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Evolution of Democracy in Selected Advanced Countries by Roger R. Betancourt

Evolution of Democracy in Selected Advanced Countries.

In this posting we look at the scores of four advanced countries in three years since the disaggregated components of political rights and civil liberties were made available by Freedom House. The countries selected were USA, Sweden, Spain and Singapore. The years selected were 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Country/[Years] A. B. C. D. E. F. G.

USA [10,11,11] [16,16,16] [11,11,11] [16,16,16] [11,11,10] [14,14,14] [15,15,15]

Sweden [12,12,12] [16,16,16] [12,12,12] [16,16,16] [12,12,12] [16,16,16] [16,16,16]

Spain [12,12,12] [14,16,16] [12,12,12] [16,16,16] [12,12,12] [14,14,14] [15,15,15]

Singapore [04,04,04] [06,06,08] [07,07,07] [09,09,10] [04,03,04] [08,07,07] [12,12,12]

Note that in terms of per capita income, measured in purchasing power parity (PPP) for 2012, Singapore is the highest with income per person between $60.8K and 61.8K as measured by three sources (the World Bank, The IMF and the CIA). Purchasing power parity is supposed to account for price differences across countries obscured by using exchange rates, which reflect only prices of goods and services transacted internationally. Spain is last with income per person between $ 30.1K and $32.7K measured in the same units. The USA and Sweden are in the middle of these two countries with the USA between $50K and $51.7K and Sweden between $40.3K and $43.1K measured in the same units.

This information confirms some results from our earlier discussion of the relationship between democracy and development. The country with the highest level of development in terms of per capita income has the lowest values in all three years in terms of all seven components of both the political rights index and the civil liberties index. Sweden has the highest possible or maximum scores in all seven components of the political rights index and the civil liberties index; yet, it ranks third in per capita income among these four countries. Thus, there seems to be little association between development and democracy among these four advanced countries in terms of the usual measures.

With respect to the evolution of democracy per se this information reveals interesting patterns in these advanced economies. There is a great deal of stability in the scores attained by these countries for each component in the six years between 2006 and 2012. For instance, in Sweden the scores are exactly the same in 2006, 2009 and 2012 for all seven components. In the US this is the case for 5 of 7 components and in Spain for 6 of 7 components. Even in Singapore, where there is the greatest room for improvement, the scores are the same in two of the seven components. In sum these components of democracy evolve slowly in general and especially over short periods of time.

Even in those cases where we observe changes in the scores between years for anyone country we observe one pattern that is suggestive of stability over time. For none of these four countries do we find changes in scores between any two three year periods or between any six year periods greater than 25% of the score in the terminal year of the period. Finally, there is also one pattern worth stressing in the setting of advanced countries. It is possible to improve as well as to deteriorate. The USA experiences improvements in category A and deterioration in category E while Singapore experiences improvement in categories B and D, deterioration in category F and both in category E. Spain experiences only improvement (category B) and Sweden, of course, no change.

[D. Acemoglu, democracy, economic development, political rights, civil liberties, institutions, J. Robinson, political economy, dictatorships]


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