September 4, 2013


How Tyranny Paved the Way to Wealth and Democracy: The Democratic Transition in Ancient Greece (F. Andrew Hanssen and Robert K. Fleck, February 15, 2011, SSRN)
When a ruling elite is unable to commit to future growth-promoting policies, it may cede political power to a broader segment of the public, as in North and Weingast (1989). Alternatively, as we show in this paper, commitment may be achieved by moving in the opposite direction: installing a single authoritarian ruler who favors growth-promoting policies. Although this narrows the distribution of power in the short run, it may - as our model illustrates - be a step toward, not away from, democracy. We apply the model to ancient Greece. Many of the famously democratic poleis (city-states) of Greece's Classical period were ruled by tyrants in the earlier Archaic period. The tyrannies of Archaic Greece were transitory institutions, generally lasting only a few decades, with strong similarities across poleis in the factors that led to their appearance and the types of policies enacted. Using a unique data set, we examine the relationships between the potential for economic growth, Archaic period tyranny, and Classical period democracy. We conclude that a high potential for economic growth led to a pro-growth political institution (the tyrant) that led in turn to increased wealth and, eventually, to democracy.

The Global Elite's Favorite Strongman (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 9/08/13, NY Times Magazine)

No country in Africa, if not the world, has so thoroughly turned itself around in so short a time, and Kagame has shrewdly directed the transformation. Measured against many of his colleagues, like the megalomaniac Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who ran a beautiful, prosperous nation straight into the ground, or the Democratic Republic of Congo's amiable but feckless Joseph Kabila, who is said to play video games while his country falls apart, Kagame seems like a godsend. Spartan, stoic, analytical and austere, he routinely stays up to 2 or 3 a.m. to thumb through back issues of The Economist or study progress reports from red-dirt villages across his country, constantly searching for better, more efficient ways to stretch the billion dollars his government gets each year from donor nations that hold him up as a shining example of what aid money can do in Africa. He is a regular at Davos, the world economic forum, and friendly with powerful people, including Bill Gates and Bono. The Clinton Global Initiative honored him with a Global Citizen award, and Bill Clinton said that Kagame "freed the heart and the mind of his people."

This praise comes in part because Kagame has made indisputable progress fighting the single greatest ill in Africa: poverty. Rwanda is still very poor -- the average Rwandan lives on less than $1.50 a day -- but it is a lot less poor than it used to be. Kagame's government has reduced child mortality by 70 percent; expanded the economy by an average of 8 percent annually over the past five years; and set up a national health-insurance program -- which Western experts had said was impossible in a destitute African country. Progressive in many ways, Kagame has pushed for more women in political office, and today Rwanda has a higher percentage of them in Parliament than any other country. His countless devotees, at home and abroad, say he has also delicately re-engineered Rwandan society to defuse ethnic rivalry, the issue that exploded there in 1994 and that stalks so many African countries, often dragging them into civil war.

But Kagame may be the most complicated leader in Africa. The question is not so much about his results but his methods. He has a reputation for being merciless and brutal, and as the accolades have stacked up, he has cracked down on his own people and covertly supported murderous rebel groups in neighboring Congo. At least, that is what a growing number of critics say, including high-ranking United Nations officials and Western diplomats, not to mention the countless Rwandan dissidents who have recently fled. They argue that Kagame's tidy, up-and-coming little country, sometimes described as the Singapore of Africa, is now one of the most straitjacketed in the world. Few people inside Rwanda feel comfortable speaking freely about the president, and many aspects of life are dictated by the government -- Kagame's administration recently embarked on an "eradication campaign" of all grass-roofed huts, which the government meticulously counted (in 2009 there were 124,671). In some areas of the country, there are rules, enforced by village commissars, banning people from dressing in dirty clothes or sharing straws when drinking from a traditional pot of beer, even in their own homes, because the government considers it unhygienic. Many Rwandans told me that they feel as if their president is personally watching them. "It's like there's an invisible eye everywhere," said Alice Muhirwa, a member of an opposition political party. "Kagame's eye."

The United States has a long history, of course, of putting aside concerns over human rights and democratic principles and supporting strongmen who can protect its strategic interests, like keeping the oil flowing or Communist sympathizers or Muslim extremists in check. But what makes the Kagame situation different from the one in Egypt, say, where the army has mowed down crowds, or in Saudi Arabia, where misogynistic princes rule, is that there is no obvious strategic American interest in Rwanda. It is a tiny country, in the middle of Africa, with few natural resources and no Islamist terrorists. So why has the West -- and the United States in particular -- been so eager to embrace Kagame, despite his authoritarian tendencies? One diplomat who works in Rwanda told me that Kagame has become a rare symbol of progress on a continent that has an abundance of failed states and a record of paralyzing corruption. Kagame was burnishing the image of the entire billion-dollar aid industry. "You put your money in, and you get results out," said the diplomat, who insisted he could not talk candidly if he was identified. Yes, Kagame was "utterly ruthless," the diplomat said, but there was a mutual interest in supporting him, because Kagame was proving that aid to Africa was not a hopeless waste and that poor and broken countries could be fixed with the right leadership. "We needed a success story, and he was it."

Posted by at September 4, 2013 2:22 PM

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