The Performance of Democracies

Over the last century, several waves of democracy have swept over the globe, bringing representative democracy to places where it seemed inconceivable fifty, or even twenty-five years ago. Democracy as an overall model for how societies should be governed must be seen as a remarkable success. More countries than ever are now considered to be democratic. There are certainly many reasons to be enthusiastic about this historically remarkable development. However, this enthusiasm is dampened by three things. One is that empirical research shows that there is only a very weak, or none, or sometimes even negative, correlation between established measures of human well-being and measures of the level of democracy. For example, communist-authoritarian China now outperforms democratic India on almost all measures of population health. This is the case also when small countries are compared such as authoritarian Singapore with democratic Jamaica. The second reason is that a number of democracies turn out to have severe difficulties managing their public finances in a sustainable way. For example, in Greece and Italy, technocrats have recently replaced elected politicians in government as a means to get control of public finances. The third problem is that democracy in itself seems not to be a cure against pervasive corruption. Measure of democracy and measures of corruption do not correlate well. In fact, many authoritarian countries are less corrupt than many democratic ones. This project will use an institutional approach to answer the question why some democracies work better than others. Democratic systems can be institutionalized in innumerous ways given variation in for example party system, electoral system, type of public administration, judicial control and legal system, degree of lobbyism, degree of decentralization, rules for the public budget, possibilities to use referendums, the power of the executive and so on. This huge variation in the institutional configuration of existing democracies will be used for developing an empirically based theory for explaining the difference between dysfunctional and well-functioning democracies.

Full project description.

Funded by:

Advanced Research Grant from the European Research Council 2013 and the Swedish Research Council 2014´.

Five-year project, total budget 3,5 mil. Euro.