State Power and the Economic Origins of Democracy
Recent comparative politics scholarship on regime change has not taken state capacity seriously. Prominent works on the relationship between democracy and economic inequality center on the expectation by economic elites that democratization will lead to economic redistribution. But state capacity is necessary for redistribution, and where extractive capacity is lacking, rational economic elites should not fear that suffrage expansion would lead to effective redistribution, nor should the masses expect to gain economically from democratization. State capacity thus acts as a scope condition for the effect of inequality on regime outcomes. This prediction is confirmed through replication and extension of the analysis in Boix (2003), with the addition of the presence of a regularly implemented national census as a proxy for state capacity. In strong states, the effect of inequality on regime change is confirmed. But where the state is weak, inequality is shown to have no effect on regime outcomes. Thus, including state capacity in theories of regime change calls into question general claims about the “economic origins” of dictatorship and democracy.