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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Capitalism and democracy

This morning's NYT article on the Yukos auction quotes Robert Mabro, chairman of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies:
"You've got to compare Russia to other oil producers like Iran or Saudi Arabia, not democracies like Denmark or Holland. After 80 years of communism, you don't turn into a liberal democracy overnight. That's a romantic notion that has no historic foundation."
That "romantic notion" likely derives from the theoretical economic determinism that sees capitalism as automatically giving rise to democracy. Certainly there are liberalizing pressures at work, visible in this case in the response of international investors to the Russian government's actions. But historically more accurate is sociologist Theda Skocpol's observation that capitalism has proven compatible with a wide variety of political systems: "capitalism in general has no politics," she notes, "only (extremely flexible) outer limits for the kinds of support for property ownership and controls on the labor force that it can tolerate." (Politics and Society 10 [1980]: 200.)

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