Stephen Haber

Where Does Democracy Thrive: Climate, Technology, and the Evolution of Economic and Political Institutions
Stanford University and NBER
August 24, 2012

Why are some societies characterized by enduring democracy, while other societies are either persistently autocratic or experiment with democracy but then quickly fall back into autocracy? I find that there is a systematic, non-linear relationship between rainfall levels and regime types such that such that stable democracies overwhelmingly cluster in a band of moderate rainfall (540 to 1200 mm of precipitation per year), while the world’s most
persistent autocracies cluster in arid environments and rain-forests. This relationship is robust to controls for the resource curse, as well as to controls for ethno-linguistic fractionalization, the percent of the population that is Muslim, disease environment, and colonial heritage. I advance a theory to explain this relationship, focusing on differences in the biological and technological characteristics of the crops that can be grown in different precipitation environments. Variance in the biological and technological characteristics of crops generated variance in producers’ strategies to solve problems of scarcity, giving rise to variance in the distribution of human capital and institutions associated with the protection of property rights. Democracy was more likely to thrive in environments in with a high level and broad distribution of human capital, and with institutions that protected property rights. I test the theory against a unique cross-country dataset, a comparison of democracies and autocracies in antiquity, and a series of natural experiments.

Where Does Democracy Thrive