Democracy’s Effect on Economic Growth: A Pooled Time-Series Analysis, 1951–1980

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The relationship between democracy and economic growth has concerned social scientists since the 17th century, but recent democracy movements make this question especially important today. Do poor countries face a cruel trade-off between democracy and growth? Do democracy and growth go together as a "win-win" proposition? Or is democracy irrelevant to growth? Using pooled annual time-series data from 1951-1980 for 106 countries, including 88 non-core countries, we explore long-term and short-term direct and indirect effects of democracy on growth. Little or no direct effect emerges, but positive indirect effects appear via two mechanisms: a marginally significant effect via investment and a robust effect via government expenditure. Democracy also has a robust non-linear effect on economic growth via social unrest, inhibiting growth under non-democratic regimes and furthering it in highly democratic ones. Combining these findings, we conclude that democracy does not significantly hamper economic growth, and under many circumstances slightly boosts it.