The Political Economy of Growth: Democracy and Human Capital


  • Matthew A. Baum,

  • David A. Lake

Matthew A. Baum is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles, 4289 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1472 ( David A. Lake is Professor and Chair of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521 (


Democracy is more than just another brake or booster for the economy. We argue that there are significant indirect effects of democracy on growth through public health and education. Where economists use life expectancy and education as proxies for human capital, we expect democracy will be an important determinant of the level of public services manifested in these indicators. In addition to whatever direct effect democracy may have on growth, we predict an important indirect effect through public policies that condition the level of human capital in different societies. We conduct statistical investigations into the direct and indirect effects of democracy on growth using a data set consisting of a 30-year panel of 128 countries. We find that democracy has no statistically significant direct effect on growth. Rather, we discover that the effect of democracy is largely indirect through increased life expectancy in poor countries and increased secondary education in nonpoor countries.