Category Archives: institutions

A few comments on democracy indices and Turkey

I am grateful to the feedback on my previous post, whether it has been in public or in private.

I think of the V-Dem data as an important contribution to how social scientists can measure institutions, and democracy in particular. I do, however, have some thoughts on the V-Dem data and the main other datasets on the same topic as well.

As for the specific time series for liberal democracy in Turkey, one thing that struck me as particularly interesting (and something many others have commented on as well) is the relatively positive trend during most of the 1990s, especially the later part. Given my priors (and many others’) this at first seemed rather counterintuitive. The 1990s were, after all, a period of significant political instability, plagued by recurring economic crises and violent conflicts. How is it possible that a measure of liberal democracy can be increasing during such a period? Continue reading

The Reversal of (What Little) Liberal Democracy (There Ever Was) in Turkey

Earlier this year, the University of Gothenburg’s V-Dem institute released a new database on democracy. As it turns out, this database yields some new insights on the timing of Turkey’s democratic erosion, a topic I’ve previously covered (herehere, here, here, here, and here).

Here’s how Staffan Lindberg, the director of the V-Dem Institute, described the database to the Washington Post:

“Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) represents a novel approach to measuring democracy. It is based on collaboration among leading scholars across the world and has two institutional homes: the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, which also functions as the operational headquarters for the project’s many parts, and the University of Notre Dame in the United States. V-Dem differs from previous datasets by distinguishing among different principles of democracy (as discussed) and offering about 350 unique democracy indicators, 34 indices of various aspects of democracy such as freedom of association, and five main democracy indices for Electoral, Liberal, Participatory, Deliberative, and Egalitarian democracy. These all cover 173 countries, measured annually from 1900 to 2012.”

Frankly, as a political economist (and all-out data nerd, for that matter) I have trouble expressing how exciting this is.

Of particular interest is the measure of liberal democracy, a topic of significant focus both globally (here, here) and specifically for Turkey (see here and here), but I’ll show graphs for the other main components of the V-Dem data as well.

Readers of this blog and my other work will be familiar with my skepticism of the prevailing narrative of the timing of and character of Turkey’s democratic erosion. As I wrote in a recent blog post:

“Given recent crackdowns on freedoms in Turkey, it might be useful with some perspective. Some in the media still seem to be pushing the talking point that Turkey’s “true oppression” began in 2013 after a corruption scandal, contrasting this period with that when AKP was a “beacon of light”, when Turkey was a “vibrant democracy”, and when “Erdoğan’s Turkey” was on the “right path.” Accepting this narrative is a convenient exit for analysts who have overestimated the degree to which Turkey’s democracy was improving during the last decade.”

As it turns out, the data recently provided by V-Dem has something to say about this. Continue reading

Turkey’s Instruments of Repression and Declining Press Freedom

In the last post, I found that several Freedom House measures of basic freedoms have been deteriorating in Turkey for a long time, especially when it comes to freedom of expression.  Freedom House (hereby FH) also publishes specific measures of freedoms of the press (data available here), a component of the freedom of expression & beliefs score used previously. Similar to the Freedom of the World publication, FH use subscores to calculate aggregate press freedom scores that are then divided into three statuses, Not Free, Partly Free, and Free. And like the Freedom of the World status, Turkey’s press freedom status has been constant at Partly Free since 2005, only becoming Not Free in 2013 and thereafter.

There are three subscores for press freedom:

  1. A legal environment category focusing on the laws and regulations influencing media content and the government’s inclination to use these laws and legal institutions to restrict the media’s ability to operate:  legal and constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression; the potentially negative aspects of security legislation, the penal code, and other criminal statutes; penalties for libel and defamation; the existence of and ability to use freedom of information legislation; the independence of the judiciary and of official media regulatory bodies
  2. A political environment category, evaluating the degree of political control over the content of news media including editorial independence, access to information and sources; official censorship and self-censorship etc.
  3. An economic environment category. This includes the structure of media ownership; transparency and concentration of ownership; the costs of establishing media as well as any impediments to news production and distribution; the selective withholding of advertising or subsidies by the state or other actors; the impact of corruption and bribery on content; and the extent to which the economic situation in a country impacts the development and sustainability of the media.

In the below graph I show the combined press freedom score for Turkey, as well as its subscores for the legal, political, and economic environments. For the sake of brevity here, the focus is on percentile ranks and Turkey’s performance relative to the world distribution, with higher percentiles implying more freedoms.


The above graph shows a total Freedom of the Press score for Turkey that is stagnant up until 2009 and then starts to slide downwards. The legal environment subscore has been falling consistently since 2005 when it began around the 40th percentile. (This matches the timing of changes to the Turkish penal code, which according to analysts, made prosecuting journalists easier. (See for example here) In 2014, it had fallen to the 16th percentile, an absolutely abysmal deterioration. The political environment subscore was rising somewhat until 2008, and has been decreasing afterwards, from around hovering around the median country in the world to the 22nd percentile. The economic environment subscore has remained largely constant up until 2012, followed by a smaller, but not insignificant, ten-percentile drop.

Continue reading

Turkey’s democracy is crumbling and has been for quite some time

Given recent crackdowns on freedoms in Turkey, it might be useful with some perspective. Some in the media still seem to be pushing the talking point that Turkey’s “true oppression” began in 2013 after a corruption scandal, contrasting this period with that when AKP was a “beacon of light”, when Turkey was a “vibrant democracy”, and when “Erdoğan’s Turkey” was on the “right path.”

Accepting this narrative is a convenient exit for analysts who have overestimated the degree to which Turkey’s democracy was improving during the last decade. They weren’t wrong then – instead it is Erdoğan who has recently taken an authoritarian turn. For the Gülenists and a number of established journalists in Turkey, who are among the lead protagonists in pushing these talking points, this narrative provides moral amnesty for their alliance with the AKP up until the two groups fell out over differences on policy and the allocation of power within the security establishment. It also provides cover for their past cheerleading of witch hunts against critical voices in the past (see here and here).

However, using standard measures of freedoms like those of Freedom House (hereby FH) suggest a different picture. In particular, Turkey was backtracking especially in freedoms of expression as well as political pluralism long before the corruption scandals of 2013, and these losses preceding 2013 often dwarf those occurring afterwards (at least so far).

Continue reading

Which country has the most illiberal democracy in the world?

The most recent edition of Freedom House’s Freedom in the World noted a “disturbing decline in global freedom in 2014.” A driver of this appears to have been not necessarily a shift to totalitarian dictatorships, but a more relative illiberalization of democracies. For example, in one NBER working paper, Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman note that:

“in recent decades, a less carnivorous form of authoritarian government has emerged, one better adapted to the globalized media and sophisticated technologies of the 21st Century. From the Peru of Alberto Fujimori to the Hungary of Viktor Orban, illiberal regimes have managed to consolidate power without isolating their countries from the world economy or resorting to mass killings.”

Economists Dani Rodrik and Sharun Mukhand further point out the relative scarceness of liberal democracies around the world. In November 2014, Joseph Stiglitz told an audience at the Central European University that “[t]he conscious development of a learning society, essential for shared prosperity, can only be achieved in a liberal democracy”. 

So what is a liberal democracy? The answer to that question is could probably fill a bookshelf by itself. The simplest definition, as given by Wikipedia is the following:

“Liberal democracy is a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism, i.e. protecting the rights of the individual, which are generally enshrined in law.”

Rodrik and Mukhand tie this a bit more to matters conducive to economic development:

“Liberal democracy rests on three distinct sets of rights: property rights, political rights, and civil rights. The first set of rights protects owners and investors from expropriation. The second ensures that groups that win electoral contests can assume power and choose policies to their liking – provided these policies do not violate the other two sets of rights. Finally, civil rights guarantee equal treatment before the law and equal access to public services such as education.”

These sound like fairly straightforward definitions, but when it comes to measurement, it quickly becomes complicated. Freedom House, for example, explicitly calculates values for “political rights” and “civil rights” for all individual countries each year, yet these are also measures used for “democracy”, not just “liberal democracy”. So is more “democracy” the same as more “liberal democracy”? (Also, for measures of “expropriation” from other sources it is not always clear if it’s from the perspective of a foreign investor or a domestic one.)

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A Game of Kurds

Many were taken by surprise by the announcement of the Kurdish HDP’s to run as a party in the upcoming 2014 elections, as opposed to running as independent candidates, which it has done until now. Running as independent have been the Kurdish political movement in Turkey’s way of circumventing the draconian ten percent threshold, which excludes parties from representation in the Turkish parliament if it fails to win more than tern percent of the national vote share.

The HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtas did receive nearly 10 percent of the vote in the last (presidential) elections, but given it’s 2011 vote share of ~7 percent, and opinion polls putting HDP at roughly 6-8 percent, it seems a rather tall order to expect HDP to pass the ten percent threshold needed for any parliamentary representation. Most likely it will fall below that, and if it has then run as a party, it will not receive any votes at all. These votes will then almost surely fall into the hands of the ruling AKP, likely giving it the supermajority needed to rewrite the constitution. In this case, the Kurds are dependent on the AKP to use its borrowed Kurdish votes to run through the institutional changes needed to accommodate Kurdish preferences. Failure to do so could result in another lost opportunity for Kurds to achieve institutional equality in Turkey.

As such, the HDP strategy is quite a gamble.

Several people more qualified than me have now written about this (see for example, recent articles by Amberin Zaman’s in Al-Monitor, as well as Gareth Jenkins in The Turkey Analyst).

Continue reading

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.

Erdogan’s Coup and the True State of Turkish Democracy

Last week me and Dani published a piece in Foreign Affairs (available here). It’s labeled as a response to an earlier article by Daron Acemoglu, but it’s in many ways just as much its own article.

Ebru Akman (who has done a stellar job translating several of my previous blog posts) has been kind of enough to help us translate the article into Turkish (here), and Dani has a nice roundup of the article over at his blog:

Daron Acemoglu wrote what seemed like a surprising upbeat piece on Turkish democracy a few days ago. His argument seems to be that democracy required power to be wrested away from the secularists who had erected authoritarian structures, and Erdogan had achieved that. Even though, Erdogan’s recent turn to authoritarianism is “lamentable,” it was, Acemoglu claims, a predictable stage in Turkey’s democratic transition. Once Erdogan is gone, the article implies, democracy would be on a stronger footing than ever.

There were in fact many other paths that could have proved less costly. The more typical pattern is that the old elites reach a modus vivendi with the rising, popular forces that preserves some of their privileges in return for opening up (as happened in Spain and many of the Latin American examples). The Erdogan model of decapitating the secular old guard with a series of sham political trials served instead to deepen old divides and ended up erecting an alternative set of authoritarian structures.

In the early years of Erdogan’s rule, it was easy to mistake the loosening of old taboos associated with the Kemalist-secular elite as a process of democratization. But towards the end of the 2000s, anyone who looked closely could not have been under a similar illusion. The repression of the media and the jailing of opponents on bogus charges had become an unmistakable pattern. Saying this was an inevitable and necessary step towards democracy would be odd indeed.

The Acemoglu article prompted Erik Meyersson and me to write a riposte of sorts. It is called “Erdogan’s Coup,” and can be read here.

Turkey’s Institutions Problem

Turkey has an institutions problem. There, I said it.

The problem of Turkey’s institutions is the following: it’s a country with stronger-than-average state powers combined with weaker-than-average citizens’ rights. To see this, just take a look at the most recent edition of the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index.



Yes, Turkey is ranked 59 out of 99 countries surveyed, which is rather low, but the interesting devil is in the details. Continue reading

Turkey’s Economic Miracle and its Swedish Cheerleaders

In last post I questioned some of the Swedish government’s fascination with Turkey’s recent democratic reforms, which although carry the label of democratic reforms, do not address the fundamental problems. This post is about the government’s infatuation with the Turkey’s economic success.

In addition to last year’s Turkish state visits to Sweden (see here and here), a number of more focused trade-relation visits have occurred (see here, for an example). It was likely no coincidence that, sitting in Stockholm University Aula Magna during the inauguration ceremony for the new Swedish institute for Turkish studies (SUITS) last year, that the ratio of businessmen-to- academics seemed rather high.

One can understand the lure of Turkey’s economy for Swedish firms – the country has  74 million inhabitants, a relatively young population, is the 17th largest country in terms of IMF-measured PPP GDP. Moreover,  the government’s expansion in infrastructure and technology sectors coupled with a burgeoning middle class, the possibility of a resolution to the decades-long conflict in the east, as well as a possible stepping stone into the Middle East, all add to the pull.

A ubiquitous talking-point in Turkish foreign policy is the claim that, under AKP rule, the country’s GDP has tripled. This, however, is a misleading number as it relies on valuing US dollars of Turkey’s GDP at current prices, thus pooling both inflation of the dollar and the real appreciation of the Turkish lira on top of real growth. In real terms, Turkish GDP at constant prices grew by 64 percent between 2002-2012, and GDP per capita grew by 43 percent. A decent growth rate, but nowhere near the miraculous. Continue reading