Why Democracies Outgrow Autocracies in the Long Run: Civil Liberties, Information Flows and Technological Change

KYKLOS 68.3 (2015): 357-384

Abstract: This paper argues that democracy enhances technological change, the most important determinant of long-term economic growth. It first presents an argument on how and why dictators restrict civil liberties and diffusion of information to survive in office, even if this reduces their personal consumption. The argument predicts that autocracies have slower technological change than democracies, which in turn impairs GDP per capita growth rates. These and other implications from the argument are tested empirically, and so are implications from alternative explanations on the association between democracy and technological change. Drawing on an extensive global dataset, with some time series going back to the early 19th century, the paper reports robust evidence that democracy increases not only technology-induced growth but also net economic growth rates. Notably, the results hold when accounting for the endogeneity of democracy, country-fixed effects, and sample-selection bias.