Socioeconomic Factors

The survey of the size and democracy literature already pointed to a number of potential factors that may intervene between size and indicators of local democracy such as the level of local party institutionalization. Some of them were related to socioeconomic variables and the societal organization. Thus, I review the literature focusing on the relationship between modernization and democracy, and social capital and democracy. Then, I conclude by putting forward hypotheses about the factors that may account for the variation in local party institutionalization and intervene between size and local party institutionalization.

Further Literature Survey

Development and Democracy

The largest school of empirical democratic research has up to now been the modernization theory. The basic tenet of this perspective is that an overall transformation in which economic, social, and political changes (e.g. industrialization, urbanization, migration, and democratization) coherently go together is the master process of our age. This transformation is basically the same everywhere and occurs through evolutionary stages. Consequently, societies can be placed on a development scale and their futures can to some degree be predicted. Not surprisingly, the modernization school had its heyday in the optimistic 1960s, when many former colonies seemed to adopt the Western economic, social, and political model. It became discredited in the 1970s under the heavy pressure of both the scientific critiques and the changes in world political patterns. Still, one can argue that the inclusion of the development factor as an independent variable in a multivariate analysis is both theoretically and empirically well supported in the literature.

The idea of modernization goes back to the classical writers of social sciences. Marx emphasized commodification, i.e. the process whereby goods and services increasingly became merchandises in the market. Durkheim conceptualized modernization as social differentiation, i.e. the process by which institutional activities became divided, separated and more specialized. Weber portrayed the transformation of pre-modern societies as increasing rationalization, which, from a political point of view, mainly means bureaucratization. After WWII, the structural-functionalist vogue stressed the changes in norms and value systems and interpreted modernization as the replacement of traditional values with motivational patterns more favorable to economic growth and social change. Since then, the idea of modernization has appeared in several forms. In this section, the writings analyzing the relationship between democratization and economic development will be discussed. This means a neglect of the functionalist ideas of modernization school.

Empirically, the evidence to which the proponents of this approach most frequently refer is a high and significant correlation between the level of democracy and the level of socioeconomic development. Lipset’s paper on “Some Social Requisites of Democracy”, originally published in 1959, was a breakthrough in this respect. Based on Lerner’s The Passing of Traditional Society (1958), Lipset claimed in this paper that the level of economic development and the level of democracy are related issues. “The more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy” (Lipset 1981: 31). To support this claim, he analyzed data from 51 countries, divided into two categories: European and English-speaking countries vs. Latin America. In both sets, he distinguished between democracies and dictatorships. Then, Lipset related the means of the two groups within each regional set to five indicators of socioeconomic development (wealth, industrialization, education, urbanization). He claimed that these “aspects of economic development [...] are so closely related as to form one major factor which has the political correlate of democracy” (1981: 41). The results showed that democratic countries are more developed on average than nondemocratic countries. In the Postscript of his Political Man Lipset reasserted the basic claims of this train of thought.

Lipset’s findings were criticized by many (e.g. it was argued that European dictatorships had had a higher mean of development than Latin American democracies), but it generated a long line of research. Coleman (1960), on a much more functionalist ground, examined 75 Third World countries and classified them in three categories according to their respective level of democracy. He then compared the categories on 11 indicators of modernization. The results of 10 variables demonstrated the same order: competitive, semicompetitive and authoritarian regimes. Cutright (1963) opened a long series of papers based on correlational analysis. He replaced Lipset’s crude, two- value (democratic/non-democratic) scoring system with a scale of political development (measuring competition and stability by scoring the years when competitive parliament and elected chief executive existed). Cutright, then, related this index to socioeconomic indicators such as urbanization, communication, education and industrialization. The multiple correlation explained 67 percent of the variance around the mean. If taken alone, however, one component, the communications development index, accounted for 65 percent. Cutright called attention to the high correlation among the explanatory variables as an explanation and argued for the single dimension of development. As a good functionalist, he claimed that “if a nation has departed from its predicted values, we can view it as being under some pressure to move toward the predicted score” (1963: 262). In order to find their equilibrium, poor democracies would become less democratic, and relatively more wealthy nations would come closer to democracy.

The association between economic development and political democracy has been supported by recent studies as well. Powell (1982) reported a moderate association of various modernization indicators with participation, no correlation with executive durability and a curvilinear relationship with violent acts. Diamond (1992) cross-tabulated six regime-types and four income groups (based on per capita GNP) for 142 countries. The data demonstrated a clear positive association between economic development and democracy at the.0001 level (Chi square). Hadenius (1992) also found correlations with socioeconomic variables (GNP level, daily newspapers, infant mortality, primary-, secondary- and higher education, literacy, radio sets, telephones, employment in services, etc.) in the right direction. However, only one component of modernization survived when regressed with other variables. This central factor of the modernization process is not an economic variable, but literacy. (For a very informative summary of the quantitative studies on socioeconomic determinants of democracy, see Diamond 1992: 111-113.)

Where is the level of economic development that leads to democratic transformation? Several authors tried to identify a certain level above which democratization takes off. Dahl (1971) claimed that the relationship is not linear but curvilinear. There is an upper threshold ($700-800 per capita, 1957) “above which the chances of polyarchy (and hence of competitive politics) are so high that any further increases in per capita GNP (and variables associated with such an increase) cannot affect the outcome in any significant way” (67-68). Similarly, there is a lower limit ($100-200) below which there is only a slight chance for democracy. Recently, Huntington also pointed to “a zone of transition or choice, in which [...] new types of political institutions are required to aggregate the demands of an increasingly complex society and to implement public policies in such a society” (1984: 201). Thus, democratic transformation occurs at the middle level of economic development. The events of 1990 do not refute Huntington’s findings.

To explain the well-established correlation between the levels of democratic and economic developments, students of empirical democratic theory attempted to identify specific causal mechanisms and theoretically explain the correlation by several intervening variables. Lipset mentioned (without much systematic evidence) some mechanisms through which economic development had an effect on democratization. All of these variables seem to refer to a central prerequisite of democracy, tolerance and moderation. For example, he summarized the effect of education this way: “Education broadens man’s outlook, enables him to understand the need for norms of tolerance, restrains him from adhering to extremist doctrines, and increases his capacity to make rational electoral choices” (1981: 39). Education makes people sophisticated, informed and tolerant. A high level of education is, for Lipset, a necessary condition for democracy. Economic development also affects the distribution of wealth. Great inequality leads to extremities in the poor, who regard the established political system as the enemy, and to anti-democratic feelings and arrogance in the wealthy, who see a danger in the inclusion of the poor. Socioeconomic development, however, strengthens the middle classes, which are the more moderate and, thus, the most pro-democratic social force. More educated and less-poor lower classes are more exposed to cross-pressures that reduce the influence of extremist ideologies. (This will be discussed in the subsection 3.2.2 on cleavages.) Lipset also contributed a great role to intermediary organizations that prevent the state from domination, communicate ideas among citizens, create new ideas, socialize political skills and increase participation. More wealthy nations have stronger intermediary organizations, which, in turn, contribute to a more tolerant, sophisticated, informed, and, thus, a more democratic citizenry.

Subsequent authors developed and elaborated on the ideas that appeared in Lipset’s analysis, but did not disclose why development tends to generate democracy. While the study on the relationship between economic and political development became more and more sophisticated concerning methodology, it was not further supported theoretically. The phenomenon that was more emphasized in later works was communication. Economic and social development leads to the expansion of newspapers, radio and TV. According to this argument, increasing media exposure makes people more interested in politics and more familiar with political phenomena. More sophisticated citizens, then, take part in democratic policy-making, in the form of both electoral turnout and participation in political organizations (mainly in mass parties). This is also the logic of Karl Deutsch’s (1961) social mobilization scheme. McCrone and Cnudde (1967) used time-series analysis to infer causal patterns. They found that the first step in modernization and democratization was urbanization, which had a certain effect on democratization and increased the level of education. Better education, they claimed, amplified media, which, in turn, had a large impact on democratization. They concluded with a communications theory of democratic development. Dahl (1971) also stressed the role of communication and literacy. He accounted for the deviant cases, i.e. the countries where democracy exists (India) or existed (ancient Greece, 19th century US) at a lower level of development, with the fact that a relatively high level of education, literacy and mass media can be achieved even in poor or pre-industrial countries. The other explanation for deviant cases lies in the equality of resources (see subsection 1.3).

The study of the modernization effects on democracy received many criticisms. Inglehart, who attempted to rejuvenate modernization theory, acknowledged five points to be revised. (1) Socioeconomic change does not move in one direction, in a linear way. History “reaches points of diminishing returns” and begins “to move in a fundamentally new direction” (1997: 10). (2) The supposed relationships tended toward an oversimplified determinism. Economic determinism (like Marxism) and cultural determinism (like Weberian theories) are both mistakes, because these systems are mutually supportive and the causal linkages are reciprocal. (3) The modernization school was often accused of ethnocentrism. This Western-oriented view hinders the understanding of modernization. (4) Modernization does not necessarily lead to democracy. Fascism and communism are also alternatives in the modernization phase.

Some of the above critiques (especially ethnocentrism) were supported by the non-functionalist proponents, who emphasized only the relationship between economic and democratic development. Another critique, the problem of causality, is not unusual in quantitative studies. It is, however, particularly effective against the economic development perspective because of the poverty of a convincing specification of causality. What this branch of the empirical democratic theory found are no more than correlations, which do not tell us the direction of causality nor the causal mechanism. The causal mechanisms were not at the center of discussion. Some pointed to problems with the dependent variable, especially Cutright’s index that is used by many. The next subsection summarizes the critique of dependency theorists.

In spite of the many criticisms, one must face up to the empirical relationship between socioeconomic development and the level of democracy. This association was demonstrated in so many studies with so many cases that the propositions, which can be unfolded from the modernization approach, must be tested in a multivariate analysis against evidence.

Research on the relationship between socioeconomic development and the degree of democracy has brought some variables to the front. Not all of these variables can usefully be interpreted in the case of local communities nowadays. For example, the rate of literacy or mobility does not express much in a within- country comparison in the beginning of the 21th century. From the perspective of this research, the supposed intervening variables are the most relevant factors. There are three variables which can be well theorized with regard to the degree of democracy in local governments: the level of education, citizens’ standard of living and the strength of the media.

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