Democracy is an acquired taste

by on January 25, 2016 at 1:02 pm in Economics, Education, Political Science | Permalink

Democracies depend on the support of the general population, but little is known about the determinants of this support. This paper analyzes whether support for democracy increases with the length of time spent under the system, and whether preferences are thus affected by the political system. Relying on 380,000 individual-level observations from 104 countries over the years 1994 to 2013, and exploiting individual-level variation within a country and a given year in the length of time spent under democracy, we find evidence that political preferences are endogenous. For new democracies, our findings imply that popular support needs time to develop. To illustrate: the effect of around 8.5 more years of democratic experience corresponds to the difference in support for democracy between primary and secondary education.

That is from Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln and Matthias Schündeln (pdf), two underrated but very much on the rise economists.  Here is the home page of Nicola, here is the home page of Matthias.  Here is Nicola’s paper, with Paolo Macella, on the persistent effects of socialist education (pdf).

1 Dave Smith January 25, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Are ALL political preferences endogeneous? That is, does support for dictatorships increase with time?

2 Samuel January 25, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Yes, it seems like there’s a certain baseline adaptiveness of preferences. Overtime even quadriplegics return to similar levels of contentedness as their health selves. So is democracy a special learning curve with increasing returns or do people just inevitably get comfortable with the status quo.

3 Art Deco January 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

For authoritarianisms with certain achievements, abiding support can be had under select circumstances. In other cases, the military or the machine suffers a decay in legitimacy. Singapore would be the first type, South Korea the second type, and Malaysia ambiguous.

4 The Anti-Gnostic January 25, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Now that there is a distinct possibility of GOP nominee and President Donald Trump, Tyler is beginning to re-think this whole democracy thing.

5 Art Deco January 25, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Academics have a tendency to understand ‘democracy’ as ‘people like us get what we want screw you rubes’. I’m remembering a conversation with a Mason professor who was just incensed at the idea that someone would complain that democratic norms had been breached by court-imposed homosexual pseudogamy. And, of course, you get all the try-every-door non-compliance and judicial misfeasance every time you get a referendum or legislative determination against the college race patronage mill.

6 msgkings January 25, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Your constant whingeing about the courts forcing unwanted gay marriage on the polity is just incorrect. A majority of Americans now support gay marriage, and that majority will only continue to increase as you old people die off. Just move on, you lost this one.

7 iluvtacos January 25, 2016 at 3:24 pm

The dissent given by Judge Scalia was interesting though.

You can link through to the whole document in the link.

8 Art Deco January 25, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Lot’s of measures and lots of candidates perform better as ghosts on a pollsters list than proposals or prospects in the flesh. See, just about every assisted suicide measure ever considered. If it’s so popular, you can make use of the ordinary channels for enacting legislation (which failed them dozens of times) and quit lying and pretending it’s beyond democratic deliberation due to constitutional provisions. Since you in particular can’t stop lying, there are no honorable routes to any political goal for you.

9 msgkings January 25, 2016 at 4:14 pm

You really don’t lose with class, do ya Art? No matter, gays can get married now and most people are fine with it and the ones that aren’t like you will be dead soon enough. “Lying” LOL.

10 Horhe January 26, 2016 at 6:45 am


I’m indifferent to the whole issue but, the way I understand it, the point was not that gay people are now allowed to marry. Over 30 individual states had already enacted gay marriage laws – the way Hollywood works and in the current intellectual climate, the rest would have followed soon, in less than a generation (more like a few years), just as had happened in every social development. The point was that, instead of waiting on the inevitable victory in the other states, or resign themselves to a temporary, but lawful, defeat, gay marriage advocates used the Supreme Court’s weakness towards political fashion to skewer the Constitution (the penumbra stuff) and impose gay marriage on the rest of the country. It was a procedural abuse, regardless of your feelings on gay marriage. The decision should have, by right, been a state level one, just like the US Congress was forbidden to establish a religion but the various state level legislatures had always been able to impose religious tests or extract payment in support of something like a state religion. Now, of course, with the gay marriage thing settled, the activists are content, have laid down the megaphone and have vacated the public scene to allow some other issue, like war, trade, immigration to get some of the scarce resource that public attention represents. They didn’t. Like Steve Sailer said, we are now in World War T. And, like the Onion said, only 4,400 issues to go before you have a truly just society.

11 John January 26, 2016 at 8:56 am

“that aren’t like you will be dead soon enough”

We can only hope that subhuman liberasts like msgkings will die first.
Accidentally, stupid moron, social attitudes can change back to what they were before.
And, judging by the backlash against liberal stupidity, they will. Which will be painful for scum like you.

12 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 11:39 am

@Horhe: fair enough, no doubt they pushed the issue pretty hard and won, but from their point of view it’s a civil right, and if you want your civil rights respected you don’t want to wait any longer than necessary. I’m sure there were plenty of reactionary voices saying the same things about federal civil rights legislation and Supreme Court action for blacks in the 1950s and 60s too: ‘let the states come around on their own time’. So if one is upset about gays getting to marry sooner because of the Court rather than later because of states rights, then that one may be bigoted rather than strictly focused on the constitutionality. That person just doesn’t like the new world they live in.

@John: LOL, internet tough guy. Name one social attitude that has changed back.

13 John January 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

“Name one social attitude that has changed back.”

-attitude towards sexuality in Rome and Ancient Greece vs in the Dark Ages and beyond till the 50s
-(semi-)democracy in Rome prior to Caesar vs Empire after
-multicultural empires prior to the second half of the 19th century/1st quarter of the 20th (Austro-Hungary) vs homogenous nation states after WW1
-attitude towards sexuality prior Perry’s arrival in Japan vs 50-60 years after

You subhuman morons with your pathetic Whig view of history are garbage.
Consider suicide to rid humanity of your inferior genes.

14 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 12:24 pm

I would ask ‘you mad, bro?’ but obviously you is. Stay classy.

15 John January 26, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Typical liberast behavior, when thesis is demolished, retreat.
Stay butthurt and wait for your destruction, cuck.

16 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Let’s see if you are a last word freak. Besides being hilariously pissed off at….something.

17 John January 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Real-life photo of ‘I’m a whigger” (pun intended) msgcuck:

18 JWatts January 25, 2016 at 5:01 pm

“Now that there is a distinct possibility of GOP nominee and President Donald Trump, Tyler is beginning to re-think this whole democracy thing.”

The Best Straussian reading.

19 JWatts January 25, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Just a joke by the way.

20 Adrian Ratnapala January 25, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Here is a possible confounding variable (if it is even that): a democracy is only a democracy in hindisight.

If a country has had a few ding-dingdongs where rulers who hate each other peacefully ceding power to each other then you have had democracy. But if all you have was some mob winning power at the ballot box, then all you’ve had was an election.

It should be no surprise that people prefer the former to the latter.

21 DJK January 25, 2016 at 1:54 pm

As a British politician used to say, democracy — rule by the people (demos) — is only possible when there is a single demos. Democracy works in more or less homogeneous European countries but not in artificially created states which contain more than one set of people (Iraq, some African countries, etc.) In those countries, all political arguments are secondary to loyalty to ones tribe. Length of time is only a factor if it allows disparate groups to reach a common identity.

22 Brian Donohue January 25, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Wasn’t Madison’s view (Federalist #10) pretty much the opposite of this?

Tyranny of the majority is a thing.

23 chuck martel January 25, 2016 at 2:37 pm

The order of loyalty, if that’s even the correct term, is individual>family>tribe. The nation/state must displace the latter two in order to insure loyalty to itself. This was easier in the US because to a large extent the immigrant populations that held tribal affiliations weren’t able to transfer them to North America.

In a tribe, democracy is unnecessary because inter-personal knowledge allows the members to evaluate the potential aristocrats and accept or reject them. This is impossible in a governmental unit that includes over 300 million souls. The idea that so-called citizens have the familiarity to judge the qualifications of politicians that are marketed like corn flakes or laundry soap is ridiculous. The phony process is tolerated because they know no other. Even so campaigns and elections are acrimonious affairs followed by unsatisfactory reigns. Detractors are aware that their complaints can only go so far before their loyalty is called into question and serious complications to their lives arise.

24 msgkings January 25, 2016 at 2:59 pm

But still, no better way to manage 300 million people. And no realistic way, nor in fact desirable reason, for nations to devolve back to tribes.

25 chuck martel January 25, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Of course, you don’t know that. It could be said that tribes have devolved to nation/states. After all, no tribe was ever able to cremate other tribes or incinerate them with atomic weapons until the descent to the nation/state.

26 msgkings January 25, 2016 at 4:18 pm

I wasn’t making a moral comparison between tribes and nations, just noting that a polity the size of a major nation-state needs some mechanism for collective decisions beyond inter-personal knowledge. The ‘democracy’ used in most Western nations is probably the best available.

27 chuck martel January 25, 2016 at 8:14 pm

Maybe there shouldn’t be a polity the size of a major nation-state.

28 msgkings January 25, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Perhaps not but I don’t see how that happens. There are 7 billion people on the planet, heading to 9 or so. No way you can break them all down into tribe-size groups. Larger groups have to be involved.

29 Cererean January 26, 2016 at 10:34 am

Of course you can break them into small groups. That there would be on the order of 100,000 such groups is neither here nor there. San Marino doesn’t seem to be a failed state, and neither does Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, and other small European countries.

You could go much further than this, if you’re willing to use markets as the means of collective decision making above the size of a small community.

30 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 11:46 am

Cererean: perhaps so, though like most libertarian theory not really workable in the real world. I don’t think an anarchist like chuck martel would like using markets to make collective action decisions either. He seems pretty enamored of Native American tribes, and seems to long for a world when everyone lived in bands of 250 or so. Maybe that’s a good way to go (although life was nasty, brutish, and short for those tribes), but not at all possible in a world of 7 billion. 100,000 groups would still have 70,000 people in each one.

31 Cererean January 26, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Well, I’m more of an urbanist than a tribalist. My favoured system is a loose commonwealth of small city states, 10-40 thousand people each. Free trade and movement between them (though with the power to ban individuals for violating city law), a common defense pact (though no standing army), and a court system for actual crimes (crimes against city law will be punishable by exile – if they come in afterwards, it will be considered trespass).

Ancient Greece seemed to be fairly successful. The Renaissance began in a city state. The European microstates aren’t worse off than their neighbors, and I don’t think that’s just because of behaving as tax havens. I think city states are a viable model for civilisation.

32 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 1:25 pm

@Cererean: some good ideas here, but perhaps city-states like those in Europe only work in a world where there are also large states. It seems you need some economies of scale too. The ancient world perhaps was an exception because humans were just learning how to form groups larger than tribes. But even then there were some pretty large states in the world fairly quickly.

33 So Much For Subtlety January 25, 2016 at 5:51 pm

chuck martel January 25, 2016 at 2:37 pm

This was easier in the US because to a large extent the immigrant populations that held tribal affiliations weren’t able to transfer them to North America.

Well that is not exactly true. People have had no problems transferring their tribal hatred to the United States. Take NORAID. Take the Curley Effect – named for an Irish politician in Boston who sought re-election by driving Americans of English origins out of the city. In fact the Democrats have been able to latch on to what we might call Ellis-Island-America’s dislike of what might be called Mayflower-America (or bluntly, the dislike of the hyphenated new immigrants from places like Ireland, Italy and Poland for Americans of British origins) and formed a powerful long-lasting coalition between their original base of Southern racists and Northern ethnic cliques.

Those ethnic cliques continue to dislike Anglo-America so much they vote against their own best interests. Jewish-Americans are the richest ethnic group in America. Consistent supporters of the higher-taxing Democrats and a lot of supporters of the Hard Left come from that community. It is only not so apparent because they are not particularly violent communities and their numbers have been relatively small.

What you mean is that the Know-Nothings were right and for democracy to work, immigrants should come from easily assimilatable communities.

34 chuck martel January 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm

That’s an interesting but somewhat flawed observation. The Anglo-Americans of which you speak are the descendants of the New England Puritans, themselves cousins of the Roundheads that made up Cromwell’s New Model Army that took over Ireland after their defeat of the Royalists in 1651. The general English were so ecstatic to see the return of Charles II that they had the biggest celebration in the country’s history, before or since, dug up Cromwell’s body and placed his head on a pike where it was in public view for 18 years. Meanwhile, the New England Puritans hung witches, massacred Indians, fomented the Revolutionary War, subverted the Articles of Confederation and instigated the War Between the States. It’s hardly odd that immigrants and southerners should have found these fanatical protestants abhorrent. Even today their negative influence persists in the undeserved esteem enjoyed by their educational institutions, Harvard, for instance, which could be called the epicenter of evil in the western hemisphere.

35 Larry Siegel January 26, 2016 at 2:09 am

They did some good things too. Like founding Harvard (I take your comment for sarcasm), founding the United States, and ending slavery (Lincoln was not a Puritan/Yankee but without Webster, Garrison, and Emerson there would be no Lincoln).

36 ladderff January 26, 2016 at 11:29 am

Larry by that count I rate them one for three. Chuck was not being sarcastic and I agree with him. Even the emancipation thing, they have tragically bungled (and then blamed it on their traditional enemies. Ah, spite. It keeps on giving.).

37 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 11:48 am

@Larry: yeah you misunderstand chuck, he thinks the Civil War was a big mistake

38 Anon. January 25, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece. Dysfunctional democracies all of them (to a different degree), despite homogeneous populations.

39 msgkings January 25, 2016 at 10:45 pm

Spain isn’t (Catalonia, Galicia, Basque, etc), nor is Italy (North vs South)

40 Art Deco January 26, 2016 at 1:11 pm

There must be a dozen antique dialects spoken in Italy, to which there’s an overlay of standard Italian (derived from Medieval Tuscan) and local variants of standard Italian. There are components of Italy that had a history as sovereign states extending over more than 700 years. If I’m not mistaken, you can commonly distinguish between a northern Italian and a southern Italian by 23-and-me type genetic testing. Also, the range of levels of affluence in Italy is a good deal higher than is the case in the United States. As recently as twenty years ago, personal income per capita in Lombardy exceeded that in Calabria by a factor of 4, at a time when that in Connecticut exceeded that in Mississippi by only a factor of two. Among my mother’s social circle, ca. 1955, was a woman from Veneto. Her view of southern Italians? “Absolutely snotty about them. Sicilian! Sicilian! she would say…Pasta? I grew up on rice…”. The long running gags and epithets among my sister-in-law’s Genovese relations concern the intellectual deficits of her Neapolitan relations. OTOH, the son of Naples who had the office two doors down from mine offered that the Genovese dialect is incomprehensible to normal people because “It has no grammar. Just jumbles of words…”

41 Ankur January 26, 2016 at 6:02 am

Hmm – what would you say about India then? Is it an exception…

42 Cererean January 26, 2016 at 10:36 am

India doesn’t have a homogeneous population…

43 Horhe January 26, 2016 at 6:57 am

William Buckley expressed doubts about multiracial and multicultural democracy in his 1959 “Up From Liberalism”: “Democracy’s finest bloom is seen only in its natural habitat, the culturally homogenous community. There, democracy induces harmony. Harmony (not freedom) is demo-cracy’s finest flower. Even a politically unstable society of limited personal freedom can be harmonious if governed democratically, if only because the majority understand themselves to be living in the house that they themselves built.”

44 Brad January 25, 2016 at 1:57 pm

“Democracies depend on the support of the general population, but little is known about the determinants of this support”

Thank you, economists, for once again pretending nothing has ever been studied unless it’s been studied by an economist.

45 tt January 25, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Economists are the physicists of the social sciences

46 dearieme January 25, 2016 at 4:12 pm

Well said, that man. I was once disparaged at a conference for pointing out that a brand new, ultra-exciting physics discovery was old-hat among a bunch of engineers I knew. I had probably understated: I suspected – but didn’t know for sure – that at least two different engineering disciplines had already absorbed this purportedly newly discovered knowledge.

47 R Richard Schweitzer January 25, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Going through both the PDF paper and the article in “Science” (March 2015) it does appear that the research and conclusions observe “Democracy ” as a condition rather than a process (or a label for a variety or “bundle” of processes).

When considered (more accurately) as a process which exhibits particular forms of relationships in a social order the “preferences” for any designated process (Singapore, e.g.) could be expected to vary with individual familiarity and adjustments to the relationships and the conditions they produce. Some are felt to produce “too much” disorder; some are “goldilocks.”

Still, what is being examined are preferences amongst human relationships conducted within particular milieu using certain processes. We are not examining preferences for conditions.

48 scoville January 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Yes this study uses the term “Democracy” casually and thus ends up with a muddle of observations and vague conclusions.

The term “democracy” evolved a life of its own… its true meaning as a system of direct majority rule has been long lost ….and now democracy is often used where what is really meant is nominal ‘equality’ in a society. Actual observable democratic rule in a society is never a concern. The facade of democracy is always enough to earn the title of democracy.

“Democracy” is no guarantee of equality, rights, justice, or liberty.
Simple, direct majority democracy is 51 people telling the other 49 what is punishable or permissible; representative democracy simply adds an uncertain middle man to that fundamentally coercive process.

49 dearieme January 25, 2016 at 4:14 pm

That at least has the merit that the middle man can be bribed by the 49 to protect them from theft by the 51.

50 R Richard Schweitzer January 26, 2016 at 10:56 am

Are you concluding that there is only a single form (majoritarianism) of the process by which the “kratia” of the “demos” is expressed? Of course many do.

Some conclude that provisions for expressions of what are no more than opinions (through voting, e.g.) IS “THE” democratic process.

“Mob Rule” is kratia. Hence the process of delegating powers as a Res Publica has been adopted (and adapted).

The kratia may be constrained, but still have effects, where those who control violence (usually the military) have a determinative say (and action) by representation in assemblies or the selections (nominees) for administration.

There are also forms where the real kratia rests with an “elite” (usually in combine with those who control violence, regardless of the other demos participations.

It ain’t simple.

51 Lorenzo from Oz January 25, 2016 at 2:38 pm
52 David H. January 25, 2016 at 2:47 pm

These experiments have no controls. It’s not like democracy is something a country just “catches” at random, like a flu. The fact that a country became a democracy in some given year says a lot about the people and institutions of that country. They are not “just like everyone else” except for the fact that somehow they happened to be the ones who caught democracy that year. And you can’t generalize from such a non-random sample to isolate the effects of the democracy from the effects of all the other things that needed to be in place in order for democracy to spring up.

53 R Richard Schweitzer January 26, 2016 at 11:04 am

Perhaps it might be more descriptive to say that “a country adopted the so and so form of democratic process in some given year.” Of course, by “country” we imply a determining portion of the populace, which may not be more than a dominant minority.

On that basis, the examination of preferences should include the FORM of process as well as the manner of its adoption.

54 Chuck January 25, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Democracy is bullshit.

55 JWatts January 25, 2016 at 6:03 pm

“Democracy is bullshit.”

Agreed, but it’s better than all of the other types of bullshit.

56 ladderff January 26, 2016 at 12:58 am

I wish people would stop saying that. A bright child orfor that matter a slow one can figure out why democracy is bullshit just as easily as one can spot holes in the whole Santa Claus theory. This odd and highly destructive belief (democracy I mean; Santa is harmless) survives through massive social conditioning, often called education, chiefly for the benefit of the educators. Which by the way is why the study is stupid: wherever democracy wins, people have a way of realizing that they were for it all along. Which is relevant to the manner in which mskings has reiterated for us up-thread that he’s still among the nastiest, worst individuals to comment here.

57 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 1:09 am

Calm down, son.

58 R Richard Schweitzer January 26, 2016 at 11:09 am

Not if you consider it a process. There may be many fallacies in considering it a condition (with specific attributes).

59 mulp January 25, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Democracies never last long. Majority rule is unstable.

But I imagine the author is confused in thinking republican government is democracy.

Government in the US is not democratic, much to the dismay of conservatives, who think that their majority control should give them total power over the losers.

The same is true in Europe, though the methods of republican government are different.

This being the fifth anniversary of the efforts to create a republican government in Egypt, started by secular liberals and joined by conservative religious Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood won by a huge majority, and then declared they are the winners dictating to the losers every aspect of Egyptian society.

In democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood has the legitimacy of “love it or leave it”. Those who started the revolution lost, so they should leave Egypt or be imprisoned.

If the Brotherhood believed in republican government, the secular liberals, the Christian, et al, would have been robustly represented in government.

It’s ironic that Democrats are today the most republican in governance, largely because it has the largest number of factions with the most conflicting interests and policy position. How can coal miners back Democrats since the 60s? Largely because Reagan policies were so much more harmful to coal miners than Democrats pushing environmental policies.

60 jorod January 25, 2016 at 9:45 pm

Aristotle said that democracy requires a large middle class. Looks like it is on the way out in US.

61 JWatts January 25, 2016 at 11:44 pm

I don’t think that’s a correct reading of Aristotle.

“Aristotle asserts that a population of farmers makes for the best kind of democracy: they must work hard and are well spread apart so they can’t spend too much time in government. So, as long as they can select officers and are not robbed of their wealth, they are happier working their farms than they would be in public office. The wealthy hold all significant offices, but they are entirely accountable to the farmers.

The worst kind of population for a democracy is made up of mechanics, shopkeepers, and laborers. Because they are all crowded around the city center, they take a very active part in politics and tend to encourage mob rule and demagoguery.

Aristotle issues a reminder that the best democratic policy is not the most extreme but rather the one that will ensure the survival of the democracy. As a result, the populace should not be able to profit from confiscating the wealth of the rich, and payments to the poor should be in the form of block grants that allow them to buy land rather than simple handouts..”

62 jorod January 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm

A rose by any other name.

63 Cererean January 26, 2016 at 1:25 pm

If most people don’t support democracy until they’ve lived under it for a while, then there is no democratic way of bringing about democracy…

Unless you gradually extend the franchise. That’s how it happened here in the UK – first to the Barons, then to property owning free men, then to all men, and then to women. Though it took, what, 700 years for that?

64 msgkings January 26, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Good point, even in the US the franchise started out being much more exclusive than it is now. Took only 200 years here, but had less ground to cover (landowning white men to all non-felons over 18 years old)

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