Different kinds of democracies..

Dani Rodrik and Sharun Mukand have this insightful piece on political economy of democracies:

There are more democracies in the world today than non-democracies, according to data from Polity IV.1 Yet, few of those are what we would call liberaldemocracies – regimes that go beyond electoral competition and protect the rights of minorities, the rule of law, and free speech and practice non-discrimination in the provision of public goods.

Hungary, Ecuador, Mexico, Turkey, and Pakistan, for example, are all classified as electoral democracies by the Freedom House.2 But in these and many other countries, harassment of political opponents, censorship or self-censorship in the media, and discrimination against minority ethnic/religious groups run rampant. Fareed Zakaria coined the term ‘illiberal democracy’ for political regimes such as these that hold regular elections but routinely violate rights (Zakaria 1997). More recently, political scientists Steve Levitsky and Lucan Way (2010) have used the term ‘competitive authoritarianism’ to describe what they view as hybrid regimes between democracy and autocracy.

Democracy developed in Western Europe out of a liberal tradition that emphasised individual rights and placed limits on state coercion (Ryan 2012, Fawcett 2014, Fukuyama 2014). In Britain, France, Germany, and even the US, mass enfranchisement arrived only after liberal thought had become entrenched. Most of the world’s new democracies, by contrast, emerged in the absence of a liberal tradition and did little to foster one. As the shortcomings of these democracies have become more evident, it has become commonplace to talk about a ‘democratic recession’ (Diamond 2015).

Their new research explores many kinds of democracies:

In a new paper (Mukand and Rodrik 2015), we present a taxonomy of political regimes, making a distinction in particular between electoral and liberal democracy.

  • We take the main distinctive feature of a liberal regime to be the restraints placed on those in power to prevent discrimination against minorities and ensure equal treatment.

The restraints can be legal or administrative. They can be maintained by constitutional strictures or self-enforcing agreements. What matters is that these checks, which we associate with ‘civil rights’ for short, are effective in practice. Our focus is squarely on these missing restraints – the relative weakness of civil rights – in illiberal electoral democracies.

We distinguish specifically between three sets of rights: property rights, political rights, and civil rights. We define these as follows:

  • Property rights protect asset holders and investors against expropriation by the state or other groups.
  • Political rights guarantee free and fair electoral contests and allow the winners of such contests to determine policy, subject to the constraints established by other rights (when provided). 
  • Civil rights ensure equality before the law – i.e. non-discrimination in the provision of public goods such as justice, security, education, and health.

We classify political regimes according to which (combination) of these rights are provided (Table 1). In dictatorships, it is only the property rights of the elite that are protected. Classical liberal regimes protect property and civil rights, but not necessarily electoral rights. Electoral democracies, which constitute the majority of present-day democracies, protect property and political rights, but not civil rights. Liberal democracies protect all three sets of rights. We operationalise the non-discrimination constraint under liberalism as equal treatment by the state in public goods provision in different domains – legal, religious, educational, etc.

Table 1. A taxonomy of political regimes

Each one of these rights has a clear, identifiable beneficiary. Property rights benefit primarily the wealthy, propertied elite. Political rights benefit the majority – the organised masses and popular forces. And civil rights benefit those who are normally excluded from the spoils of privilege or power – ethnic, religious, geographic, or ideological minorities

Finally, they say the way countries have got democracies matter:

We suggest that the differential fortunes of liberal democracy in Western Europe and the developing world are related to the nature of dominant cleavages at the time of the social mobilisation that ushered in democracy. In the West, the transition to democracy occurred as a consequence of industrialisation at a time when the major division in society was the one between capitalists and workers. In most developing nations, on the other hand, mass politics was the product of decolonisation and wars of national liberation, with identity cleavages as the main fault line. Our framework suggests that the second kind of transition is particularly inimical to liberal democracy.

Superb stuff…



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