Paper Authors: Edward L. Glaeser, Giacomo Paonzetto and Andrei Shleifer

Paper Title: Why Does Democracy Need Education?

Paper date: July 2005

Working Paper Number: unknown

Paper Website

Student Author: Ian Gorovoy

Review date: 2005-9-22


Is Education Really Necessary?

Although the correlation between higher education and democracy has been noted for at least forty years, little work in the form of application of current economic theory and mathematical modeling has sought to establish a causal link between these two variables. The paper explores the correlation and putative causality through historical precedence and believes application of economic theory will provide valuable insight into this relationship. It proposes that the socialization skills fostered by higher education promote participation in all social arenas (including politics). Although democracy spreads these benefits thinner than dictatorship, the increased rate of participation encourages many people to receive a smaller benefit (as in democracies) than fewer people to receive a large benefit (as in dictatorships).

The major premise of the democracy versus autocracy debate is the evaluation of trade-offs by the citizens. In countries with low levels of education, dictatorships are more stable because only they can “offer the strong incentives needed to induce people to fight for them.” Democracies simply can only offer weaker incentives because the “political rents are shared among many people.” However, if it is assumed that education through promoting socialization reduces the costs of political participation, then more inclusive (democratic) regimes will have more people willing to fight for them as human capital increases (also from education).

Currently, the leading hypotheses for the promotion of democracy through education are

  1. education increases the benefits of political activity because it increases human capital
  2. education lowers the costs of political activity because the citizens are better able to make decisions
  3. indoctrination hypothesis-lawmakers have schools inculcate democratic values in order to have the students support their system
  4. socialization hypothesis- education affects socialization equally, including its manifestation in politics.

The researchers find support to the last hypothesis- that education lowers the cost of political activity through fostering socialization skills. Even if the incentives themselves are weaker in democracy, this loss is mitigated because the costs of activity are lowered and the more inclusive nature of the democracy means the spoils of leadership reach more people. The researchers cite studies in which more educated people are more likely to join groups, register to vote, etc. and less likely to do anti-social activities such as giving the finger. There are many interesting implications from this idea that education affects socialization, which in turn, promotes democracy. For example, although we see terrorism as a form of desperation, terrorists view their organization as a “pro-social activity that supports their community.” This model predicts that terrorists, therefore, would be more educated than average, and Berrebi et al. shows that the more educated Palestinians are more likely to be suicide bombers.

This paper effectively utilizes historical examples to corroborate their mathematical model and demonstrate the correlation between education and democracy throughout history. First, the researchers find a strong positive correlation between the number of years of education the average citizen in a nation receives and the relative level of democracy in said nation (using the Polity IV index of democracy developed by political theorists). The researchers then dismiss the idea that democracy is the deeper variable by comparing the years of schooling before and after a democracy is established. No clear correlation is established here. This paper argues that education is the deeper casual variable because it is more durable than political institutions.

The researchers also find that established democracies are more likely to survive if the population is more educated. They cite the example that of the 20 well-educated (mean of at least 5.01 years schooling) democracies in 1960, every one except for Uruguay, which is one of the least-educated of this group, survived through at least 2000. Of the all of the uneducated countries (mean of less than 2.70 years schools), only four democracies existed and only India and Venezuela survived, and the future of the Venezuelan democracy is currently uncertain. The researchers believe that the India exception supports the rule: namely, even though on the whole India is uneducated, it is so massive that the few percent of educated citizens represent a few million people and they have enough authority to promote democracy.

The corollary to education promoting democracy is to see whether high levels of citizen education indicated a greater chance of success for coup against autocracy. The researchers reason that many earlier attempts for democratic revolution in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe had “enough educated citizens to topple a king, but not enough to protect a democracy from a counter-coup.” Consequently, for example, the French Revolution ended with Napoleon Bonaparte, and the English Revolution established Cromwell and then another monarch after him. It is also interesting to note that the revolution in England against Charles I originated in Protestant towns. This is significant because the Protestants were the more educated citizens because they were literate so that they could read the Bible in English (as opposed to have a priest read in Latin). The rhetoric for the French Revolution came from elite philosophers of France. In Russia in 1917, a revolution against the czar succeeded largely because the Russian army was in disarray after war with Germany. Given the lack of education in Russia at the time, it is not surprising the highly incentivized group of Bolsheviks encountered little resistance in overthrowing the coup and taking power. The colonists of late eighteenth century America are considered better-educated than their European counterparts, and it is expected, therefore, that the democracy established in the American Revolution is more likely to endure.

Interesting nations to watch for this correlation are Afghanistan and Haiti, which both currently have a democracy and uneducated citizens. This hypothesis predicts the failure of these democracies, but forecast a better outcome for the new democracy in the better-educated Iraq.

My thoughts

While this paper presents strong evidence for the correlation between education and democracy, it is unable to prove the socialization hypothesis as the causal mechanism. This topic is huge, possibly too large for an individual paper. The result is a little disjointed as the paper attempts to cover all the major facets of the argument. While the paper addresses many interesting questions, it does not adequately prove its arguments. For example, it discusses that India is able to maintain a democracy despite being on the whole educated because due to its size it still has a few million educated citizens. They do not address why China does not also then have a democracy. They note that the Protestants were the root of the English Revolution but fail to mention that religion (as opposed to education) might have played a bigger role in their insurgency to the king. Also, the concept of democracy is simplified. The United States has a representative democracy, and I am curious how different forms of democracy would fit in their model. Overall, there are no major weaknesses to their argument; the weaknesses stem from the paper trying to cover too much ground and lacking proof for some of its logic.

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