The Illiberal Pull in Turkey

With Erdoğan’s victory in yesterday’s first round of the presidential elections, Turkey appears set for (at least) another five years of his rule. Whereas as Prime Minister, his powers were substantial (if not unprecedented in post-war Turkey), as President he will for now be holding a much more ceremonial post.

As a result, further institutional change is likely to be expected, as will be an attempt to reform Turkey’s political system into one with a much more powerful presidency. In doing so, we can expect attempts for a substantial institutional overhaul.

There are many problems with Turkey’s current institutions, and so reform is much needed. But whether new reform will lead Turkey towards more or less democracy is far from certain. What is more certain, however, is that Erdoğan will continue to rely on economic growth as a motor for his own popularity, and any institutional change will likely be infused with this.

As such, one would hope that Erdoğan and his team is currently reading up on key works of political economics to figure out how institutional change affects economic development. (Perhaps someone is plowing thru Why Nations Fail, or googling “Besley Persson”, “Acemoglu Robinson” right now.)

Another possibility is that Erdoğan and his team don’t care much for economics and instead start coming up with their own methods.

With Hungarian’s PM Orban’s recent proclamation that ““liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive,” and instead looking to “illiberal state(s)” like Russia and Turkey as a role models, one would wonder who Erdogan thinks of as a role model at present.

Given the weight Erdoğan puts on economic growth, for this purpose I made a graph of a number of selected countries and country groups’ GDP per capita path over the last two decades. It shows Turkey somewhere in the middle of the sample’s performance, increasing its GDP per capita since 2002 by 43 percent.



A noteworthy aspect is the ranking (given in the legend of the graph) which suggests many of the more authoritarian countries like China, Russia and Vietnam belong to those who have outperformed Turkey in economic terms, whereas many of the more democratic countries – both among emerging markets as well as the EU – have underperformed relative to Turkey.

A concern is that, like Orban, Erdoğan may end up looking towards China, Russia, and Vietnam as role models, not just because they offer authoritarianism per se but because they make up fast-growing authoritarian governments. His beliefs on whether a link between authoritarianism and economic development exists may very well end up determining Turkey’s institutional future.

1 thought on “The Illiberal Pull in Turkey

  1. ezraman

    In the short run, yes it could be better, especially if a middle class is growing. 50 years from now when we look back? Who knows. Interesting graph you made. Well done write up as well.

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