Thursday, February 3, 2011

Andrew Roberts. 2010. The Quality of Democracy in Eastern Europe: Public Preferences and Policy Reforms

Andrew Roberts. The Quality of Democracy in Eastern Europe: Public Preferences and Policy Reforms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Chapters 2 and 8.

The book follows the procedural definition of democracy, which is founded on two main institutions:
1)      Free, fair, and regular elections for a country's most powerful policy makers, in which all adult citizens are allowed to participate on an equal bases, both as voters and as candidates.
2)      A broad set of civil rights that allows these citizens to produce and obtain the information they need to participate effectively in these elections.

Some have evaluated the quality of democracies based on factors that would inhibit or promote individual and organization use of the democratic system; they focused on quality as procedures, preconditions, and outcomes of the system.
-          Diamond and Morlino include the rule of law as part of democratic quality with the argument that, when the rule of law is weak, participation of the poor and marginalized is suppressed, civic groups may be unable to organize and advocate, the resourceful and well-connected have more access to justice and pwer, and corruption and abuse of power run rampant as agencies of horizontal accountability are unable to function properly, voters have a hard time holding rules to account, and linkages vital to securing democratic responsiveness are disrupted.
-          Others judge the quality of democracy based on law and human development (Beetham et al. 2002, O'Donnell 2004), participation and civil society (Rose-Ackerman 2005), and corruption (O'Donnell 2004).

These affect the functioning of democracy (or any other regime), but are analytically distinct from democracy itself; they affect democratic quality but are not democratic quality. The concept of democratic quality should focus on those aspects of politics that are intimately related to democracy itself. Democracy is a set of formal possibilities for citizen rule; democratic quality assesses whether citizen rule exists.
-          The quality of democracy is equivalent to the degree to which citizens control their rulers / the strength of linkages between citizens and policy makers.
o   High quality democracy entails popular rule; popular rule moves beyond democracy because it considers not just the existence of democratic institutions, but also how the institutions work.

Democratic institutions promote popular rule in three different ways, which Roberts calls the three linkages at the heart of democratic quality. Elections and rights give citizens three different powers, all of which enable them to control policy makers and should be strong if democracy promotes citizen rule:
1)      the power to sanction incumbents (electoral accountability) - defined as the degree to which citizens punish and reward officials at the polls according to their performance.
2)      the power to select new officials (mandate responsiveness) - a politician or party is mandate responsive if it makes clear campaign promises and fulfills these promises once in office.
3)      the power to petition the government in between elections (policy responsiveness)

Five explanations for linkage quality:
1)      Socioeconomic modernization - transformation of a rural culture to an industrial/educated one should strengthen linkages; this explanation predicts little change in democratic quality over time because modernization occurs slowly.
-          This explanation predicts strong linkages, particularly in policy responsiveness for Eastern European countries, which was an initially agricultural, but modernized through forced industrialization with a universal safety net that lead citizens to urban, middle-class lifestyles with an equitable distribution of income.
2)      Civil Society - strong civil society should promote strong linkages
-          Since Eastern Europeans were reluctant to participate in voluntary organizations, postcommunist civil societies were weak; this explanation of linkage quality would predict poor policy responsiveness in Eastern Europe.
3)      Political institutions - both majoritarian and proportional institutions should promote policy responsiveness. Proportional institutions should impede electoral accountability moreso than majoritarian ones. This explanation predicts little change in democratic quality over time because institutional structures do not generally change radically.
-          For Eastern European countries, this explanation predicts high levels of mandate responsiveness (or at least programmaticness) and low levels of electoral accountability due to the more consensus/proportional/parliamentary systems.
4)      Authoritarian legacies - the degree that the authoritarian regimes engage in forced mobilization or ideological indoctrination campaigns will influence attitudes toward political participation and thus lower democratic quality. This explanation predicts a rising trend in quality because legacies that decrease quality of democracy should fade.
-          For Eastern European countries, this explanation predicts lower levels of quality. Communist societies left almost a complete absence of political society in their wake. Policy responsiveness should also be affected because political actors view the public as a mass to be herded or incited rather than listened to.
5)      Transition and Economic Constraints -  countries in transition can have people who are unable to engage in political action or constrain the policies politicians can pursue and thus lower democratic quality. This explanation predicts a rising trend in quality as transition constrains fade or reforms stabilize.
-          For Eastern European countries, this explanation predicts lower levels of quality. Mandate and policy responsiveness were constrained by the scope of economic reforms (liberalization and privatization of the entire economy) and pressure by the EU to conform to European standards.

Reality of Eastern European democratic quality:
1)      Electoral accountability became stronger over time and reached high levels early in transition.
2)      Mandate responsiveness was weak
3)      High levels of policy responsiveness with minimal trending.

1+2 ==> Institutions do not explain the particular form that quality takes.
3 ==> Socioeconomic modernization explains policy responsiveness in the region.

Socioeconomic modernization best explains the types of trends and linkages in Eastern Europe and the differences between Eastern Europe and Latin America/Western Europe

Improving citizen capabilities would raise income levels and ensure income is equitably distributed, provide existential security for citizens, and improve educational opportunities--all factors which helped Eastern Europe produce high-quality democracies. Not much evidence indicates that promoting political party and institutional development or encouraging civil society would improve democratic equality.

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