All FSI Projects

Regime Type and Economic Development


Kathryn Stoner
Principal Investigator
Deputy Director
Michael A. McFaul
Larry Diamond
Nicholas Hope
Francis Fukuyama

The multidisciplinary environment at CDDRL is an ideal venue to explore the ways in which regime (authoritarian or democratic) matters in encouraging or suppressing economic development. This question sits at the very nexus of political science, economics and law.

Economists have examined the question using a macro perspective - that is, they have run regressions on large data sets looking for statistical correlations between democracy or autocracy and growth or decline in GDP per capita. The evidence, however, is ambiguous. For every high-growth authoritarian regime like China there are authoritarian economic disasters like Zimbabwe.

Building on past and ongoing work, researchers at CDDRL are pursuing both a macro approach to further mine the ambiguous correlations between regime type and development performance, as well as employing a micro country case study approach. It may be, for example, that what matters is not so much regime type (democracy or not), but the state's actual capacity to devise and implement policy. Although theoretically, democracies may be better able to achieve consensus on particular policies, and those policies may even be designed to more widely distribute economic benefits to the population at large, there is no inherent reason why these policies would necessarily lead to growth if the actual state apparatus in place is incapable of implementing them. Indeed, it may be that a dictatorship has a more effective state apparatus in some areas and thus can just as easily or perhaps better implement development policies.

With our collective expertise in economics and governance, CDDRL researchers, including former CDDRL Director, Michael McFaul, Deputy Director Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, CDDRL Director, Larry Diamond, Nicholas Hope, Seema Jayachandran, Stephen Krasner, and incoming Olivier and Nomellini Senior Fellow, Francis Fukuyama are exploring these important policy issues in a variety of country cases. The Program on Regime Type and Economic Development comprises two streams of research. First, the research team is planning paired country comparisons (across time and/or geographical space) to explore the relationship between regime type and economic development. McFaul and Stoner-Weiss provide an early example of this kind of work in their analysis of Russia in the 1990's versus 2000-2008. They argue in Foreign Affairs (2008) that Russia's turn toward a more authoritarian form of government under former President Putin between 2000 and 2008 did not bring significantly better development outcomes in Russia as compared to the politically freer, but more chaotic period from 1991-1999. The rapid growth that occurred, they maintain, would have happened without an authoritarian turn, and indeed the rate of growth might have been higher had the country remained freer.

A second planned component of this program is an emerging research consortium of economists, political scientists, and legal scholars from around the world working on the relationship between regime type and development. As the program grows, it will host annual summer workshops for scholars working in this area, making CDDRL a hub of international activity looking carefully at the complex relationships between democracy, authoritarianism, governance and development.