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Rainfall? ..... Seriously? ..... Rainfall?

Submitted by Roanman on Tue, 04/12/2011 - 16:42


Wanna know why some of these countries just flat can't get it together when it comes to creating a democratic society?

Just what the hell is their problem?

Is it culture?






The following is the opening paragraph from a paper by Stephen Haber and Victor A. Menaldo titled Rainfall, Human Capital and Democracy.

The map comes from World Climate Maps.

The entire 59 page paper which by the way I read (I would not lie ..... about reading) can be accessed here.

You have to fool around joining up and stuff, but it's free and seemingly spam free.


Why are some societies characterized by enduring democracy while other societies are persistently autocratic?

We show that there is a systematic, non-linear relationship between rainfall levels and regime types in the post-World War II world:

stable democracies overwhelmingly cluster in a band of moderate rainfall (550 to 1300 mm of precipitation per year); persistent autocracies overwhelmingly cluster in deserts and semi-arid environments (0 to 550 mm per year) and in the tropics (above 1300 mm per year).



We also show that rainfall does not work on regime types directly, but does so through the its impact on the level and distribution of human capital. Specifically, crops that are both easily storable and exhibit modest economies of scale in production grow well under moderate amounts of rainfall.

The modal production unit is a family farm that can accumulate surpluses. In such an economy there are incentives to make intergenerational investments in human capital. A high level and broad distribution of human capital makes democratic consolidation more likely.


Here are some excerpts from the paper.


Briefly stated, the world’s liberal democracies are situated in climate zones where the level of rainfall permitted the advent of an agricultural system based on grains and legumes, which are characterized both by a high degree of storability and modest economies of scale in production.

Conversely, high storability and small minimum efficient scales of production do not characterize the crops that can be grown in other climate zones. In deserts, it is not possible to grow anything, except under special circumstances that dramatically raise the scale of production—a subject to which we shall return at some length.

It is, of course, possible to grow food in the tropics—but what can be grown either has very low degrees of storability (e.g. tree crops, such as bananas) or is characterized by extremely large scale economies in production (e.g. sugar cane).

Those specific features of grains and legumes created conditions that favored societies composed of family farmers, as opposed to societies composed of nomadic Bedouins or coerced plantation workers.

High storability and small minimum efficient scales of production generated surpluses that could not be arrogated by political elites bent on political centralization. This structure of agricultural production therefore created incentives for economic specialization, trade, and inter-generational investments in human capital.


Over the course of long periods of time those outcomes of an agricultural system based on storable crops with modest scale economies in production gave rise to societies characterized by high levels and broad distributions of human capital.
These characteristics are conducive to democratic consolidation because democracies tend to flourish when citizens are evenly matched in terms of education, political sophistication, and social standing.
When they are not, “free and fair elections” can lead to a tyranny of the majority—a point first made by Aristotle, but echoed by generations of scholars since.
Elites are not, as Acemoglu and Robinson (2006) point out, sheep to be fleeced: the threat of a tyranny of the majority causes them to either resist democratization or undermine it.
Moreover, when democracy arises in a social structure characterized by high levels and broad distributions of human capital, citizens are better able to monitor and discipline politicians, holding them accountable and incentivizing them to provide public goods that strengthen democracy.

Indeed, the first democracies—both in antiquity and in the modern era—were not only located in this band of moderate rainfall, but they emerged out of societies composed of citizens who not only had attained high average levels of education but who were relatively equally matched in terms of their educational endowment and sophistication.

Colonial New England is, of course, the archetype: a society of highly literate, family farmers.

What was true about New England was also true, however, about Ancient Athens, 17th Century Holland, 18th Century England, and 19th Century Canada.


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