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.