Financial Openness, Democracy, and Redistributive Policy

33 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

Date Written: November 30, 1999


What explains the spread of both democracy and financial openness at this time in history, given the constraining impact of financial market integration on national policy autonomy? International policy coordination is part of the answer, but not all. Also important is the presence of cost-effective redistributive schemes that provide insurance against the risk of financial instability.

The debate about the relationship between democratic forms of government and the free movement of capital across borders dates to the 18th century. It has regained prominence as capital on a massive scale has become increasingly mobile and as free economies experience continuous pressure from rapidly changing technology, market integration, changing consumer preferences, and intensified competition.

These changes imply greater uncertainty about citizens' future income positions, which could prompt them to seek insurance through the marketplace or through constitutionally arranged income redistribution. As more countries move toward democracy, the availability of such insurance mechanisms to citizens is key if political pressure for capital controls is to be averted and if public support for an open, liberal international financial order is to be maintained.

Dailami briefly reviews how today's international financial system evolved from one of mostly closed capital accounts immediately after World War II to today's enormous, largely free-flowing market. Drawing on insights from the literature on public choice and constitutional political economy, Dailami develops an analytical framework for a welfare cost-benefit analysis of financial openness to international capital flows.

The main welfare benefits of financial openness derive from greater economic efficiency and increased opportunities for risk diversification. The welfare costs relate to the cost of insurance used as a mechanism for coping with the risks of financial volatility. These insurance costs are the economic losses associated with redistribution, including moral hazard, rent-seeking, and rent-avoidance.

A cross-sectional analysis of a large sample of developed and developing countries shows the positive correlation between democracy (as defined by political and civil liberty) and financial openness.

More rigorous econometric investigation using logit analysis and controlling for level of income also shows that redistributive social policies are key in determining the likelihood that countries can successfully combine an openness to international capital mobility with democratic forms of government.

This paper - a product of Governance, Regulation, and Finance, World Bank Institute - is part of a broader research effort on The Quality of Growth. The author may be contacted at

Suggested Citation

Dailami, Mansoor, Financial Openness, Democracy, and Redistributive Policy (November 30, 1999). Available at SSRN:

Mansoor Dailami (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

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Washington, DC 20433
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