Confusions about democracy and prosperity

Spoiler: in a previous post, I claimed that there was a positive relationship between prosperity and high quality institutions. Some people go further and argue that democracy leads to growth and prosperity as this influential study argues. Other people think that the causality is reversed. The effects of democracy on growth and prosperity occur through better conditions for people to engage in entrepreneurial activities, to save, and invest in both physical and human capital. These conditions are determined by the quality of institutions.

Property rights, rule and law and control of corruption are regarded as key institutions for growth. But not everyone is convinced which you can see here. Critics of instutions’ role for growth and prosperity see the devleopments of traditional growth theory variables as independent of institutional changes.

In this post I will have a look at some countries where it seems that institutions don’t matter (much) or that growth precedes democracy and high-quality institutions. And maybe you can have high quality institutions that are good for growth without democracy. You can also find examples of countries where the regimes don’t seem to care a lot of growth, on the contrary, they fear growth as it may serve to undermine them.

If you’re not confused now, don’t worry. You will be.

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How Sweden chose lower growth

Spoiler: SwedishGDP per capita growth is declining. The decline is mainly due to decreasing growth of GDP per hours worked. While average hours worked, the employment rate and the labour force participation rate worked in the other direction, the contributions from these factors are small. The working-age population rate continue to decrease.

The declining growth rates of GDP per hours worked are a consequence of how patterns of consumption change when incomes increase. As incomes increase, demand shifts from goods to services. The relatively stronger demand for services leads to a reallocation of capital and labour towards these industries from goods-producing industries.

The shift leads to a change in the industrial structure which reduces overall GDP per capita growth through two channels. Firstly, increasing shares of services in overall consumption, increases the weight of services industries relative to manufacturing industries. Secondly, services industries’ productivity growth is lower than manufacturing industries’ productivity growth. Thus, the contribution of the less productive services industries, to GDP per capita growth, increase at the expense of the more productive manufacturing industries.  

This may not be as worrying as one might think. It is partly a consequence of increasing living standards. As our incomes increase, we spend more on services than on goods. The decreasing working-age population rate is also a consequence of increasing living standards. As incomes increase, people choose to have smaller families.

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Albania unchained

Spoiler: The Stalinist Hoxha made Albania the poorest country in Europe. To paraphrase Marx and Engels, by overthrowing the communist regime, the Albanian proletarians had nothing to lose but their chains. Or perhaps a shotgun and a bunker, which were the average endowments of an Albanian household. When the communist era was over, the Albanian economy began to grow. And its growth rate has been higher than most other European countries.

The economy has improved more than the political situation. Even though free elections were held in 1991, the political situation in the country has been tumultuous. Manipulations of elections, repressions of political opponents and riots have from time to time plagued the country since the end of communism.

Assessments of how the political situation develops, vary. Albania is slowly moving, and sometimes backwards, from an authoritarian past towards a democracy with guaranteed civil rights.

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Putin’s home-made Middle-Income Trap

poiler: The Russian economy is stagnating. The Russian growth rate is exceptionally low. The 2008-2019 average annual Russian growth rate was 0.7 percent to be compared by 3.9 percent per year for the average Upper Middle-Income economy. The Russian economy appears to be in a Middle-Income Trap.

Resource-rich countries can escape the trap by implementing policies that exploit new sources of sustained growth. This has not happened in Russia. The reason is that sustained growth requires growth-friendly economic and political institutions because such institutions favour the creatin of new firms but may threaten the incumbent economic and political elites’ business.

The Russian Middle-Income trap is made of Putin. It is a political economy trap which is characterised by institutions that favour the deals-based relationship between Kremlin and the oligarchs.

While this may seem counter-intuitive, it is deliberate. Putin doesn’t care about growth. He cares about sovereignty and stability.

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