Protestant ethic and the spirit of democracy?

This article explores Protestantism’s inadvertent, historic role in dispersing elite power and spurring democracy. Economic and political elites typically hoard resources and perpetuate class distinction. Conversionary Protestants undermined this social reproduction because they wanted everyone to read the Bible in their own language, decide individually what to believe, and create religious organizations outside state control. Thus, they consistently initiated mass education, mass printing and civil society and spurred competitors to copy. Resultant power dispersion altered elite incentives and increased the probability of stable democratic transitions.

I test my historical arguments statistically via the spread of Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Protestant missions account for about half the variation in non-European democracy and remove the influence of variables that dominate current research. These findings challenge scholars to reformulate theories about cultural vs. structure, and about the rise of democracy.

That is Woodberry of UT Austin in a rather provocative paper that will soon hit the printing press. The paper is a reminder of how much we still don’t know about the mechanisms that produce democracy and limited government – and by extension general institutional development.

You can find a copy here.

whiggish history of kenya

The caution in the title of this post applies.

A few good things have happened in Kenya since 2001:

  1. The powers of the presidency have been dispersed. Many tend to forget that Kibaki inherited the same powers as Moi. The only difference was that by 2002 the elites around the president had accumulated enough wealth to make theirs an oligarchical dictatorship rather than the one man show that were the 24 years of baba na mama (dad and mon) Nyayoism.
  2. Parliament has become strong. Kenyan MPs are among the highest paid in the world. Their incomes are comparable, if not better than, what US congress people make. In PPP terms the Kenyan parliament is a mint. MPs obscene incomes have bought them some independence from the executive. Now they run their own committee systems and routinely defy the executive. A few months ago the chief of Gen. staff Gen. Kianga appeared before the committee on defense and foreign relations to explain reports of corruption in procurement. I wonder what Moi thought about this.
  3. The civil service is no longer the place for have beens. The Business Daily reports that since Kibaki took over top civil servants have been making good money, sometimes even better than comparable individuals in the private sector. This is good in two ways. Firstly, it stanches the much maligned hemorrhaging of talent to the NGO sector. Secondly, it encourages the development of a talented and well connected epistemic community of technocrats. The politicians might think that they are merely providing goodies for their relatives in the civil service, but they are also laying the foundation of a well connected class of bureaucrats that in the future will lead to a more professional civil service.
  4. The judiciary is being cleaned up. This will take time, but the signs appear to be in the right direction.

All four mean that, in Kenya, it is no longer possible for a single individual or faction to run things with a wapende wasipende (like it or not) mentality. The sprouts of limited government are beginning to emerge.

Of course all this could go up in smoke in next year’s general election.

I wouldn’t short Kenya, though. The remarkable speed with which it rebounded after 2007 and the nature of reforms and negotiated settlements that emerged from the tragedy suggest a more lasting steady state. The Kenyan-model of power sharing could only work in Kenya because both parties could not govern alone.