Governance and the dimensions of autocracy

Abstract

Recent work at the frontiers of classical liberal political economy has reconsidered the idea that certain autocratic political institutions may improve on the consensus liberal, constitutional democratic political institutions. This paper will discuss conceptually how these new arguments, predatory forms of autocracy, the status quo of constitutional democracy, and the proponents of more majoritarian forms of democratic governance should be understood in terms of one another. It will then perform a simple empirical examination of the modern world, looking at the quality of governance by country by the quality of its democracy, conditional on a country’s economic output, education, and culture. Examples of autocracy with good governance, even when conditioning on these other variables, are sufficiently rare to raise serious questions for the new classical liberal proponents of autocracy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Notes

  1. 1.

    See Buchanan (1990) for his view on Constitutional Political Economy in his own words. See Congleton (2014) for an overview of Buchanan’s work on the topic.

  2. 2.

    It should be noted that MacLean’s work has come under heavy criticism, as the foundations of her criticisms are innuendo and ad hominem attacks, not substantive (Fleury and Marciano, forthcoming).

  3. 3.

    “Majoritarian” in this paper will be used as a neutral description of political institutions following the will of more than fifty percent of voters, for the lack of another concise phrase. It is not referring to political institutions similar to the Westminster system.

  4. 4.

    Within Classical Liberalism and the Constitutional Political Economy tradition, still other scholars have also suggested that anarchy should be considered as an alternative to the constitutionally constrained state (among many others, see Stringham 2005; Powell and Stringham 2009).

  5. 5.

    See Murphy (2015) and Jones (2019). The claim follows from the fact that being rational is costly and in many ways difficult, and that there is little or no individual benefit to voting rationally, as each individual vote has approximately zero impact on any given election. Where individuals should be expected to be systematically biased, it will be fully expressed at the polls, as the cost of doing so is zero. This is where we see the greatest divergence between popular opinion and expert opinion, for example regarding trade and immigration policy. Restrictions on majorities could include possible reforms that are both controversial (e.g., the re-imposition of poll taxes) and non-inflammatory (e.g., extending the terms of legislators). Murphy (2015) emphasizes the implicit tradeoffs in movements away from purer forms of democracy.

  6. 6.

    Hoppe (2001) and Salter and Hall (2015) each make strongly worded statements regarding the superiority of certain types of autocracies. Niskanen (1997), Bell (2015, 2017) present more moderate versions of the argument. Besley and Reynal-Querol (2017) can be seen as recent empirical support. More indirectly, Holcombe and Boudreaux (2013) have found that autocrats with longer tenures have ended their regime, but didn’t begin it, with more economic freedom. In contrast, Yanovskiy and Ginker (2017) create a new measure of de facto constitutional constraints on the executive, and find that it correlates positively with rates of economic growth, even after controlling for the quality of property rights enforcement.

  7. 7.

    See Murphy (2018) for a discussion of which countries have come the closest to combining socialist economic institutions with otherwise effective state institutions.

  8. 8.

    Economic freedom and the quality of governance have conceptual overlap, notably regarding the rule of law and approach to regulatory policy. They do differ however; Guatemala is one example of a country which combines high levels of economic freedom with a very weak state (Murphy 2017). Governance will remain the focus of this paper.

  9. 9.

    Governance is spoken of in terms of public provision. Within the sample of countries and time period used, public provision of governance is generally relevant. This is not to deny that governance is often provided privately, or that private governance is low quality. See Stringham (2015).

  10. 10.

    The Gambia and Ethiopia combine very low levels of GDP per capita and education with merely somewhat poor governance. Additionally, the most recent trends in both countries is that they are moving in the direction of democracy (The Economist2018; Meseret 2018).

  11. 11.

    Hong Kong, which does not receive a score from Polity IV, may function as a second example alongside Singapore, though it is not clear how it would rank relative to Singapore in its executive constraint. Very recent changes to Hong Kongese law may have placed more power in the hands of the executive, but that is contrary to a history of the legislature holding at least some power (Cheng 2017). It is also unclear where Liechtenstein would rank given that the executive has very broad authority if he chooses to exercise it, but the same can be said for the royal family of the United Kingdom.

  12. 12.

    These “ancillary factors” are likely internal institutions over which the political order of Singapore arose, in the frame of Voigt (1999).

References

  1. Acemoglu, D., Naidu, S., Restrepo, P., & Robinson, J. A. Democracy does cause growth. Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming.

  2. Bell, T. W. (2015). What can corporations teach governments about democratic equality? Social Philosophy and Policy, 31(2), 230–251.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bell, T. W. (2017). Your next government?: From the nation state to stateless nations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Besley, T., & Reynal-Querol, M. (2017). The logic of hereditary rule: Theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Growth, 22(2), 123–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bjornskov, C. (2018). The Hayek–Friedman hypothesis on the press: Is there an association between economic freedom and press freedom? Journal of Institutional Economics, 14(4), 617–638.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bjornskov, C., & Rode, M. (2018). Regime types and regime changes: A new dataset. Working Paper.

  7. Brennan, J. (2016). Against democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Buchanan, J. (1975). The limits of liberty: Between anarchy and leviathan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Buchanan, J. (1989). The relatively absolute absolutes. In J. Buchanan (Ed.), Essays on the political economy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Buchanan, J. (1990). The doman of constitutional economics. Constitutional Political Economy, 1(1), 1–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Caplan, B. (2007). The myth of the rational voter. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cheibub, J. A., Gandhi, J., & Vreeland, J. R. (2010). Democracy and dictatorship revisited. Public Choice, 143(1–2), 67–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cheng, K. (2017). Hong Kong Legislature passes controversial house rule changes taking powers from lawmakers. Hong Kong Free Press. Retrieved March 9, 2018 from https://www.hongkongfp.com/2017/12/15/legislature-passes-controversial-house-rule-amendments-taking-powers-lawmakers/.

  14. Congleton, R. D. (2014). The contractarian constitutional political economy of James Buchanan. Constitutional Political Economy, 25(1), 39–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Easterly, W. (2014). The tyranny of experts: Economists, dictators, and the forgotten rights of the poor. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Feenstra, R. C., Inklaar, R., & Timmer, M. P. (2015). The next generation of the Penn World Table. American Economic Review, 105(10), 3150–3182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Fleury, J.-B., & Marciano, A. The sound of silence: A review essay of Nancy MacLean’s democracy in chains—The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. Journal of Economic Literature, forthcoming.

  18. Friedman, M. (1962). Capitalism and freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Glaeser, E., La Porta, R., Lopez-de-Silanes, F., & Shleifer, A. (2004). Do institutions cause growth? Journal of Economic Growth, 9(3), 271–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Gorodnichenko, Y., & Roland, G. (2017). Culture, institutions, and the wealth of nations. Review of Economics and Statistics, 99(3), 402–416.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Grier, R. (2016). Is Rwanda a Potemkin Village? Cherokee Gothic. Retrieved March 9, 2018 from https://cherokeegothic.com/2016/02/08/is-rwanda-a-potemkin-village/.

  22. Hall, J. C. (2016). Institutional convergence: Exit or voice? Journal of Economics and Finance, 40(4), 829–840.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hayek, F. A. (1944). The road to serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkow, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Holcombe, R., & Boudreaux, C. J. (2013). Institutional quality and the tenure of autocrats. Public Choice, 156(3–4), 409–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hoppe, H.-H. (2001). Democracy—The god that failed: The economics and politics of monarchy, democracy, and natural order. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Inglehart, R., Haerpfer, C., Moreno, A., Welzel, C., Kizilova, K., Diez-Medrano, J., et al. (Eds.). (2014). World values survey: All roundscountry-pooled datafile version. Madrid: JD Systems Institute. Retrieved August 1, 2018 from http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWVL.jsp.

  28. Jones, G. (2019). 10% less democracy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Langbein, L., & Knack, S. (2010). The worldwide governance indicators: Six, one, or none? Journal of Development Studies, 46(2), 350–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lawson, R., & Clark, J. R. (2010). Examining the Hayek–Friedman hypothesis on economic and political freedom. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 74(3), 230–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. MacLean, N. (2017). Democracy in chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. New York: Viking.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Marshall, M. G., Gurr, T. R., & Jaggers, K. (2017). Polity IV Project: Political regime characteristics and transitions, 1800–2016 data users’ manual. Washington, DC: Center for Systemic Peace.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Meseret, E. (2018). Ethiopia has ‘no option’ but multiparty democracy, PM says. Washington Post, July 22. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/ethiopia-has-no-option-but-multiparty-democracy-pm-says/2018/07/22/49e71ade-8dbd-11e8-ae59-01880eac5f1d_story.html?utm_term=.bec9de55fbf1.

  34. Murphy, R. H. (2015). Rational irrationality across institutional contexts. Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, 21(1–2), 67–78.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Murphy, R. H. (2017). The state economic modernity index: An index of state building, state size and scope, and state economic power. Working paper. Retrieved August 1, 2018 from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3024394.

  36. Murphy, R. H. (2018). The best cases of actually existing socialism. The Independent Review, 23(2), 283–295.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Nikolaev, B., & Salahodjaev, R. (2017). Historical prevalence of infectious diseases, cultural values, and the origins of economic institutions. Kyklos, 70, 97–128.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Niskanen, W. (1997). Autocratic, democratic, and optimal government: A sketch. Economic Inquiry, 35(3), 464–479.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Powell, B., & Stringham, E. (2009). Public choice and the economic analysis of anarchy: A survey. Public Choice, 140(3–4), 503–538.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Pryor, F. L. (2010). Capitalism and freedom? Economic Systems, 34(1), 91–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Salter, A. W. (2016). Political property rights and governance outcomes: A theory of the corporate polity. Journal of Private Enterprise, 31(4), 1–20.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Salter, A. W., & Hall, A. (2015). Calculating bandits: Quasi-corporate governance and institutional selection in autocracies. Advances in Austrian Economics, 19, 193–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Stringham, E. (Ed.). (2005). Anarchy, state, and public choice. Northampton: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Stringham, E. (2015). Private governance: Creating order in economic and social life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. The Economist. (2018). The Gambia’s once-ruthless intelligence agency is opening up. Jan 10th. https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/01/10/the-gambias-once-ruthless-intelligence-agency-is-opening-up.

  47. Vanberg, G. (2018). Constitutional political economy, democratic theory, and institutional design. Public Choice, 177(3–4), 199–216.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Voigt, S. (1999). Breaking with the notion of social contract: Constitutions as based on spontaneously arisen institutions. Constitutional Political Economy, 10(3), 283–300.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Vreeland, J. R. (2008). The effect of political regime on civil war: Unpacking anocracy. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 52(3), 401–425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Williamson, C. (2009). Informal institutions rule: Institutional arrangements and economic performance. Public Choice, 139(3/4), 371–387.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Yanovskiy, M., & Ginker, T. (2017). A proposal for a more objective measure of de facto constitutional constraints. Constitutional Political Economy, 28(4), 311–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ryan H. Murphy.

Appendix: Additional robustness checks

Appendix: Additional robustness checks

Assumptions besides which measure of democracy is to be used may be challenged. Instead of individualism, social trust may be the dimension of culture that is important for determining institutions. Secondly, the empirical examination of Langbein and Knack suggests that “[Political Stability] may not be part of the general concept of good government” (2010: 362). Although this latter concern is less problematic than the tautological conclusion that would be reached were Voice and Accountability to be included in the empirical exercise of this paper, it is well worth confirming that our findings here are not contingent upon in the inclusion of a variable that may only be weakly related to effective governance.

To address social trust, we used the net positive responses to the World Values Survey question V24, “Most People Can Be Trusted,” for all countries with data in either Wave 5 or Wave 6 of the survey (Inglehart et al. 2014). Since individualism was only included in the final main specification (Fig. 4), this robustness check only requires a replication of this single specification. Replacing the variable, re-estimating the regression model, and re-extracting residuals were all completed, the results of which are found in Fig. 7. These results are somewhat sparser than previous estimations, but the same general pattern emerges of democratic countries tending to outperform autocracies conditional on economic output, education, and social trust. The outlier autocratic country in this case is Rwanda, as Singapore’s governance is explained sufficiently by its above-average social trust for it not to appear as an outlier.

Fig. 7
figure7

Distribution of governance residuals, given economic output, education, and social trust, by executive constraint score

The second robustness check requires dropping Political Stability and the Absence of Violence from the average of Worldwide Governance Indicators and again re-estimating Regression 1 and Regression 3. Doing so results in Fig. 8 (c.f. Fig. 3) and Fig. 9 (c.f. Fig. 9). The qualitative pattern again remains just the same. Outlier autocratic countries in these cases are Rwanda (in Fig. 8) and Singapore (in Fig. 9). Findings in the main text, therefore, were not contingent on whether Political Stability and the Absence of Violence is to be included in the appropriate measure of governance.

Fig. 8
figure8

Distribution of governance residuals, given economic output and education, by executive constraint score, exluding political stability and absence of violence

Fig. 9
figure9

Distribution of governance residuals, given economic output, education, and individualism, by executive constraint score, excluding stability and absence of violence

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Murphy, R.H. Governance and the dimensions of autocracy. Const Polit Econ 30, 131–148 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10602-018-9270-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Democracy
  • Autocracy
  • Governance
  • Executive constraint

JEL Classification

  • O43
  • D72
  • P50