Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wars, Guns, and Votes - A Review of Paul Collier



If you have not read Paul Collier’s Wars,Guns, and Votes, I encourage you to read it. It complements his previous book TheBottom Billion by expanding on the aspect of democracy as it relates, in large part, to those bottom billion countries and to those countries coming out of conflict situations. We have good examples to watch today: Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, maybe Syria in the not too distant future. While I have issues with the universality of Collier’s arguments, as they apply to countries not necessarily in the bottom billion, I tend to favor his analysis that new democracy influences new violence.  
            One of the summary theses Paul Collier suggests is that, "Democracy…does not seem to enhance the prospects of internal peace." In fact, Collier suggests that the contrary is more so the case with the introduction of democracy, that states are more likely to experience conflict, initially, rather than experience peace. At first glance, his notion seems to fly in the face of the pursuit of democracy and the good that democracy should represent. However, from a purely technical analysis, Collier's point bears truth in many cases. In fact, the United States suffered a rather long period of internal fiscal, political, and social conflict lasting several decades even producing a civil war. Arguably, some of those political and social conflicts have even extended well into the 20th century.
            Collier's distinction, however, is that democracy has a different impact on countries in what he deems the bottom billion compared to those countries in the middle or near the top. The delineation between the bottom billion and the rest is the economic condition of a state. Collier draws a line at those countries with a per capita income of around $2700. He determines that countries in the bottom billion are below this threshold. Those countries are at risk from the negative backlash that comes from democracy. His conditional deduces that, "democracy makes poor societies more dangerous, but societies that are not poor safer…" Collier demonstrates this through empirical findings based on data from the bottom billion over the past several decades.

Empirical findings and theoretical arguments
            One of the more illustrative consistencies Collier finds is that elections capture the potential failure of low-income state democracy. Elections are one of the defining characteristics of democracies, so to hold elections should indicate the process of democracy is working. Unfortunately, Collier believes this to be foolishly untrue. He deems the late 20th century democratic wave as superficial and instead a, "spread of elections." His data suggest the result has been a lack of legitimate elections that validate new societies. This false democracy is what he calls, "Democrazy." In other words, it is well short of a functioning democracy.
            For example, Collier found consistency in the rate of political violence. Statistical analysis of several factors from assassinations to "full-blooded civil war" all demonstrated the same thing among bottom billion countries. Their pattern showed that, "democracy increased political violence." Anecdotally what he infers is that under dictatorial regimes, the opportunity of dissident and disgruntled groups to react against the government was suppressed. Collier places himself in the shoes of a dictator and wonders what he would do to suppress political violence. The answer is obvious - stop it because the dictator can. However, in a democracy, the government theoretically cannot just stop outward anti-government sentiment without potentially acting counter to democratic, free ideals.
            He uses Iraq as a case-in-point, and this author concurs with the example. Prior to democratizing, Iraq was under the thumb of Saddam Hussein. Albeit a suppressive and repressive regime, Saddam controlled outward public sentiment. When Saddam ceased to exist, so too did that strong governmental control. The result has been a backlash of democratic political fervor that to this day is not fully controlled.
            Another empirical example considers the choice of nominees in bottom billion democracies. Collier identifies that those countries tend to attract corrupt and often criminal nominees for elections. The unfortunate result is that even if an election were fairly held, the resultant choices would all be bad anyway. Therefore, the free election system is somewhat doomed to fail. This attraction is the result of a corruption incentive. Collier suggests that corruption draws more dishonest candidates than honest ones. Consequently, one of the consistencies among the bottom billion countries is debilitating corruption.
            Additionally ethnic divisions increase the likelihood of political violence. Collier found a correlation between the high-income societies being more capable of handling diverse societies. He illustrates the United States and countries throughout Europe as models. Unfortunately, those low-income countries that are also ethnically diverse are prone to political violence. He finds that, "Fundamentally, the results so far suggest that ethnic diversity makes social cooperation more difficult" which is exacerbated by lower incomes. He suggests the natural reaction to offset political violence between ethnic groups is to resort to an autocracy or even dictatorial regimes because only then can one power enforce security.
            The underlying theoretical argument in the many empirical examples he puts forward is that ultimately the act of electing candidates does little to nothing to promoting democratic growth and that it actually inhibits good democracy. As states in the bottom billion deal with problematic elections resulting in illegitimate governments, they perpetuate the state's inability to manage public goods. The primary public goods include accountability and security. His solution is for the international community to step in to manage the resourcing of those public goods until the state is capable of managing them alone. He offers three proposals for international action to deal with providing the public goods of accountability and security.

Proposal 1: Harnessing violence for democracy
            His first proposal attempts to legitimize the process of free and fair elections. Because so much turmoil comes from the illegitimate elections, it is therefore incumbent upon the international community to enforce a standard of elections. It is also theoretically incumbent upon the bottom billion states to adhere to the international standards of election accountability. What he does not suggest is that the international community enforce a standard of democracy per se. Instead, it is the process of getting to democracy that needs to be upheld - the legitimate elections themselves. This involves a potentially seven-step process of promoting standards and submitting to them voluntarily.
            Proposal 1 aims to provide the first public good of accountability. Doing so lends credibility to a freely elected government, and in theory effects trust amongst the population that their interests are fairly represented. It also attempts to bill the government as an honest broker of itself because the idea behind proposal one is that voluntarily, states would submit to international scrutiny and assistance establishing credible elections. This means then, that countries facing political upheaval, albeit legitimate, must therefore surrender to the will of the people to validate the trust relationship between state and people. Collier notes that, "Proposal 1 [sic] provides some rules for how a government acquires power."

Proposal 2: Enforcing probity in public spending
            His second proposal attempts to legitimize the use of public money. Collier's analyses suggest that corruption plays a large part in fomenting political violence among the bottom billion. The international community needs to "provide some rules for the use of power" so that public resources (money) do not get misused. This is particularly important because Collier correctly points out that states in the bottom billion have a GDP comprised largely of aid dollars. Afghanistan is the shining example right now. Currently Afghanistan's licit GDP comes from aid dollars. Not only does Afghanistan have a responsibility to its people to use that money wisely; it has a responsibility to use that borrowed money wisely because of the lenders.
            Therefore, the international community certainly has an interest in enforcing proper fiscal accountability. To do this Collier suggests that two things are needed, "capacity and verification." The states need the capacity to separate their funding from policy. More importantly, though, heavy scrutiny must be placed on the flow of money that supports policies. He refers to public money "leaking" from holes and that accounting efforts should apply a "forensic approach" to identifying and patching those holes. Again, he does not suggest that the international community should direct states how to run their state - in other words, which policies to adopt. Rather, the probity ensures that public revenue does not "leak" through holes in the policies. This too legitimizes the public good of accountability.

Proposal 3: The international supply of security
            His third proposal addresses the public good of security. The problem with states in the bottom billion is that even if they wanted to abide by non-corrupt and legitimate election practices, their capacity to protect the governing institution is limited. They simply cannot secure themselves. Therefore, the international community must provide some measure of security especially in post-conflict settings. It is in this proposal that Collier confuses his realist assertion that R2P is an affront to sovereignty while the international community has an interest in enforcing security upon states in the bottom billion.
            He is not quite clear, however, how that will effectively happen. One option he suggests is through a proxy tax by donor nations. He offers that donor nations should link aid dollars to military spending programs because many times needy states use aid dollars to fund military programs. While this understandably makes sense, what does not make sense is his assertion that those troubled states should somehow curb military spending. He says, "Given that military spending is at least in part a regional public bad, it should be discouraged." The proxy tax is a method to discourage military spending. Yet, how would a state reinforce its capacity for security without bolstering military spending? His proposal creates a confusing paradox that may do more to promote illegitimate resourcing of security forces rather than engaging in a legitimate strategy to develop security.

Relationship between democracy and political violence
            I concur with Collier's empirical and theoretical notion that a relationship between democracy and political violence does exist. Having witnessed it first hand in a few countries, induced democracy does create a vacuum in public expression. The vacuum is not so much that violent public expression does not exist. Rather, it does exist, and whereas a previous regime contained that expression, newfound freedom without boundaries cannot contain bundled sentiment. Similar to a balloon in a vacuum chamber, as pressure is removed (effect of democracy), the balloon grows (outward public expression). I believe that countries that have experienced extreme control, do not know how to express sentiments when the lid of control is removed.