In the past decade, economists such as Daron Acemoglu, Abhijit Banerjee, Nathan Nunn, and James Robinson have empirically validated the primacy of ‘good’ institutions in driving beneficial political and economic outcomes. While this has been a great leap for academic economics, the applicability to policy is debatable. Specifically, as the empirical techniques employed generally exclude components of institutional variation that change over the short- to medium-run (see Rohini Pande and Christopher Udry), the respective findings potentially don't have much to say about what can be expected from deliberate attempts to generate 'good' institutions.
Serious empirical investigation of the effects of institutional reform remains scant, and for good reason. Rigorously identifying the effects of democratization – or any other specific reform – is extremely difficult, particularly at the national-level. When and where societies enact democratic reforms (such as in Eastern Europe in 1989), such reforms go part in parcel with sweeping changes in economic policy, institutional frameworks, and political actors (in the technical lexicon, such reforms are ‘endogenous’). This makes it almost impossible to isolate the effects of the reform itself from the effects of the multitude of other contemporaneous changes.