If You Can Keep it

Kevin Lewis

July 27, 2020

Learning about Growth and Democracy
Scott Abramson & Sergio Montero
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


We develop and estimate a model of learning that accounts for the observed correlation between economic development and democracy and for the clustering of democratization events. In our model, countries’ own and neighbors’ past experiences shape elites’ beliefs about the effects of democracy on economic growth and their likelihood of retaining power. These beliefs influence the choice to transition into or out of democracy. We show that learning is crucial to explaining observed transitions since the mid-twentieth century. Moreover, our model predicts reversals to authoritarianism if the world experienced a growth shock the size of the Great Depression.

Why Monarchy? The Rise and Demise of a Regime Type
John Gerring et al.
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


Monarchy was the dominant form of rule in the pre-modern era and it persists in a handful of countries. We propose a unified theoretical explanation for its rise and decline. Specifically, we argue that monarchy offers an efficient solution to the primordial problem of order where societies are large and citizens isolated from each other and hence have difficulty coordinating. Its efficiency is challenged by other methods of leadership selection when communication costs decline, lowering barriers to citizen coordination. This explains its dominance in the pre-modern world and its subsequent demise. To test this theory, we produce an original dataset that codes monarchies and republics in Europe (back to 1100) and the world (back to 1700). With this dataset, we test a number of observable implications of the theory — centering on territory size, political stability, tenure in office, conflict, and the role of mass communications in the modern era.

Revisiting the Causal Links between Economic Sanctions and Human Rights Violations
Ryan Yu-Lin Liou, Amanda Murdie & Dursun Peksen
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


There is some consensus in the literature that economic sanctions might prompt more human rights abuses in target countries. Yet, the causal mechanisms underlining the sanctions–repression nexus remain little understood. Using causal mediation analysis, we examine the processes through which sanctions might deteriorate human rights conditions. We specifically propose two indirect mechanisms driving human rights violations: increased domestic dissent and reduced government capacity. Sanctions are likely to trigger domestic dissent, and this instability would further induce the government to employ repression. Reduced government capacity caused by sanctions will harm the government’s ability to screen and oversee its security agents, which would subsequently lead to increased human rights abuses. Results from a time-series, cross-national data analysis indicate that sanctions-induced dissent, particularly violent dissent, plays a significant mediating role in the sanctions–repression link. Likewise, we find strong evidence that diminished fiscal capacity triggered by sanctions is likely to result in more repression. There is also some modest evidence that corruption as a proxy for poor governance mediates the sanctions–repression relationship.

Taking Authoritarian Anti-Corruption Reform Seriously
Christopher Carothers
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


Scholars generally assume that authoritarian regimes will not curb corruption because autocrats benefit from it politically, use anti-corruption campaigns as excuses to purge rivals, and reject democratic institutions widely thought to reduce corruption, such as judicial independence. However, I argue that authoritarian regimes curb corruption more frequently — and sometimes more effectively — than scholars realize. Using a novel scoring system for anti-corruption efforts, I find that there have been at least twenty-five substantial anti-corruption efforts and nine successful reforms by authoritarian regimes in recent decades. Despite the association between democracy and corruption control, successful reforms have been by fully authoritarian regimes, rather than hybrid regimes, and employed a decidedly authoritarian approach, rather than the conventional approach emphasizing democratic institutions. This authoritarian approach to corruption control commonly involves power centralization, top-down control and penetration, and regime propaganda. I illustrate these points with a “least likely” case study of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s controversial anti-corruption campaign. At the theoretical level, I suggest that authoritarian regimes succeed in overcoming challenges — corruption being a hard challenge — through their own institutional strengths, rather than by mimicking democracies. This points to the need to reconsider certain influential views in the study of authoritarianism.

The Intermingling of State and Private Companies: Analysing Censorship of the 19th National Communist Party Congress on WeChat
Lotus Ruan et al.
China Quarterly, forthcoming


This paper examines the relationship between political events and information control on WeChat through a longitudinal analysis of keyword censorship related to China's 19th National Communist Party Congress (NCPC19). We use a novel method to track censorship on WeChat before, during and after the NCPC19 to probe the following questions. Does censorship change after an event is over? What roles do the government and private companies play in information control in China? Our findings show that the system of information control in China can trigger blunt reactions to political events. In addition to critical content around the Congress and leaders, WeChat also censored neutral and potentially positive references to government policies and ideological concepts. The decision making behind this censorship is a product of the interaction between the government, which influences actions through directives, and the companies, which ultimately implement controls on their platforms. While this system is effective in compelling companies to implement censorship, the intermingling of the state and private companies can lead to outcomes that may not align with government strategies. We call for a deeper understanding of the role of private companies in censorship and a more nuanced assessment of the government's capacity to control social media.

Youth, Institutional Trust, and Democratic Backsliding
Joonghyun Kwak et al.
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


In recent decades, many countries ranging from quasidemocratic regimes to well-established democracies have faced democratic backsliding. In this study, we draw on Foa and Mounk and other related literature to examine the effects of regime delegitimation on democratic backsliding, focusing on youth’s trust in political institutions — parliament, legal systems, and political parties — relative to trust of the older population. We use an unbalanced panel data set that combines a country-year indicator of liberal democracy from the Varieties of Democracy project with aggregate survey-based measures of absolute and relative institutional trust from the Survey Data Recycling database; the data set covers 46 countries from 2009 to 2017. We find that the ratio of youth’s institutional trust to that of older persons has a substantive effect on the quality of liberal democracy in the future, and that the effect is amplified by the relative size of the youth population.

A Longevity Mechanism of Chinese Absolutism
Yasheng Huang & Clair Yang
MIT Workinng Paper, July 2020


A counterpart of what is known as “European exceptionalism” — political stability and institutional arrangement that enabled modern economic growth and political development — is a “Chinese anomaly.” This anomaly takes the form of a sharp contrast with pre-modern Europe: Chinese imperial rulers stayed in power longer than their European counterparts but this political stability was accompanied by a high level of institutional stasis. In this paper, we argue that a well-known Chinese institution, the civil service examination (CSE) system, contributed to China’s imperial longevity. We utilize detailed historical data on individual CSE performance to demonstrate the longevity-contributory mechanisms of CSE — constraining access to power by aristocrats and other wealth-holders. We argue that a key to unpacking the so-called “Chinese anomaly” is to understand the role of bureaucracy in political development in China and potentially in other regions.

Continuity or Change? (In)direct Rule in British and French Colonial Africa
Carl Müller-Crepon
International Organization, forthcoming


Current political order in Africa is often linked to legacies of colonialism, in particular to legacies of indirect colonial rule. However, evidence about the application of indirect rule is scarce. In this paper I argue that empire-level characteristics interacted with precolonial institutions in shaping the indirectness of local rule. First, British governments ruled more indirectly than French administrations, which followed a comparatively centralized administrative blueprint, came with a transformative republican ideology, and had more administrative resources. Empirically, I find that French colonization led to the demise of the lines of succession of seven out of ten precolonial polities, twice as many as under British rule. Second, precolonial centralization was a crucial prerequisite for indirect rule. Local administrative data from eight British colonies show that British colonizers employed less administrative effort and devolved more power to native authorities where centralized institutions existed. Such a pattern did not exist in French colonies. Together, these findings improve our understanding of the long-term effects of precolonial institutions and draw attention to the interaction of characteristics of dominant and subordinate units in shaping local governance arrangements.

Lord, Peasant...and Tractor? Agricultural Mechanization, Moore's Thesis and the Emergence of Democracy
David Samuels & Henry Thomson
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


Conventional wisdom holds that landed elites oppose democratization. Whether they fear rising wages, labor mobility or land redistribution, landowners have historically re- pressed agricultural workers and sustained autocracy. What might change landowning elites' preferences for dictatorship and reduce their opposition to democracy? Change requires reducing landowners' need to maintain political control over labor. This transition occurs when mechanization reduces the demand for agricultural workers, eliminating the need for labor-repressive policies. We explain how the adoption of labor-saving technology in agriculture alters landowners' political preferences for different regimes, so that the more mechanized the agricultural sector, the more likely is democracy to emerge and survive. Our theoretical argument offers a parsimonious revision to Moore's thesis that applies to the global transformation of agriculture since Social Origins first appeared, and results from our cross-national statistical analyses strongly suggest that a positive relationship between agricultural mechanization and democracy does in fact exist.

The Origins of Violence in Rwanda
Leander Heldring
Review of Economic Studies, forthcoming


This paper shows that the intensity of violence in Rwanda's recent past can be traced back to the initial establishment of its pre-colonial state. Villages that were brought under centralized rule one century earlier experienced a doubling of violence during the state-organized 1994 genocide. Instrumental variable estimates exploiting differences in the proximity to Nyanza – an early capital – suggest that these effects are causal. Before the genocide, when the state faced rebel attacks, with longer state presence, violence is lower. Using data from several sources, including a lab-in-the-field experiment across an abandoned historical boundary, I show that the effect of the historical state is primarily sustained by culturally transmitted norms of obedience. The persistent effect of the pre-colonial state interacts with government policy: where the state developed earlier, there is more violence when the Rwandan government mobilized for mass killing and less violence when the government pursued peace.

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