State Power and the Economic Origins of Democracy

  • Hillel David SoiferEmail author


Recent comparative politics scholarship on regime change has not taken state capacity seriously. Prominent works on the relationship between democracy and economic inequality center on the expectation by economic elites that democratization will lead to economic redistribution. But state capacity is necessary for redistribution, and where extractive capacity is lacking, rational economic elites should not fear that suffrage expansion would lead to effective redistribution, nor should the masses expect to gain economically from democratization. State capacity thus acts as a scope condition for the effect of inequality on regime outcomes. This prediction is confirmed through replication and extension of the analysis in Boix (2003), with the addition of the presence of a regularly implemented national census as a proxy for state capacity. In strong states, the effect of inequality on regime change is confirmed. But where the state is weak, inequality is shown to have no effect on regime outcomes. Thus, including state capacity in theories of regime change calls into question general claims about the “economic origins” of dictatorship and democracy.


Democratization State capacity Redistribution Inequality 



Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2008 meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association and the American Political Science Association, Temple University, and Dartmouth University, and an early version was published as Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper #93 in 2009. I thank Carles Boix for sharing his data, and Mark Copelovitch, Kevin Arceneaux, Megan Mullin, Ryan Vander Wielen, and Ben Ansell for answering queries about methodological issues. Carles Boix, John Carey, Mark Copelovitch, Jorge I. Domínguez, Thad Dunning, Zach Elkins, Daniel Gingerich, Kimuli Kasara, Steve Levitsky, Juan Pablo Luna, Victor Menaldo, Dan Reiter, Rachel Beatty Riedl, James Robinson, David Samuels, Prerna Singh, Maya Tudor, Milan Vaishnav, Matthias vom Hau, Daniel Ziblatt, and the graduate students in my seminar ‘The State in Comparative Politics’, and colleagues in the Political Science department at Temple read early versions and provided helpful comments. I thank them as well as the reviewers and journal editors for suggestions that greatly improved the paper.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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