Arnold Kling  

Paul Collier on Democracy

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He writes,


What incumbents fear most is not losing an election, but being overthrown by their own military. When the international community can protect a government from such a threat, it should do so, conditional upon the election being properly conducted. For example, the ousting of the properly elected president of Madagascar in 2008 by a coup could have been averted by prompt international military action. Ultimately, transparent budgets and security guarantees might be enough to nudge these elections closer to our democratic ideal.

I am wary of the term "international community." It is a nice way of saying coercion exerted by some governments on other governments.

I think that the larger issue is that elections, even fair ones, are much overrated. In Unchecked and Unbalanced, I make the case that monopoly government is becoming increasingly incongruent with the specialization and dispersion of knowledge in society.

We have a situation, which we are seeing clearly in the case of health care legislation, in which more and more power is grabbed by officials who have an ever-diminishing share of the knowledge base required to make intelligent decisions. Ken Rogoff keeps using the phrase "arrogance and ignorance" to describe actors in financial markets in recent years. That phrase applies to regulators as well as to CEO's. It applies to policy makers as well as to market participants. And it applies to the "international community."


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (7 to date)
david writes:

I don't know about you, but bloodless coercion by an international community looks preferable to coercion by military coup.

(cue standard response "but what about coercion by nobody, can't I have that?" And I want a pony and world peace, too).

OneEyedMan writes:

Eliminating the threat of coups would allow these countries to have larger militaries. This would allow them to fight insurgencies better but also lower the costs of making war with their enemies. That could lead to higher spending by neighbors and actually make poor countries worse off in equilibrium.

eric mcfadden writes:

Really protect all government from coup? George Orwell correctly points out that as soon as government no longer fears overthrow from the governed a police state will follow.
U.S. enlisted soldiers swear an oath to the president, officers swear an oath to the constitution. Think about why Tommy Jefferson and G-Money Washington set things up that way.

agnostic writes:

"George Orwell correctly points out that as soon as government no longer fears overthrow from the governed a police state will follow."

You're mixing up "the governed" with those who would stage the coup -- commoners, peasants, etc., in the former, elite violence specialists in the latter.

But the larger point about the positive role for coups in natural states -- unnecessary in open-access states -- is right. So, before we implement Collier's strategy, all we have to do is wave our magic wand and turn Madagascar into an open-access society.

It was once said by Howard Wiarda, a perceptive observer of Latin America, that military coups may have “legal-constitutional basis” when their “functional similarity to elections” can be demonstrated “neutrally and scientifically”. If at a particularly difficult moment during the emergence of modern society only an authoritarian regime (elected or not as the case may be) is able to break gridlock and introduce the various preconditions for the construction of impersonal state institutions that are the foundation of sustainable growth and development for the benefit of non-elites, so be it. As I argue in my book ‘Capitalism, Institutions, and Economic Development’ strong leaders and ideological innovations may be needed to ensure that the historical sequence of transitions to capitalism (what Popper called ‘open society’) can be emulated in contemporary developing societies –- i.e. markets to law, law to administration, and administration to democracy. However harsh this hard-nosed realpolitik may sound to soft-western ears, genuine democracy and the elimination of monopolistic institutional closure (pace Weber’s sophisticated theorization of access-limitation) may more surely emerge along this path than by the defense of premature or corrupt pseudo-democracy. I agree with much of what Paul Collier says in his books. But the quotation debated here could, even if unintentionally, justify attitudes that have proved counterproductive in the past. In a few notable cases over the last 20 years the international community has made it effectively impossible for a well-intentioned reformist executive to sustain short-run policies that –- by shutting down corrupt pseudo-democratic political establishments for the purpose of carrying out reforms –- had the greatest chance of producing better democratic governance in the medium and longer term. The failure of the international community to distinguish between functional and dysfunctional temporary political imperfections as a condition of economic growth and institutional construction has sometimes set back the cause of capitalist development.

Kurbla writes:

Michael, would you describe yourself as libertarian, conservative or something else?

Walt French writes:
I am wary of the term "international community." It is a nice way of saying coercion exerted by some governments on other governments.

Perhaps this is because you lifted it out of context. The para was about lowest-force resolution of instances where military force overthrew a probably imperfect democracy.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to cite examples where the international community got alarmed at a military toppling a corrupt dictatorship, and replacing it with a superior government. Ergo, it is a force for individual rights, the principle most central to liberal conservative values.

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