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Fun facts about democracy and freedom

Posted by Richard on July 12, 2005

Dean Esmay pointed out a fun fact about democracy (originally noted by R.J. Rummel). Esmay put it this way:

Among the more startling things that people don’t know about democracies–aside from the fact that they never make war on each other–is that democracies never experience famine.

Never, as in, never.

If you doubt it, Rudy Rummel will set you straight.

Esmay went on to argue that a representative government is essential for avoiding a host of national ills:

The only thing which has ever been shown to be a reliable protector of economic freedom, of civil rights in general, or a guarantor against war and famine, is democracy.

Which is why, again, if we are going to talk about ending poverty, ending famine, helping the poor nations of the world, then we need to stop, once and for all, our habit of coddling the tyrants and facists who rule them. Whether it’s in the UN or in our own direct diplomatic efforts: treating despots like they are the legitimate equals of democratically elected leaders is not only abhorrent, long-term it is a threat to our own national security.

We may sometimes have to hold our noses and be kind to dictators because we have no other choice–the example of Pakistan comes to mind–but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, and it doesn’t mean we should not try to avoid it whenever we can avoid it.

Meanwhile, R.J. Rummel recently posted about new evidence for a fun fact about freedom: it explains terrorism. Rummel noted that one of the myths about terrorism is that poverty causes it:

Until recently, the evidence against this has been anecdotal, a matter of unsystematically looking at the background of terrorists. Now, a systematic empirical analysis has been conducted by Alberto Abadie at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government entitled, "Poverty, Political Freedom, and Roots of Terrorism.".

Rummel then quoted from the abstract (the link above is to a PDF of Abadie’s study). Here’s the key part:

In line with the results of some recent studies, this article shows that terrorist risk is not significantly higher for poorer countries, once the effects of other country-specific characteristics such as the level of political freedom are taken into account. Political freedom is shown to explain terrorism, but it does so in a non-monotonic way: countries in some intermediate range of political freedom are shown to be more prone to terrorism than countries with high levels of political freedom or countries with highly authoritarian regimes. This result suggests that, as experienced recently in Iraq and previously in Spain and Russia, transitions from an authoritarian regime to a democracy may be accompanied by temporary increases in terrorism.

Sounds like we now have empirical evidence to support the Bush Doctrine — as well as to explain why Iraq has been going through a "rough patch." Temporarily.

I’m adding both Dean’s World and Rummel’s Democratic Peace to my blog list. The latter in particular is quite a find. I’m familiar with some of Rummel’s writings, but wasn’t aware of his blog and the wealth of other material he has on the Web. I’ve already stumbled across a couple of fascinating essays at his related site, Freedomist Network, so I suppose I should at it, too.

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