Democracy, conflict and the future

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Conflict over resources is inherent in political life. The difference between regimes lies in how such conflicts are handled – by repression under autocracy, by civil war under anarchy and by agreed rules under democracy. Democracy is civilised political struggle. That is what makes it both so attractive and so fragile.

Martin Wolf is optimistic that recent economic developments favor the rise and stay of democratic regimes. [See graph]. Though he notes two important exceptions – both of which point towards a 'resource curse'.

First, huge natural resource rents cement autocracies, particularly when in the hands of the state. Elites have much to lose from equal sharing of the wealth, while the masses can impose few costs upon them. It is not the efforts of the people of Saudi Arabia who make their elite rich, but oil. Russia is in the same sad situation. Iraq is unlikely to emerge as a stable democracy, not because of ethnic and religious divisions, but because of oil wealth.

Second, sub-Saharan Africa’s natural resources and lack of development are big obstacles to the emergence of stable democracies. The greatest danger is wars over resources among predatory elites. The movement is more likely to be from autocracy to instability than from autocracy to stable democracy.

For more, see the referenced Freedom House report or Acemoglu-Robinson book -- Tim reviewed the later last weekend. Also, more on aid and the resource curse.

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