Modernization: Theories and Facts

What makes political regimes rise, endure, and fall? The main question is whether the observed close relation between levels of economic development and the incidence of democratic regimes is due to democracies being more likely to emerge or only more likely to survive in the more developed countries. We answer this question using data concerning 135 countries that existed at any time between 1950 and 1990. We find that the level of economic development does not affect the probability of transitions to democracy but that affluence does make democratic regimes more stable. The relation between affluence and democratic stability is monotonic, and the breakdown of democracies at middle levels of development is a phenomenon peculiar to the Southern Cone of Latin America. These patterns also appear to have been true of the earlier period, but dictatorships are more likely to survive in wealthy countries that became independent only after 1950. We conclude that modernization need not generate democracy but democracies survive in countries that are modern.