, relatively well-educated Egyptians as well as parts of the elite to give time for the incompetent government of Mohammed Morsi to depart as it had arrived, through the ballot box, brought back the anti-democratic, repressive military back in full force, most likely destroying the prospect of democracy in this country for the next decade.
In Thailand, however many times Thaksin Shinawatra, or his sister Yingluck Shinawatra acting as his proxy, receives electoral support from the majority, many urban Thais, the military and parts of the state bureaucracy appear unwilling to accept such election results. Just as in Egypt, they seem to have a case when they complain of Thaksin Shinawatra’s patronage-based populism, corruption and authoritarian tendencies. But is the solution to dispense with electoral democracy?
The situation in Turkey is not entirely different. Though Erdoğan’s critics have a strong case, the current polarization owes as much to the unwillingness of parts of the Turkish elite, state bureaucracy and military to accept a government representing the underclass and the pious provincial businessmen as to Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
Though the conundrum of patronage-based elections under imperfect institutions has no simple solution, a good case can be made that the way to increase the inclusivity of political institutions is not to ignore the ballot box, but to utilize it, together with protests when necessary. But so long as elites and a vocal minority refuse to accept electoral results they don’t like, the path to a healthy democracy and truly inclusive institutions will be long, arduous and perhaps blocked for a long time.

Ideology and Comparative Development

[pic]Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
In Why Nations Fail we lay out some of the most popular alternative hypotheses about comparative economic development. There we paid little attention to the role of ideas, except to the extent that they play a role in economists’ favorite “ignorance hypothesis”. One form of ignorance could be that policymakers in poor countries just have the wrong ideas about how to make their country rich, or they have such ideas foisted upon them by international institutions or misguided economists. For example, Anne Krueger argued in her 1993 book Political Economy of Policy Reform in Developing Countries, that Latin American countries had inappropriately adopted inward looking “import substitution” policies in the post World War II period because they were fooled by the incorrect ideas of economists like Raúl Prebisch. Better ideas then came along and Latin American countries changed track towards greener pastures.

More recently Dani Rodrik in “Ideas over Interests” takes his cue from Keynes’s famous remark in the General Theory that

even the most practical man of affairs is usually in the thrall of the ideas of some long-dead economist.

Rodrik similarly argues that many policies and arrangements should be understood as outcomes of mistaken theories rather than consequences of some powerful groups to mold them for their interests. Interestingly, his view is not that dissimilar from Anne Krueger’s but with one difference: the sign is reversed!

Rodrik thus sees the policies prior to reform in the 1990s as sensible, and the ones adopted afterwards in the era of the Washington Consensus as the incorrect ones.

Could this be the right way to think about underdevelopment?

In the next few posts, we’ll examine these ideas starting with one of the favorite examples of the ideas-drive-everything camp: government central planning of the economy.

When we were students, almost every undergraduate textbook contrasted the efficient way that markets allocate resources to the massive inefficiency associated with central planning, usually in the Soviet case.

But why on earth did the Soviet Union adopt such inefficient system? Textbooks usually resort to ideas and ideology as the explanation.

The story goes something like this: When the Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1917, they had a Marxist ideology which crucially relied on collective ownership of the means of production and assets, and on state planning of industry. (Never mind that central planning did not start until after Stalin’s rise to power). So they introduced central planning because of their ideas and ideology.

What were they expecting from central planning? Central planning was seen either as an attempt to create “socialist men and women” stripped of the bad effects of markets and private property on their character and work ethic, or simply as a facet of state ownership of the means of production. When the state owned everything, it had to decide what to do with the resources, which was what central planning was about. It would do this of course with an eye towards social welfare, which the Bolsheviks no doubt saw as something a market economy could not achieve. (However ironic it may sound today that Bolsheviks might have been interested in anybody’s social welfare). Indeed, prior to the adoption of central planning in 1928, they even abolished money (a.k.a. “the root of all evil”) at one point in the period of “war communism” between 1918 and 1921.

So this seems like a pretty convincing exemplar of hugely inefficient institutions introduced because of ideology. But is it?
Democracy and Extremism

[pic]Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
An age-old question in political theory is how democracies, particularly democracies trying to be inclusive to use the terminology of Why Nations Fail, should deal with extremist groups.

If inclusiveness is about preventing the monopolization of political power in the hands of any segment of society or the sidelining of different opinions by the dominant ideology, perhaps giving some public space even to unsavory views and characters can be justified.

One can also argue that not providing such public space is likely to lead to a spiral towards greater extremism, and violence, among the supporters of such groups.

Take the Greek far right party, the Golden Dawn. Is the recent clampdown, triggered by the murder of the rapper and activist, Pavlos Fyssas, the right way to deal with it, or will it push some of its supporters to further extremism, for example as suggested by The New York Times?

There seems to be a lot of evidence that the Golden Dawn is not only a neo-Nazi party, as hinted by their swastika-like symbol, but it has also been involved in pervasive violence against immigrants and opponents, all sorts of crimes and racketeering.

But beyond this specific case of the Golden Dawn, for which sympathy would be hard to muster, there are two general reasons why democracies may need to take a hard line against extremist groups, even those organized as political parties.

First, these groups are often constituted around the intimidation of, and even violence against, marginalized groups, such as immigrants, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, and sometimes civil society activists. Their unrestrained mobilization thus threaten to further reduce the political power and the voice of those who have already been sidelined by existing institutions and norms in society.

Second, their activities are often supported by elements within the security forces and even established political parties. It has now been documented that many in the police force and the military have tolerated, or even been complicit in, Golden Dawn’s violence against immigrants or perhaps also their more radical agenda, and several high-ranking police and military officials have now been removed from their posts because of their links to this organization.

In fact, the German experience with the rise of the Nazi party provides the starkest warning on how extremist parties receiving implicit support from a large part of the political and bureaucratic establishment can rapidly gain strength and even rise to a situation of national power. Richard Evans’s magisterial The Coming of the Third Reich links the ascent of the Nazis to the sympathies that many in the German establishment had to their cause and their animosity both against the Weimar democracy and the minorities.

Though the rise of a fringe extremist party to power appears — and of course is — far-fetched, it is not far-fetched to imagine that their intimidation could have a major effect on national politics and also start shaping the policy agendas of mainstream parties, particularly when there are many elements within the establishment sympathizing with their cause.

Lawful activism against these extremist groups from parts of the judiciary and the establishment opposed to such extremism may then be an important tool for democracy to defend itself and those that are already marginalized and mistreated by existing institutions.

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[pic]Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Snake That Eats Itself

Why coups beget coups beget coups.


The Turkish political system -- attempting to forge a synthesis between a strong and politically-active military, the well-to-do, educated (and often bureaucratic) elite, and the impoverished, conservative, and Muslim majority -- used to be touted as a role model for the rest of the Middle East. The recent demonstrations against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government have hinted that Turkish democracy is much more fragile, and in many ways more superficial, than many suspected. But despite recent events, there are still important lessons from Turkish history for the rest of the region -- particularly Egypt.
The troubles of Turkish democracy over the last 70 years, and the current impasse created by the government's hard-line attitude toward peaceful protesters, reflect a deep-rooted polarization in society, one that has developed over decades. But it has also been exploited frequently by rival factions and strongmen when they thought the polarization would serve them politically.
The polarization of Turkey, as well as that of Egypt, is often painted by outsiders as a clash between Westernizing liberals and elites on one side, and the traditional and religious masses. This image is only partly true -- and mostly misleading. The essential conflict of both countries should be seen as one rooted in political, social, and economic inequalities.
The great economist Simon Kuznets argued that early stages of economic development must necessarily be associated with a surge in inequality. Economic and social modernization has indeed created deep chasms in many societies in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. But there is nothing natural about such inequities. Rather, they reflect the fact that opportunities are very unequally distributed, particularly in the early days of development, often open only to those who already control political power or occupy privileged positions in society.
The unfairness of this development process, as well as the sense of unfairness it engenders which often exceeds the reality of it, is beneath the tendency for polarization in these societies.
Though the faultlines in these countries center on the gulf between the haves vs. the have-nots, the ensuing polarization often takes different guises. In much of Latin America, those left behind, without political power and economic opportunity, are often indigenous or mestizo communities, who feel the unfairness of this stunted development process acutely. They are the ones without access to education, public health, roads or a political voice. They are the ones, not surprisingly, associating modernization with their plight, and rallying around populist leaders like Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.
In Egypt and Turkey, those often left behind are the millions who have recently migrated from, or are still living in, provincial cities and rural parts of the country. These groups are the Islamist base, but even when defense of religion and tradition becomes their rallying cry, one might wonder how much of their grievances really go back to political, social, and economic exclusion. The main problem facing democracy in many societies, particularly in Turkey and Egypt, is to mediate these divisions while creating a more inclusive political system and economy.
This is where Turkey has failed many times in its history, and Egypt should have heeded these lessons. Alas, Egypt is following the same perilous steps.
Too dramatic? Let's look at the facts.
As with Egypt, the first transition to a true multi-party democracy in Turkey was a painful process, arriving only in 1946 with the founding of the Democratic Party (DP), a business-friendly, conservative party willing to depart from the top-down approach of military and bureaucratic elites and speak to the priorities of the masses. Two previous half-hearted experiments with controlled multi-party democracy were cut short by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, when the loyal opposition turned out to attract much more support than could be tolerated.
In 1950, to the great disappointment and apprehension of military and state elites, the DP, led by its leader Adnan Menderes, swept to power with a landslide election victory. Perhaps inevitably given their poorer, more provincial, less educated and more religious base, their rhetoric was populist and Islam-tinged, further rankling the state elites.
But the DP leaders, themselves weaned on politics within the ruling party before 1946, were no angels. Corruption was rampant. What's more, once they saw their popularity slide, they just adopted their rivals' playbook wholesale and notched up the repression. Newspapers started appearing with big empty columns, where articles censored at the last moment would have been.
Then, on May 27, 1960, came a military coup, widely supported by the bureaucracy, the intellectual elites, and the supposedly pro-democracy Turkish "liberals." The enthusiasm was palpable: the military was saving democracy from the DP and Adnan Menderes, wresting power from the masses deemed to be too immature for democracy or politics, and placing power firmly in the hands of the more enlightened. The military moved swiftly to hang three of the DP's leaders -- including Menderes himself.
Emboldened by the experience, the military would intervene three more times in Turkish politics in the next 40 years, deepening the polarization of society between the elites and the rest in the process.
Today, we are still seeing the reverberations of this polarization. Peaceful protests throughout the country are being met with brutal police crackdowns and an intransigent attitude from Erdogan and his ruling AKP, with the full backing of their loyal supporters. They see the protests as just another attempt by the well-educated, secular, and pro-military elites to retain power. This is somewhat understandable given that -- as recently as April 2007 -- the military, supported by these elites and the constitutional court, tried to oust the AKP from power and close it down. (The government did not resign, the constitutional court got cold feet at the last moment, and the AKP and its government survived).
What would have happened to Turkish politics without the military coup of 1960? Perhaps Menderes and other DP elites would have irreparably damaged the economy or somehow cowed society into total submission before the next election, effectively setting up their own dictatorship. But this seems unlikely. Rather, they would have probably been kicked out of power in the next election, cementing the credentials of Turkish democracy.
Through this lens, the situation in Egypt seems quite similar. Just like the DP in Turkey, once it took power the Muslim Brotherhood dropped all of the conciliatory, compromise-seeking veneer that it projected before the election. And sure, Mohamed Morsy, just like Menderes, was turning authoritarian, attempting to bring his people into positions of power within the state bureaucracy. And yes, again as in Turkey towards the end of the DP rule, the economy was ailing.
So what would have happened without the military coup that took place on July 3, 2013, ignominiously kicking Morsy out of power and taking him into military custody?
Again, nobody knows. It is possible that the economy would have been so deeply damaged that even greater and more violent protests would have erupted. The Muslim Brotherhood might have taken over the arteries of power so thoroughly that they would have been able to set up their own dictatorship, effectively blocking any path that may have temporarily opened to a truly inclusive democracy, where power is shared pluralistically rather than being wielded uncompromisingly by whoever finds himself in power at the time.
But this scenario seems as unlikely as that of the DP in Turkey setting up its own dictatorship in the face of a strong, mobilized, opposition. There was already strong discontent with Morsy and his government, witnessed by the more than the 22 million signatures calling for him to step down before the coup took place. With this level of opposition in an already mobilized society, could the Muslim Brotherhood really set up its own dictatorship before the next election?
Just like in Turkey in 1960, what Egypt really needed was for those who had ascended to power for the first time to peacefully lose an election. Not because the other side cannot tolerate the very thought of those who have so long been viewed as second-class citizens sitting in the presidential palace, but because they just weren't governing well. Because they simply lost the support of ordinary people and had to leave the way they came, through the polls.
Just like in Turkey, Egypt needed assurances to both sides that politics can be inclusive, with every segment of society, regardless of creed, religion, gender and social status, sharing power. Instead, at its first hour of democratic challenge, Turkey got the heavy boot of the soldiers, not only crushing its burgeoning democracy but also tainting its intellectuals and elites in the deed. So did Egypt.
The Turkish elites' failure to tolerate the inclusion of large segments of the population in the political system, and the wanton violence they exacted on political leaders they disliked, polarized society further and hardened those left out of power. It left those who were denied a place at the political table without a true belief in democratic politics. The same is happening in Egypt.
So is this spiral of deeper and deeper polarization the lot of these societies? Can Turkey or Egypt break out of it?
There is no easy solution, since the spiral feeds on itself. But many countries have shown how it can be broken by developing and institutionalizing a balance of power in politics, rather than just living with the domination of one group over the rest of society. Yet this is a slow process, unlikely to get off the ground anytime soon in either country.
A more rapid change can come from leaders with vision and courage, as exemplified by Nelson Mandela's tireless efforts to close the enormous chasm between blacks and whites in South Africa. His gestures for building an inclusive, multi-racial "rainbow nation" reached their apex when he wore the jersey of the rugby team, the Springboks, traditionally associated with the racist, apartheid state and repression against blacks, signaling to those currently out of government that they were still, and would continue to be, included in power -- their voices heard, their rights respected.
Alas, nobody in Turkey or Egypt has yet shown half that courage. But we can still wait optimistically, consoling ourselves that breaking the spiral of polarization also requires patience.

As Egypt Burns
[pic]Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
WH Auden wrote powerfully in 1940:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
He was referring both to the evils the great powers were inflicting on each other, and on the innocent people of Europe, in their great power game, and to the evils an increasingly intolerant society was on its way to doing to all sorts of outcasts like Auden himself.
What Auden understood, many talking heads do not.
Here is one example, an article in the New York Times:
Egypt is not ready for democracy, the article argues, and the experiment with democracy is at the root of all of its problems.
It goes on to hint that such experiments with democracy open the way to unmanageable civil strife of the sort that the Middle East is already inclined to. Better to let the security forces and the elite run the show, not just in Egypt but in all sorts of places that are still not mature enough for democracy.
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
There is no evidence that electoral democracies, in any part of the world, bring in more civil strife or greater political repression than dictatorships. Democracy is not perfect anywhere, least of all in the tribal, polarized, repressed Middle East with its weak civil society institutions. But democracies tend to be more stable (as shown by this paper for example).
Elections sometimes lead to greater violence as argued by Jack Snyder, and they sometimes collapse in the midst of heightened conflict as in Lebanon. But the cause of this isn’t the elections, but the problem of political losers we have emphasized in Why Nations Fail — that is, the unwillingness of certain groups of elites to relinquish power and their unscrupulous tactics for clinging to their privileges.
In Egypt, or in Turkey for that matter as we have argued here and here, it is worse than naïve to expect good and liberal governance from the security forces. In Egypt, they have consistently manipulated politics using repression and violence.
As Egypt burns today, the blame for the carnage there must squarely be on the security forces.
This is not to absolve Muslim Brotherhood of misgovernance, of bigoted intolerance, of attempts to tilt the political playing field for its favor when in power, and the crimes that some of its members are now committing.
But as Auden understood, it would take a very noble soul indeed who would respond to evil with the other cheek.
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[pic]Monday, August 19, 2013

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