“Paths of Political and Economic Development,” (joint with Daron Acemoglu, MIT) (2006) in The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy edited by Barry Weingast and Donald Wittman, New York; Oxford University Press.

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Paths of Political and Economic Development

To understand why some countries are democracies whereas others are not, it is useful to distinguish between different characteristic paths that political institutions take over time. Only some of these paths end in democracy, at least at this moment in time. These stylized paths help us to orient ourselves among the complexities of real-world comparisons, and they illustrate the main mechanisms that we believe link the economic and political structure of a society to political institutions.

There are four main paths of political development. First, there is a path that leads from nondemocracy gradually but inexorably to democracy. Once created, democracy is never threatened, and it endures and consolidates. Britain is the best example of such a path of political development. Second, there is a path that leads to democracy but where democracy, once created, quickly collapses. Following this, the forces that led to the initial democratization reassert themselves, but then democracy collapses again and the cycle repeats itself. This path – where democracy, once created, remains unconsolidated – is best exemplified by the Argentinian experience during the twentieth century. Logically, a third path is one in which a country remains nondemocratic or democratization is much delayed. Because there are important variations in the origins of such a path, it is useful to split nondemocratic paths into two. In the first path, democracy is never created because society is relatively egalitarian and prosperous, which makes the nondemocratic political status quo stable.