Pardee Center

Democracy Builds Economies

A nation’s long-range development also depends on its type of government, according to Political Science Professor John Gerring, a Faculty Fellow at the Pardee Center, whose research uncovers patterns not readily apparent in previous studies of the subject.

Most scholars zero in on the immediate effects of democratic government and conclude that democracy either impedes economic expansion or plays no role in the process. But Gerring suggests that long periods of democracy do, in fact, boost economic performance. Supported by the Pardee Center and the Clinton Global Initiative, he and a team of researchers are analyzing multinational data collected since 1900 showing that, over time, democratic governance fosters economic prosperity.

John Gerring

John Gerring

Pushing the idea further, Gerring asks how the type of democratic rule—whether unitary or federal, parliamentary or presidential, proportional or majoritarian—impacts development. In their recently published book entitled A Centripetal Theory of Democratic Governance, Gerring and coauthor Strom Thacker, an international relations professor and also a Pardee Center Fellow and director of BU’s Latin American Studies Program, present a range of empirical tests that point to the benefits of “centripetal” democratic institutions. They conclude that governments balancing central authority and broad inclusion enjoy more political, economic, and social gains than governments that fragment power by distributing it among multiple institutions. One way to imagine the centripetal system, say Gerring and Thacker, is to think of a pyramid, with the diverse interests of the electorate at the base of the sloping shape, and gradually filtering through the committees and subcommittees of the legislature and finally narrowing at a central lawmaking authority. In other words, successful governance is achieved when power is directed toward the center, not doled out to various organizations.

Drawing on the examples of established democracies, Gerring and Thacker argue that in contrast to the power-sharing system of government embraced by the United States, in the long term, a centralist system of government, like the one employed in the United Kingdom, is more likely to result in increases in trade, longer life spans for citizens, and other benefits.

“We feel that the issues of governance are vastly important in improving the quality of life in the developing world and, at the same time, are not well understood,” says Gerring. “We’re not forecasting the future, but we’re looking at a causal relationship that will shape the future.”