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Unbundling Democracy: Tilly Trumps Schumpeter

Roger Betancourt
University of Maryland
January 23, 2014

In his current research on concepts of democracy, Professor Roger Betancourt has conducted empirical study on political rights and civil liberties. Often times, there are distinguishable characteristics between the concepts of democracy as defined by economists and as defined by political scientists. Generally, economists tend to focus on political rights and more specifically, free & fair elections (FFE). On the other hand, many political scientists tend to look at the degree of protection of political rights and civil liberties. Recent work by Charles Tilly argues that democracy is a matter of degrees. In particular, political rights and civil liberties can be complementary or independent of each other within different degrees of democracy.

In his research, Betancourt looks specifically at political rights and civil liberties. Concepts of political rights include FFE, participation, accountability, and transparency. Concepts of civil liberties include freedom of expression, freedom of association, rule of law, and mobility rights, property rights, and tolerance. Organizations such as Freedom House have created means to measure these concepts and collect data to determine the level and extent of freedom in individual countries.

While both civil liberties and political rights are used to determine democracy, they have fundamental differences. Civil liberties have a direct utility to citizens whereas political rights often have an indirect utility. In addition, rents gained from political rights are often generated as private goods, while rents from civil liberties are generated through collective good provisions. Finally, while political rights often operate under discrete constraints (i.e. voting, which happens once every few years), civil liberties arise from the existence of continuous constraints on the state (i.e. freedom of the press, assembly, etc.). The empirical implications of these differences for empirical research narrow to a central holding that the exercise of civil liberties are often required for the exercise of political rights. For example, the continuous existence of the freedom of speech is needed for political parties to form and compete in fair elections.

After running regressions with data pulled from Freedom House the central result seen is civil liberties have a greater persistence than political rights and are complementary to political rights. However, political rights have no effect on civil liberties. The findings uphold that political rights and civil liberties evolve differently within a society, both in terms of persistence and complementarity. As a policy predictor, the data would show that prodemocracies such as the United States should push to evolve and grow civil liberties within emerging democracies rather than only political rights. Political rights are necessary but not sufficient; through the continued exercise of civil liberties, stronger political rights can emerge.

The research implies that political rights and civil liberties are mechanisms to achieve a democracy; often with civil liberties building to political rights (a good example being women rights in the United States -  freedom to inherit and income came before the women's vote).

For more detailed information of Professor Betancourt's research, see attached slides.

Roger Betancourt is a professor of economics and the University of Maryland. Along with his co-author, Professor Ariel BenYishay of University of New South Wales, Betancourt is using Freedom House data to complement their earlier analysis evaluating impact of political variables on long-run economic growth.     

Rapporteur: Corinne Tomasi