History of democracy and economic development

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mr friendly guy
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History of democracy and economic development

Postby mr friendly guy » 2012-11-10 12:58pm

Not sure if this fits best in history or SLAM, but I decided to post it here. I am hoping for some replies from more knowledgeable people particularly Thanas and Guardsman Bass (hey no pressure). :D

Any way, I read numerous times by various authors that for China to transition to an "advance economy" they will become more like us and democratic. Note in this context, they are talking about being rich, and before someone asks, there is a definition in US dollars in GDP / capita which is counted as "rich" but I don't know it off the top of my head.

To further elaborate, they are not saying that becoming rich leads to democracy, you must first become democratic. I will be very surprised if people haven't read some variation of the theme. But just in case anyone hasn't heard this claim, try Stephanie Flanders from BBC here.

That got me thinking, is it democracy or other factors which made the West rich (in GDP and GDP / capita terms) compared to the rest (ie the so called great divergence) ?

Going on, it occurs to me one can do a simple thought experiment. Simply assume some democratic state minus some of these other factors, compare it to a non democratic state which has some other factor you are comparing to, and see if you think the democratic state will have the same economic output per capita vs the non democratic state. For example I could compare a pre industrial democratic state with a third world dictatorship shit hole, but a shit hole with say, 20th century technology, and I would suspect if the technological difference was far enough, the third world dictatorship would still have a higher economic output. This would imply that technological development would be a more important factor. Rinse and repeat for any other factor you wish to compare to.

From what I understand on the topic of the "Rise of the West relative to the Rest"...

Jared Diamond ascribes it to geography (note this is just what I recall from a summary of his works)

Niall Ferguson has his "6 killer apps" none of which include democracy

Ian Morris was recommended to me, but I haven't found his book yet.

I suspect Francis Fukuyama might have a differing view though.

I am sure there are more books and authors on the subject, but I most probably don't have the time to read them all. So I put forward these questions to the board.

1. In regards to the faster economic development of the West vs the rest, does any historian or anthropologist suggest democracy is one of those factors at all, or is this just something commentators couching history in ideology do?

2. How democratic were Western countries during this period where Europe become dominant? To clairfy, when I saw how democratic, I am comparing to modern democratic nations.
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby madd0ct0r » 2012-11-10 03:38pm

jared Diamond does indeed ascribe to geography, but that only put Euraisa as most likely to become dominant.
His theory was that the fertile crescent had the greatest abundance of easily domesticable good food plants in the world, so agriculture got started there first (starting independently in many places, but the less options they had the longer it took to get started. He noted some Austrailian Aborigional tribes were within a hair's breadth of it when the Europeans arrived)
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby K. A. Pital » 2012-11-10 05:05pm

An author suggesting such is full of shit - the Great Divergence had little if anything to do with democracy. Fukuyama can crawl into his transhumanist-hating corner and stuff himself with a sentient cyborg vibrator - his "end of history" is a sickening concept.
How democratic were Western countries during this period where Europe become dominant? To clairfy, when I saw how democratic, I am comparing to modern democratic nations.

They were hellish places with absurd laws, corporal punishment and a functioning aristocratic, hereditary and/or military-related dictatorship, sometimes with slavery. Comparing to modern democracies all of them were pieces of shit.
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mr friendly guy
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby mr friendly guy » 2012-11-10 08:17pm

Most democracy advocates don't actually use the term Great Divergence, I doubt they have heard of it. But they do imply to get rich like the West you need democracy (see my linked article). With just my limited grasp of history, this claim seems weak on the surface, so I thought to ask.
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby Guardsman Bass » 2012-11-10 09:19pm

mr friendly guy wrote:Not sure if this fits best in history or SLAM, but I decided to post it here. I am hoping for some replies from more knowledgeable people particularly Thanas and Guardsman Bass (hey no pressure). :D

Any way, I read numerous times by various authors that for China to transition to an "advance economy" they will become more like us and democratic. Note in this context, they are talking about being rich, and before someone asks, there is a definition in US dollars in GDP / capita which is counted as "rich" but I don't know it off the top of my head.


There's no real hard-and-fast definition for being a "rich" country, although if you look at the GDP per capita of the OECD members, you can get a good idea. Think GDP per capita above $20,000 a year or so, although that brings in a handful of oil-rich countries and countries that we don't usually consider "rich" (although by world standards they are).

I don't think it's that you need to become "democratic" in order to transform into an "advanced economy", as much as it is that you need an economy (and government) that allows for economic transformation and the utilization of new technology for growth. A country can be democratic and still quite poor and slow-growing, as was the case with India for decades.

Mr Friendly Guy wrote:That got me thinking, is it democracy or other factors which made the West rich (in GDP and GDP / capita terms) compared to the rest (ie the so called great divergence) ?


Other factors. What started to pull "the West" ahead of the rest of the world was industrialization (particularly in the 19th century, although late 18th century British industrialization was extremely important), and that happened when the European nations in question were not very democratic. Prussia (later Germany) was autocratic albeit with a Parliament, France went through autocracy, monarchy, autocracy again, then democracy, and even Great Britain had a much more limited franchise before reform laws in the 1830s and 1860s.

Jared Diamond wrote:From what I understand on the topic of the "Rise of the West relative to the Rest"...

Jared Diamond ascribes it to geography (note this is just what I recall from a summary of his works)


Diamond's theory doesn't really explain why the Europeans became dominant versus other powerful states in Eurasia (although throws out his "optimal fragmentation" theory about geography in Europe and nation-states, which I think is wrong). His theory is more useful when asking why people from Eurasia ended up dominating people in the Americas.

Mr Friendly Guy wrote:Ian Morris was recommended to me, but I haven't found his book yet.


Morris is worth reading just for the comparative history on China and Europe, particularly since he busts a lot of myths about Chinese economic history. I'm not quite sure I buy his "geography" theory, though - in fact, I think his own historical account points more in the direction of "labor costs, accumulated technology, access to coal, and lucky timing".

As far as I can tell, few historians attribute the Great Divergence to the presence of democracy, although they might point to things like the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. One argument I've read for why the Europeans ultimately got ahead of the Chinese economically and technologically was that, for all their scientific and technological discoveries, the Chinese never really developed "scientific inquiry" and the "scientific worldview" as a way of investigating the world. It's questionable how important that was for late 18th century British industrialization, but I've read that the link between scientific research and industrialization became very important in the next "wave" of it that started happening in the 1830s onward.
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby ryacko » 2012-11-10 10:27pm

Chris Crawford wrote an essay on Chinese logic: http://www.erasmatazz.com/TheLibrary/Th ... Logic.html
This excerpt reads like a chain of cause and effect, but in truth it’s nothing more than idle speculation. While the Greeks were developing logic, mathematics, geometry, rhetoric, medicine, astronomy, and other rigorous fields of human inquiry, the Chinese were wasting their time with highfalutin bullshit.
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby ArmorPierce » 2012-11-11 09:40am

I think that this belief stems from economists who begin with the premise that the invisible hand of the free market makes the best use of allocation of resources and that non-democratic countries likely have leader who would cause inefficiencies in the market by meddling in the free market instead of leaving it to its own devices.

I don't agree that a completely free market is always the superior method.
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby mr friendly guy » 2012-11-11 09:58am

Guardsman Bass wrote:countries that we don't usually consider "rich" (although by world standards they are).

I don't think it's that you need to become "democratic" in order to transform into an "advanced economy", as much as it is that you need an economy (and government) that allows for economic transformation and the utilization of new technology for growth. A country can be democratic and still quite poor and slow-growing, as was the case with India for decades.


Which begs the question, what is needed for this economic transformation.

Presumably you mean things like a merchant class which isn't reviled or tightly restricted like in China, availability of credit eg in Europe, most probably more efficient with a central bank like the British, food production tech sufficient so that people could become urbanised (hence industrialise as these urbanites needed jobs in manufacturing) etc.

Is there anything else you can think of?
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby madd0ct0r » 2012-11-11 12:01pm

to be honest, from my limited experience, the major thing seperating economies is trust.

In the united states there's plenty of infrastructure set up you know will be there the next year. There's established venues for Venture Capital and levels of trust are high enough for indiegogo and kickstarter to work.

My wife always jokes the reason Brits will happily queue for a bus is they know there will be another one along in a minute, whereas Vietnam you don't know, and that uncertainty encourages short term thinking.

Trust and certainty need to be built up over time. Some charismatic leaders and really public, hard hitting anti-corruption + propoganda campaigns can speed it up, but naturally we're talking generations of slowly building confidence in the stability of society.
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-11-11 01:38pm

I think you've really got something there.

It seems to me that trust in the stability of society was a big thing in successful pre-industrial economies, too- including places like Ming China and Abbasid Arabia. Even if the leadership isn't all that stellar, as long as most people trust it and conditions don't drive people into open rebellion, the economy will continue to function and progress will (usually) be made. It's only when a disaster strikes, and strikes hard enough to break people's confidence in the system, that this stops working. For instance, the Muslim world's trend of expansion and progress was badly interrupted by the Mongol hordes (and to a lesser, localized extent by the Crusades). Ming China began to suffer uprisings and invasions in the 1600s.

ryacko wrote:Chris Crawford wrote an essay on Chinese logic: http://www.erasmatazz.com/TheLibrary/Th ... Logic.html
This excerpt reads like a chain of cause and effect, but in truth it’s nothing more than idle speculation. While the Greeks were developing logic, mathematics, geometry, rhetoric, medicine, astronomy, and other rigorous fields of human inquiry, the Chinese were wasting their time with highfalutin bullshit.
Oh, look, nonsensical raving by someone who couldn't be bothered to do more than cherrypick one paragraph from a translation! This proves nothing; the guy's working off of a cartoon version of world history, and not even a good cartoon version.

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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby mr friendly guy » 2012-11-11 02:06pm

I think the trust thing would sort of come under what Nial Ferguson describes as "The rule of law." Although it clearly expands also into functioning government as well, but that goes without saying.
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Re: History of democracy and economic development

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-11-11 05:21pm

It's not just about law, it's about other people. It's about whether a business will stay open day after day, whether the trains run on time, things like that.

It's not actively illegal for a business to close whenever the owner feels like it. But a society where it happens a lot will look a bit different from a society where it doesn't happen often at all.


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