Rainfall & Democracy 1

Steve Haber and I are intrigued by the fact that the world can be divided into three groups: stable democracies such as the U.K., persistent autocracies, such as Oman, and countries that cycle back and forth between regime types, but create neither stable democratic institutions nor durable authoritarian institutions, such as Peru. Why have some countries remained obstinately authoritarian despite repeated waves of democratization while others have exhibited uninterrupted democracy?

When we inquired into why this is the case, however, we grew dissatisfied with existent explanations that lacked consistent empirical support. These include differences in wealth and education across countries, which Acemoglu and Robinson have shown are only spuriously associated with regime types. Similarly, we have shown that an explanation based on reliance on natural resources also suffers from the same problem. In other work I have shown that the high levels of inequality are not necessarily an impediment to democracy—as several Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Chile and Colombia attest to. Although both countries’ colonial legacy and factor endowments (such as the quality of the soil and the supply of labor) appear to be systematically related to whether they are democratic today (Engerman and Sokoloff), evidence for these explanations exclude Europe,  the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, Japan, and Thailand.

That made us wonder…

In order to make sense of these patterns, we explore the relationship between factor endowments, institutions and investments in human capital over the longrun in “Rainfall, Human Capital and Democracy.”

1 comment

  1. Sam S.

    October 29, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Pretty interesting. Although, I have to say that I am a little skeptical of the data. The theory seems as plausible as any other theory of democracy, but the rainfall data makes me nervous. Russia has low average rainfall and Australia has moderate rainfall? I don’t think I could show that to a group of college students without them doubting it. The concept of average rainfall in a country is, itself, worrisome. There is as much variation in rainfall within the United States (compare Las Vegas to Honolulu) as between any country. It would seem to me that something like % of arable land is a more meaningful and valid instrument.

    Nonetheless, interesting.


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