How Tyranny Paved the Way to Wealth and Democracy: The Democratic Transition in Ancient Greece

59 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2011

See all articles by F. Andrew Hanssen

F. Andrew Hanssen

Clemson University - John E. Walker Department of Economics

Robert K. Fleck

Montana State University - Bozeman - Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics

Date Written: February 15, 2011

Abstract

When a ruling elite is unable to commit to future growth-promoting policies, it may cede political power to a broader segment of the public, as in North and Weingast (1989). Alternatively, as we show in this paper, commitment may be achieved by moving in the opposite direction: installing a single authoritarian ruler who favors growth-promoting policies. Although this narrows the distribution of power in the short run, it may – as our model illustrates – be a step toward, not away from, democracy. We apply the model to ancient Greece. Many of the famously democratic poleis (city-states) of Greece’s Classical period were ruled by tyrants in the earlier Archaic period. The tyrannies of Archaic Greece were transitory institutions, generally lasting only a few decades, with strong similarities across poleis in the factors that led to their appearance and the types of policies enacted. Using a unique data set, we examine the relationships between the potential for economic growth, Archaic period tyranny, and Classical period democracy. We conclude that a high potential for economic growth led to a pro-growth political institution (the tyrant) that led in turn to increased wealth and, eventually, to democracy. These findings are consistent with critical junctures theory – the institutional path determines both wealth and democracy.

Keywords: democracy, transition, commitment, economic growth, ancient Greece

JEL Classification: D72, D78, N00, O00, P50

Suggested Citation

Hanssen, F. and Fleck, Robert K., How Tyranny Paved the Way to Wealth and Democracy: The Democratic Transition in Ancient Greece (February 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1762249 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1762249

F. Hanssen (Contact Author)

Clemson University - John E. Walker Department of Economics ( email )

Clemson, SC 29634
United States

Robert K. Fleck

Montana State University - Bozeman - Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 172920
Bozeman, MT 59717-2920
United States
406-994-5603 (Phone)
406-994-4838 (Fax)

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