Poverty, Inequality, and Democracy: Why Democracies Fail

Issue Date October 2008
Volume 19
Issue 4
Page Numbers 57-68
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Based on a new data set of democratizations occurring between 1960 and 2004, this paper explores the reasons for reversals in young democracies. Adverse initial conditions including poverty, inequality, and ethnic fragmentation are associated with the failure of democracy, but the relationship is not deterministic. Likewise, numerous young democracies have survived in spite of disastrous economic performance. Political institutions play a key role in preventing a return to authoritarianism, but the effectiveness of constraints on executive power appears more important than whether the regime is parliamentary or presidential in structure. These findings suggest a need for greater coordination between democracy promotion assistance and aid intended to foster economic development.

About the Authors

Ethan B. Kapstein

Ethan B. Kapstein is Paul Dubrule Professor of Sustainable Development at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, and Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development, in Washington, D.C.

View all work by Ethan B. Kapstein

Nathan Converse

Nathan Converse is pursuing a doctorate in economics at the London School of Economics.

View all work by Nathan Converse