World Politics

Research Article

Democracy and Economic Growth: A Historical Perspective

John Gerringa1*, Philip Bonda2, William T. Barndta3 and Carola Morenoa4

a1 Boston University

a2 University of Pennsylvania

a3 Princeton University

a4 Boston University


Recent studies appear to show that democracy has no robust association with economic growth. Yet all such work assumes that the causal effect of democracy can be measured by a country's regime status in a particular year (T), which is correlated with its growth performance in a subsequent period (T+l). The authors argue that democracy must be understood as a stock, rather than a level, measure. That is, a country's growth performance is affected by the number of years it has been democratic, in addition to the degree of democracy experienced during that period. In this fashion, democracy is reconceptualized as a historical, rather than a contemporary, variable—with the assumption that long-run historical patterns may help scholars to understand present trends. The authors speculate that these secular-historical influences operate through four causal pathways, each of which may be understood as a type of capital: physical capital, human capital, social capital, and political capital. This argument is tested in a crosscountry analysis and is shown to be robust in a wide variety of specifications and formats.

John Gerring is an associate professor of political science at Boston University. His books include Party Ideologies in America, 1828–1996 (1998), Social Science Methodology: A Criterial Framework (2001), Case Study Research: Principles and Practices (2006), GlobalJustice:A Prioritarian Manifesto (under review), and Centripetalism: A Theory ofDemocratic Governance (with Strom Thacker, under review). His articles have appeared in numerous political science journals. He is currently working on a book on democracy and development.

Philip Bond is an assitant professor in the Wharton Finance Department of the University of Pennsylvania. His articles have appeared in various economics journals.

William T. Barndt is a graduate fellow of the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars at Princeton University. His dissertation analyzes attempts by elected presidents to suspend the basic political liberties of certain individuals and groups at particular moments.

Carola Moreno is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at Boston University.

* For comments and suggestions we are grateful to Victor Aguirregabiria, Larry Bartels, Patrick Johnston, Stephen Kalberg, Jonathan Krieckhaus, Charles Kurzman, Evan Lieberman, Jim Mahoney, Cathie Martin, Mushfiq Mobarak, Jas Sekhon, Richard Snyder, Nicolas van de Walk, and Joshua Yesnowitz. This research was funded by a generous grant from the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University.