Anointed by the holy oil of an electoral victory

Why do countries fail? In Wars, Guns and Votes, Paul Collier uses statistics to analyze the factors that influence stability and instability:

– In poor countries (<$7 income per day) democracy makes society more dangerous, not less. Democracy requires accountability and legitimacy to do any good, elections alone are too easily manipulated by powerful leaders.

– Peacekeeping forces are a relatively cheap and effective way to promote stability. So is promises of military aid in case of unrest, such as France used to give to its former colonies.

– Security scales well: Large countries are more stable than small countries.

– Multiethnic countries can be stable if they take care to build a common identity that rises above ethnicity. (Btw, “you should all become just like us” is probably not the right way to do this.) Ethnic voting is one of the chief reasons why democracy fails.

– 40% of all aid indirectly goes to military spending.

– Coups could potentially be very useful, because they may be the only real threat to an incompetent government’s power, but in practice they rarely do much good.

– Civil wars cause further civil wars, coups cause further coups.

This is a remarkable book. I had no idea these data were available – and yes this is all based on data, with only a few and clearly marked instances of speculation. I hesitate to recommend Wars, Guns and Votes to pundits, though, because they’ll inevitably reduce its careful analysis to partisan talking points.

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