09 April 2010

Article: Why Non-Democratic Leaders Have More Children

Dustin Beckett and Gregory D. Hess, "All in the Family: Why Non-Democratic Leaders Have More Children" ("Economics of Governance", 9 [1], January 2008: pp. 65-85):


Abstract: "Economists have come to learn that politics matters. But survival matters the most to those involved in politics. We provide a theory whereby non-benevolent, non-democratic leaders increase their expected family size to raise the likelihood that a child will be a match at continuing the regime's survival. As a consequence, having a larger family size raises the non-democratic leader's expected rents that they can exploit from the citizenry. In contrast, democratic leaders have a lower desire to appropriate rents from the citizenry, and therefore have a diminished desire to have additional children for these purposes. We construct a data set of the number of children of country leaders as of August 31, 2005. We find that in a sample of 221 country leaders, fully non-democratic leaders have approximately 1.5-2.5 more actual children as compared to if they are fully democratic. This empirical relationship is established controlling for a full array of country specific as well as individual specific variables. Our finding also continues to hold when using alternative measures of family size."

Excerpt: "While the question of 'who governs?' goes to the heart of the difference between democratic and non-democratic rule, 'who governs next?' is no less a distinguishing query. Often, transitions of power in mature democracies take place at regular intervals, where timing and tenure limits are determined in the law. For non-democratic countries, however, transitions are more problematic and irregular, as there are fewer formal mechanisms for a smooth succession of power."

Sounds intriguing, but the article seems deeply flawed. It is badly written and obviously not edited, i.e.: "For non-democratic leaders, [...] performance indicators are not the main criteria for determining the survival duration of non-democratic leaders."; "a new leader decides how much to seek rent from the citizenry".

Also, this is the first study I came across that is based on (two versions of) "Who's Who" and – get this – "[t]he final source for the data is the online encyclopedia [...] Wikipedia". Are they serious?

Finally, what about leaders, democratic or not, of countries that have, during the leader's lifetime, alternated between democracy and non-democracy or experienced increasing or decreasing levels of democracy? The children of a non-democratic leader may have been born when the country was still a democracy. And even non-democratic rule lasts on average only twenty-one years, it is claimed. But (less than) 21-year olds don't usually become heads of government. Even in non-democratic countries (with the possible exception of monarchies), sons or daughters that young are unlikely to succeed a parent. Most leaders will have started a family well before becoming leaders – and most likely before they ever knew that they were going to become leaders. (Only 15% of the leaders studied were "in line" to succeed to their position.) All this may suggest other reasons for family size than the merely economic ones proposed by the authors of this study.

Dustin H. Beckett is a doctoral candidate in Social Science at the California Institute of Technology.

Gregory D. Hess is James G. Boswell Professor of Economics at Claremont McKenna College.

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