“The political economy of democratic transitions” Response

In the article “The political economy of democratic transitions,” Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman explore the effects of socioeconomic factors on democracy. Since the early 1970s, articles by Dankwart Rustow on democratic transitions have been reference consistently by experts. Rustow analyzed the socioeconomic, political, and psychological prerequisites of democracy. Democratization is the result of regime change, among numerous other factors. Most contemporary theories of democratization do not specify the resources that contending parties bring to negotiation and do not consider what is at stake for those involved. In contrast, the approach by Kaufman and Haggard examines the leverage of incumbents against the opposition. Additionally, they look at ten middle-income countries in Latin America and Asia to better explain where democracy came from.

Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman start in the 1970s. Guillermo O’Donnell argued that economic changes create issues and incentives for militaries and individuals to abandon democracy and turn to authoritarianism. Additionally, Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan (other theorists) instead argued that electoral institutions increased polarization (such as the recent Clinton-Trump Presidential divide). Both Linz and Stephan argue that polarization is a reflection of a failure of democratic leadership.

The collapse of authoritarian regimes in Southern Europe and Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s increased interest in democratic transitions. During this period, politicians were influenced by Rustow’s emphasis on strategic interaction and negotiation. For example, after the Cold War, a number of new democracies throughout Europe due to these strategic negotiations.

The approach by Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman focuses on the effects of economic circumstances on the preferences, resources, and strategies of the most important political actors in democratic transitions. In addition, they recognize that many factors contributed to the democratic transformations of the 1980s and 1990s such as diplomatic pressures, structural changes associated with long-term economic development, and the spread of democratization within neighboring countries Moreover, Haggard and Kaufman argue that there is no relationship between regime change and economic crises.

Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman go over the responses to the economic crises by authoritarian regimes. The financial crises of the 1970s and 1980s were far reaching and cut across all social classes, necessitating policy reform. Kaufman and Haggard argue that poor economic performance reduces the power of authoritarian leaders. Economic declines such as the 2008 Great Recession alter the status quo between governments and the private sector. Cooperation between private sector business groups and authoritarian rulers is crucial for the stability of authoritarian rule. If the private sector loses confidence in the ability of the government to manage the economy, businesses begin supporting opposition groups. In contrast, even though authoritarian regimes may decline in periods of weaker economic growth, they have greater power in a stronger economy because of public dissatisfaction.

Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman go on to further support their arguments by comparing transitions from military rule in ten different countries. The six crisis transitions the look at include Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, the Philippines, Brazil, and Peru. The regime transitions in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and the Philippines occurred during economic downturns. Even though the transition in Brazil occurred during economic recovery, it experienced severe economic shocks several years earlier and still continued to face a series of unresolved adjustment challenges at the time of their respective transitions. The four non-crisis transitions they examine are Chile, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey. The authoritarian governments in these transitions withdrew due to a variety of international and domestic political pressures. Additionally, the transitions in each country occurred against the backdrop of strong economic growth and economic stability. These conditions help to account for variations in the terms of the transition and the political alignments that emerged under new democratic regime.

The first area that Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman look at is the terms of the transitions in both the crisis and non-crisis scenarios. One area in which the differences between the crisis and non-crisis cases exists is through the processes through which constitutional orders were written and implemented. In Chile, Turkey, and Thailand, the transitions occurred under constitutions drafted by the outgoing authoritarian government. Even though incoming opposition political leaders succeeded in including some amendments, these constitutions provided the framework in which new democratic governments operated. On the other hand, opposition forces held much greater influence during crisis transitions. Their influence was particularly strong in the Philippines and Argentina. In such cases, opposition political leaders made choices with little input from the outgoing government and returned to the constitutions in effect prior to authoritarian rule. The relative strength of authoritarian and opposition forces in the negotiation process also influenced governmental design. The two objectives of outgoing authoritarian rulers were to preserve the military’s organizational autonomy and to impose limits on the opposition.

Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman then go over the fact that outgoing authoritarian political leaders often create authoritarian enclaves in the noncrisis transitions. The main authoritarian enclave set up by the outgoing authoritarian rulers was the military. For example, Thailand’s military continued to be a dominant force in its political system despite the country’s transition towards democracy and Pinochet remained as the commander of the Chilean military after he stepped down from power in 1990. Additionally, civilian oversight of the Turkish army remained limited after its transition to democracy in 1983. On the other hand, economic difficulties and loss of support prevented outgoing leaders from preserving either military prerogatives or other means of political influence in the crisis scenario. In the case of the Philippines, the military provided crucial support for the democratic transition and thus had considerable support within the new democratic government. Additionally, the Brazilian military retained the most extensive institutional rights of any military among the crisis transitions but left office constrained by deep internal divisions and a decline in support among both politicians and the general public. As a result, its influence on the new Brazilian constitution is relatively limited when compared to a number of non-crisis transitions such as Chile and Turkey.

Restrictions on political participation is another way in which both the non-crisis and crisis scenarios vary. In the non-crisis transitions, mechanisms of exclusion range from bans on political activity and outright repression to subtle manipulation of electoral laws. Exclusionary mechanisms were most visible in Turkey. For example, the government used legal restrictions on Islamic fundamentalism to clamp down on press freedom. The main labor confederation also remained banned after the transition in 1983 and the government sought to persecute union activists. Moreover, the Turkish military also banned numerous political organizations. On the other hand, the elimination of restrictions on labor and political groups was much more evident in the crisis cases. For example, labor unions regained the right to organize, strike, and press their political demands in countries such as Bolivia and many of the countries characterized by crisis transitions implemented open electoral laws that resulted in the development of strong multi-party political systems.

Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman also explore the political economy of new democracies. Even though both Haggard and Kaufman reject the notion that social interests determine the prospects for democracy, they recognize that the opportunities for political elites to mobilize support is dependent on how economic policy affects the distribution of income across different social groups. The first important factor that Haggard and Kaufman note is that the economic legacy of authoritarian rule determines the policy agenda of democratic successors. New democratic governments that come to power in the wake of crises confront a difficult set of economic policy choices. New democratic leaders can often trade political gains for short-run economic losses, but the transition itself raises expectations that government will respond to new political challenges. Additionally, policy reform is difficult because economic problems are pressing and demands for short-term economic relief are widespread. Economic evidence from middle income developing countries provides broad support for these expectations. For example, average budget deficits were almost twice the level of the pre-transition period, whereas in the noncrisis cases deficits remained low. Moreover, four of the crisis cases (Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru) experienced hyperinflation during their first democratic governments.

In the noncrisis transitions, new democratic governments faced a different agenda of policy reforms. Even though economic reform was less pressing, even the most economically successful authoritarian governments were faced with societal issues that could erupt under democratic rule. Among the noncrisis transitions, the consequences of a large social deficit were most evident in Turkey, where inequality grew steadily during the 1980s. Despite such challenges, many of the countries that experienced non-crisis transitions made headway. For example, Chile’s democratic government had some success in reducing poverty and allowing for increased economic equality while maintaining strong economic growth throughout the 1990s. On the other hand, the continuing power of interests linked to the old regime placed limits on the extent to which the new democratic governments could adequately address the economic demands of previously excluded social groups.

Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman also argue that the transition paths also affect the evolution of the political institutions by which economic demands and policy dilemmas are addressed. In the non-crisis cases, new democratic governments often had to deal with the persistence of nondemocratic enclaves, the autonomy of the military establishment, and links between political groups and business elites. Efforts to address political legacies risked to unravel the democratic bargain and make the respective societies more at risk to return to authoritarianism. On the other hand, the crisis cases exhibited a different set of institutional dilemmas. The overall economic circumstances encouraged executives to concentrate their authority. Such a pattern has been evident where economic issues require complex stabilization packages. Divergent forces within the party system also increased the difficulty of sustaining support and strengthened the incentives for executives to govern in an autocratic manner. Democratic institutions may also be undermined by a failure to take swift and effective action in the cases of severe economic crises. However, the absence of institutionalized consultation with legislators and interest groups deprives executives of needed feedback that may be essential to correct past policy errors.

In conclusion, Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman explore the impact of economic crises on democratic transitions in “The political economy of democratic transitions.” Their case study includes several different countries from Latin America and Asia and focuses on factors such as economic performance and the types of transitions towards democracy in each country. Through their study of the experiences of each country, Haggard and Kaufman conclude that economic policy and performance serves as a way to influence both transitions towards democracy and the future success of newly established democracies.

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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  1. Ramesh on February 27, 2017

    I have read this post and I wish to counsel you few interesting things or tips. Maybe you could write more articles related to this topic. I want to learn even more things related to this topic and expand my knowledge if political science!

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