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There is some interesting research on Mother Nature forcing social-economic regimes...

African recessions lead to democratic concessions

In Sub-Saharan Africa, periods of low rainfall often lead to economic downturns. And economic downturns, in turn, lead to the toppling of autocracies.

At least, such is the theory put forth in a summary of a new paper by economists Marcus Bruckner and Antonio Ciccone, "Rain and the Democratic Window of Opportunity."

In his synopsis, Ciccone writes that "Four out of five Sub-Saharan African countries were autocracies in 1980, but twenty-five years later there were more democracies than autocracies." He then references the work of economists of Darin Acemoglu and James Robinson:

They show that democratization becomes more likely after transitory, negative shocks. These shocks give rise to a window of opportunity for citizens to contest power, as the cost of fighting ruling autocratic regimes is relatively low. When citizens reject policy changes that are easy to renege upon once the window of opportunity closes, autocratic regimes must make democratic concessions to avoid costly repression.

So what's most likely to cause a transitory negative shock in the agricultural-based economies of sub-Saharan Africa?

Drought.

In our sample, a 50 percent drop in rainfall reduces real income per capita by around 4 percent relative to trend. Putting the two pieces of the puzzle -- the effect of low rainfall on income per capita and its effect on the probability of a transition from autocracy to democracy -- together yields that a drought-driven recession that decreases income by 5 percent relative to trend raises the probability of democratization by around 7 percentage points.

Thus, the recent history of Sub-Saharan Africa provides empirical support for the idea that economic recessions put autocratic regimes in a position where they have no choice but to make democratic concessions.

by das monde on Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 08:28:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting!

So to support democracy, we should root for "transitory, negative shocks"?  

Doesn't seem right, somehow.  But I can see how it would work:  when times are bad, contesting the existing power arrangement has a lower cost, as your quote from Ciccione says. (This reminds me of a dynamic in gorilla troops:  low-status males, with little to lose, apparently behave in ways that destabilize the troop hierachy.  Destabilization behavior includes soliciting attacks from neighboring competitive/antagonistic troops.)  

But the dynamic that Ciccione describes is seen only in autocratic systems, in which the negative (social, political, economic) effects of the transitory negative shock are interpreted in ways that delegitimize the extant regime and lead toward democratization.  If the extant regime is democratic, the transient, negative shock may lead to greater autocracy--as, arguably, happened in the US in the wake of 9-ll.  

Really, we shouldn't trust economists to do poliical theory.


Industrial society is not sustainable. Unsustainable systems change--or disappear.

by Eric Zencey (Eric dot Zencey at UVM dot EDU) on Wed Mar 12th, 2008 at 12:32:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine", we will never miss coincidences of social and economic shocks and political regime changes!

"Natural" dynamics is important and interesting, but at some point "information" dynamics comes into the picture. The reason why financial-corporate-political elites and Friedmannians are so keen and successful with shock-and-wave therapies, is that they know what they want to do. While everyone else is clueless under a shock, they have a plan to implement their agenda.

In sub-Saharan Africa, both autocratic elites and the population may look relatively clueless, and that hurts the elites more. I guess that if the elites would educate themselves at Chicago University, they could be impressively successful in thriving through all climate  and agricultural regimes.

But "nice" political and social parties could probably learn to counter ruthless profiteering from bad shocks and busts, or even start winning over dirty nobilities. Amiable democracy seems helpless now, but mostly because of rather tremendous and diligent efforts of power elites to subvert democracy and regular aspirations. What is needed, is knowledge and determination of what has to be achieved through turmoil times.

In nature, I think that turmoil times (call it equilibrium punctuations, regime shifts, or environmental transitions) generally favor 'niceness' over cutthroat aggression; as cutthroat "dog-eat-dog" competition destroys itself, chances for relaxed and symbiotic relations arise. Similarly, if civilization would collapse in generally uncontrolled fashion, that would hurt autocratic and totalitarian structures a lot, while self-governing and local cooperation would be discovered as best mean to get through, I guess.

by das monde on Wed Mar 12th, 2008 at 03:14:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Amartya Sen has argued that authoritarian regimes exacerbate the impact of negative shocks.
His views encouraged policy makers to pay attention not only to alleviating immediate suffering but also to finding ways to replace the lost income of the poor, as, for example, through public-works projects, and to maintain stable prices for food. A vigorous defender of political freedom, Sen believed that famines do not occur in functioning democracies because their leaders must be more responsive to the demands of the citizens. In order for economic growth to be achieved, he argued, social reforms, such as improvements in education and public health, must precede economic reform.


It'd be nice if the battle were only against the right wingers, not half of the left on top of that — François in Paris
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 12th, 2008 at 04:39:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
thinking about your sig....the difference between industrious and industrial...

industry
c.1477, "cleverness, skill," from O.Fr. industrie, from L. industria "diligence," fem. of industrius "industrious, diligent," used as a noun, from early L. indostruus "diligent," from indu "in, within" + stem of struere "to build" (see structure). Sense of "diligence, effort" is from 1531; meaning "trade or manufacture" first recorded 1566; that of "systematic work" is 1611. Industrial (1774) and industrialize (1882) both on Fr. models. Industrial as a style of dance music dates from 1988. Industrious "characterized by energy, effort, attention" (1552) retains the etymological sense.

are hedge funders 'industrious'?

i wonder when the use of the term 'industrial' began. an industrious community suddenly became an industrial one, why?

more dust? bigger machines?

a hedge fund has (had) the value of what? making someone profiting off it happier? any others?

a subprime mortgage gets someone into a bigger house than they can financially maintain, at whose cost? the chinese who sweat for pennies, so international corporations can sell shares, to pension funds which can tank when the house of cards blows over, and joe blow's retirement goes south?

so much of the 'economy' seems based on promises, in an increasingly unstable world, (was it ever any other way?). trust that gets incrementally ramped up, leveraged by being 'vouched' for by 'responsible' overseers (yeah right)...

vouch |vou ch |
verb [ intrans. ] ( vouch for)
assert or confirm as a result of one's own experience that something is true or accurately so described : they say New York is the city that never sleeps, and I can certainly vouch for that.
* confirm that someone is who they say they are or that they are of good character : he was refused entrance until someone could vouch for him.
ORIGIN Middle English (as a legal term in the sense [summon (a person) to court to prove title to property] ): from Old French voucher `summon,' based on Latin vocare `to call.'

vouching their way further and further out on a limb of_hope_ sold as probability....

financial services have cushioned and comforted many an old age, but does it follow that a global casino mentality is a good one, especially if run by cunning thieves?

the sooner we come up with a recyclable alternative to this deeply flawed system, more tied to reality, (cf. chris cook), the better.

one that trusts that the sun will shine and the tides and wind come in, not untransparent, unregulated flyboys milking the present and destroying the future.

i saw a pretty good australian flick about this last night, called 'the bank, enemy no. 1'. it was about a mathematician who came up with some software to predict stock market crashes. he starts off idealistic, and his boss, a gordon gecko-on-steroids type is superbly cast, a human reptile. i won't spoil it...

anyone see it?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Mar 12th, 2008 at 10:07:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think industrious culture became industrial culture when a couple of things happened:

  1. Fewer and fewer of the workforce was engaged in agriculture, thanks to mechanization and industrial methods being applied on the farm;

  2.  We (humans) learned how to systematically use past solar income--fossil fuels--to accomplish present work.

Industrial culture could be sustainable, if we can find a way to run it on current solar income.  Current solar income will probably support way fewer humans than we have now, if we want anything like our current (even our current world-average) standard of material well being.  

Industrial society is not sustainable. Unsustainable systems change--or disappear.
by Eric Zencey (Eric dot Zencey at UVM dot EDU) on Wed Mar 12th, 2008 at 05:55:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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