July 10, 2006

Democracy requires economic autonomy from the state

According to Case political scientist, author of Economic Autonomy and Democracy

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Where democracy prevails, Case Western Reserve University Political Scientist Kelly McMann finds people are economically independent of the state. Moreover, she concludes that this economic autonomy from the state helps explain why democracy and capitalism tend to coexist. McMann writes about her findings in the new book, Economic Autonomy and Democracy: Hybrid Regimes in Russia and Kyrgyzstan (Cambridge University Press).

"Democracy is a complex concept that has many different components," said McMann.

An expert on Soviet and post-Soviet politics, McMann set out to solve what she calls "a real world puzzle"—why some regions of post-Soviet countries are more democratic than others.

Her answer to that puzzle—economic autonomy—can help explain why newly introduced democratic institutions falter in many formerly authoritarian countries.

The Case political scientist also concludes that hybrid governments, which combine elements of authoritarianism and democracy—and which are proliferating around the world—may be more than just a transitional phase for these and other countries.

"A practical lesson is that unless you help people achieve economy autonomy from the government, they are not going to be willing to run as opposition candidates in elections for fear of losing their jobs or businesses," said McMann.

While earlier theories of democracy and capitalism focused on potential activists' resources and networks, McMann discovered that before individuals even think of these factors, they consider personal economic consequences.

She said they ask "Can I personally afford to challenge the government or may I lose my job or business if I do?"

"Before we think in terms of resources and organizational capacity, we should look at the extent to which individuals can take on economic risks," said McMann.

Case's assistant professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences arrived at this conclusion after first surveying government officials, academics and other experts in the capitals of Russia and Kyrgyzstan about how democratic regions of their country are.

From that survey, McMann selected Russia's Samara (more democratic) and Ul'ianovsk (less democratic) and Kyrgyzstan's Osh (more democratic) and Naryn (less democratic) for study. The regions in each country are neighbors, which highlights the diverse political climate within these countries.

She conducted 252 interviews in the regions with government officials, political party leaders, media representatives and electoral candidates and combined the interviews with economic data to derive her conclusion about economic autonomy.

During McMann's field research in the late 1990s, she developed a new research tool that enables political scientists to measure Robert Dahl's eight components of democracy, a standard in the field of political science since the 1970s.

McMann measured freedom of speech, non governmental sources of information (free press), freedom to form and join organizations, eligibility to run for public office, the right of political leaders to compete for support, the right to vote, free and fair elections and lastly government institutions that make policy based on voter preferences.

Through this analysis that used Dahl's democratic components, the link between democracy and capitalism emerged.

"So the lesson that we can learn from this study is that it is not sufficient to go into a non democratic country and institute democratic institutions like elections unless you help people achieve economic autonomy from the government," states McMann.

What also became apparent, according to McMann, are possible causes of the proliferation of hybrid governments.

"Because of international pressures for democracy and the international environment, it behooves a leader of a country or province to wear a mantle a democracy," states McMann.

Since the components of democracy are inter-connected, "it is easy for government leaders to eliminate and reduce the effectiveness of some components and undermine overall democracy," McMann explains.

She adds that leaders of these hybrid governments weaken democratic efforts by targeting especially those democratic components not visible to the international community.

McMann's research was supported with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Institute for the Study of World Politics.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, July 10, 2006 08:03 AM | News Topics: Authors, College of Arts and Sciences, HeadlinesMain, Public Policy/Politics

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