Better human rights = more economic liberalization

That’s the conclusion of a new paper from Art Carden and Robert Lawson that got a link on Marginal Revolution today.  The paper is mostly a response to Naomi Klein’s 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine” in which she castigates neoliberal policies for negatively affecting human rights.

As far as I can tell, the methodology is pretty good.  After controlling for other issues, a better score on CIRI’s human rights index is positively and significantly correlated with faster liberalization, measured as protection of property rights and low government regulation.

As a political scientist, however, this seems a bit thin theoretically – they are right, but probably for the wrong reasons.  In one sense, this is a bit tautological – it’s not that shocking that countries that respect civil rights also protect property rights.  More importantly, however, the best work on the causes of human rights abuses suggests that this is exactly what we should expect to find.  Robert Jackman’s excellent 1993 book “Power Without Force” described how the abuse of human rights is a tool of social control that is used with more regularity by weak governments (i.e. those with a tenuous hold on power) than by stronger governments.  Joel Migdal’s “Strong Societies and Weak States” presents essentially the same argument.

Governments that do not have a sure grasp on power are the least likely governments to initiate economic liberalization because doing so could shake up the distribution of power within society, and any change would probably be bad for them.  Creative destruction is really just destruction to the weak autocrat.  Once again, I’ll plug North, Wallis and Weingast’s fantastic “Violence and Social Orders” as the best description I’ve yet found of the political economy of authoritarianism.  From NWW, we see that those countries most likely to liberalize are consolidated democracies and consolidated autocracies, and these countries will demonstrate much better scores on CIRI’s Political Terror scale than unconsolidated autocracies.

I can’t say that I know where unconsolidated democracies fit on this scale, but since we know they are the most unstable form of government known to man, we should probably expect both limited liberalization and widespread private violations of human rights.

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About Jake Wobig

I teach international relations and comparative politics at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina
This entry was posted in Comparative Politics, Human Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Better human rights = more economic liberalization

  1. Art Carden says:

    I’m glad you liked the paper, and I look forward to checking out Jackman and Migdal’s books for a couple of other projects I’m working on. I’m also glad you like NWW; I was North’s research assistant for three years as he was finishing Understanding the Process of Economic Change. He presented the first draft of one of the papers that became Violence and Social Orders a couple of months before I defended. It has inspired this paper in which Chris Coyne and I interpret the Memphis Riot of 1866 in light of NWW. There will be at least one more paper and a short book coming out of the Memphis Riot project, so any comments you and your readers might have would be greatly appreciated.

  2. jakewobig says:

    Thanks for stopping by Professor Carden. And thanks for the link to the Memphis Riot paper. I just finished it and I greatly enjoyed it. I haven’t quite formulated my thoughts on it yet, but when I do I’ll post them here.

  3. Art Carden says:

    Thanks for reading that one, too. I look forward to your comments.

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