Mark Harrison 15 January 2014
Democracy often seems bureaucratic with high ‘transaction costs’, while autocracies seem to get things done at lower cost. This column discusses historical research that refutes this. It finds empirical support from Soviet archives for a political security/usability tradeoff. Regimes that are secure from public scrutiny tend to be more costly to operate.
From public finance to climate change, democracy looks to be in trouble. In many Western countries, political decisions are gridlocked while economic, social, and environmental imbalances accumulate. Our leaders juggle public opinion, private lobbies, and expert advice while trying to live within past promises and present legal obligations. The costs of reaching decisions are often high and sometimes prohibitive, leading us into democracy’s ‘do nothing zone’, where bargaining fails and the outcome is procrastination (Wintrobe 2000: 247-279).
Economic history Politics and economics
democracy, dictatorship, Soviet Union, autocracy, transaction costs, secrecy
A theory of military dictatorships
Daron Acemoglu, Davide Ticchi , Andrea Vindigni 16 June 2008
Encouraging democracy is one goal of most industrialised nations’ foreign economic policies. Formulating such policies requires an understanding of the political-economy logic governing democratic transitions. This column describes an important recent advance in theoretical thinking on the military’s role.
Throughout history, the military has been concerned with much more than national defense. In Imperial Rome, for instance, by the era of the mid Empire it had become customary for the military to influence the selection of the new Emperor. In modern times, virtually all Latin American and African nations have seen military interventions, often culminating in military coups and the emergence of military dictatorships. There are also instances of military involvement in domestic politics, even in apparently consolidated democracies.
Politics and economics
democracy, Political Economy, military, coups, dictatorship, oligarchy