Economic Development will not Necessarily Lead to Democracy

May 8, 2017

There is a widespread belief that as countries develop economically, they are more likely to become – or to remain – democratic. Recent events in, for example Russia and Turkey, however, suggest that the link between economic development and democratization may not be as strong as once expected.

In his keynote address at the 2017 European Public Choice Society meeting at CEU on April 20, Gérard Roland discussed a model that he and colleague Yuriy Gorodnichenko have developed to explore the role of culture in democratization – a topic that, he said, “has been largely absent from the social science literature.” Roland explained that they chose to focus on one aspect of culture – the impact of an individualist versus a collectivist culture – because it has been identified as “the main cultural dimension in the world.”

Roland explained that their model of individualism and democratization shows that countries where there is a higher share of individualist culture are more likely to transition to democracy over time. (He noted that Hungary had one of the highest individualist scores in the region and so “we may have reason to be optimistic about democracy in Hungary.”)

Roland and Gorodnichenko’s model also shows that collectivist cultures can get “stuck” with benevolent autocracies – autocracies that do not act in a “predatory way” towards their citizens. “Collectivist cultures, even as they become economically successful, may not adopt democracy,” said Roland. He noted that this means that democratization in countries like China and Vietnam “may take a very long time.” Roland said that the individualist scores for the Middle East are much higher than they are for Asia, so there is cause to be “more optimistic about the prospects for democracy in that part of the world.”

You can watch a recording of the April 20 keynote address that Gérard Roland made during the 2017 meeting of the European Public Choice Society at CEU in Budapest, Hungary below.