Lipset’s Law, Egypt and Democratic Transition
One of the most basic reasons why my judgment on events in Egypt during its post-Mubarak transition differs from that of others is my relative pessimism on what can be achieved in the short-term, other than simply securing the foundations for formal democracy. Based on that starting point, I have given President Morsi wide leeway, because it seems to me that what he has been attempting to do is no more than establish the foundations for a formal democratic regime, one that no doubt will be greatly troubled and flawed, and will certainly fall short of the aspirations of many “revolutionaries,” particularly the youthful vanguard.
This pessimism, moreover, is closely related to my perceptions of the pressing nature of the economic challenges facing Egypt as well as the Egyptian state’s general incapacity and dysfunctionality. What I did not know is that there is a relatively robust data set that provides some empirical basis for a correlation between successful democratic transitions and income levels. First postulated by a Seymour Lipset in the 1950’s, political scientists and economists have over the years spent some time trying to test what has come to be known as Lipset’s Law: that there is a positive correlation between income and democratization.
With the permission of Alan Godlas, a professor Islamic Studies at the University of Georgia specializing in Sufism, I quote his summation of some of this research below:
An axiom among political economists (called Lipset’s Law) is that there is a positive correlation between per capita income and democracy. An exception to this recently noted in political economics is that resource rich countries do not follow this law. (See Income and Democracy: Lipset’s Law Revisited, by Ghada Fayad, Robert H. Bates, and Anke Hoeffler , International Monetary Fund working paper, http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2012/wp12295.pdf ). [At least where their wealth is derived from mineral wealth!]
Related to this is political economic research by Adam Przeworski of New York University. He confirmed the axiom that “Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies”…by studying every attempted transition to democracy around the globe. He and his colleagues found that once a country passes $6,000 in per capita income it is virtually guaranteed to succeed in its transition to democracy. States between $3,000 and $6,000 have less than a 50-50 chance of staying democracies. And countries below $3,000 are almost bound to fail” (From infamous conservative writer Jonah Goldberg http://old.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200403310820.asp , summarizing Przeworski’s findings reported in Przeworski’s book: Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990). (I’ve looked through Przeworski’s book, but have not yet found anywhere in it where he pulls it all together, expressing it as well as Goldberg has done. But if anyone finds such a quote from Przeworski, please let me know. I’d prefer to cite him than Goldberg, at least to an audience that is not just conservatives!)
Note also the following: “Socioeconomic conditions for democracy:
1) relatively high levels of education
2) relatively high levels of per capita income,
3) low inequality,
4) a bourgeoisie and a working class independent of the state,
5) vigorous civil socieites,
6) limited ethic diversity or conflict,
7) a strong sense of nationhood.”
Nevertheless, any one of these factors should not be considered to be preconditions for democracy; rather they should be regarded as facilitating factors (to the degree that they are present) or obstructing factors (to the degree they are not present) (See the book by Stanford University’s political sociologist, Larry Diamond: Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation, 1999, p. 57). Also, see this chart http://esl.jrc.ec.europa.eu/dc/fsi_2008/fsi_fvn.htm . Finally, see the conclusion of Ulfelder and Lustik, “Consistent with modernization theory (Lipset 1981, Diamond 1999) and other recent large-n statistical analyses (Przeworski et al. 2000), we find that wealthier democracies are far less likely to backslide to autocracy, other things being equal.” “Modeling Transitions to and from Democracy,” p. 13 http://globalpolicy.gmu.edu/documents/PITF/PITFmodeltrans.pdf .
As far as how emotional intelligence factors into it, emotional intelligence is now a widely proven factor in cognitive ability. (See hundreds of studies by Salovey and Mayer and their students.) Note as well, “Political theory has described a positive linkage between education, cognitive ability and democracy. This assumption is confirmed by positive correlations between education, cognitive ability, and positively valued political conditions (N = 183 – 130). Longitudinal studies at the country level (N = 94 – 16) allow the analysis of causal relationships. It is shown that in the second half of the 20th century, education and intelligence had a strong positive impact on democracy, rule of law and political liberty independent from wealth (GDP) and chosen country sample. One possible mediator of these relationships is the attainment of higher stages of moral judgment fostered by cognitive ability, which is necessary for the function of democratic rules in society. The other mediators for citizens as well as for leaders could be the increased competence and willingness to process and seek information necessary for political decisions due to greater cognitive ability Rindermann, Heiner, “Relevance of Education and Intelligence for the Political Development of Nations: Democracy, Rule of Law and Political Liberty” http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ796026&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ796026
Egyptian revolutionaries need to be aware of the empirical challenges facing Egypt and shape their expectations in light of Egypt’s reasonable capabilities in light of its current economic development. The odds of a successful transition are not high, statistically speaking, and it is important to question whether the kinds of criticisms of the transition are consistent with what can reasonably be expected in Egypt given its level of economic development. I would add that even its reported per capita income of $3,000 per person exaggerates its economic prospects, since a substantial portion of this income consists of rents rather than production.