Monday, March 28, 2005

Oranges, tulips, and dominos 

We were going to talk some on NARN last Saturday about the 'Tulip Revolution' in the Kyrgyz Republic, but phone calls rolling in on the Schiavo case kept us from that topic. Captain Ed has been blogging a good bit about the divided opposition who now has to create a government in place of the Akaev regime. I'd like to step back and look at this a little more broadly, as someone who's worked in the FSU -- though never Kyrgyzia. I've got two broad points to make.

One of my projects in my professional life has been to look at how political economists measure things like economic and political freedom, or the independence of central banks, or 'trust' (yes, there is one), or more generally, human development. Within that discussion has been a desire to know whether some types of freedoms are antecedents to others, whether some freedom begets more, and whether or not freedom is good for growth. Your natural instinct, which was mine too, is that of course freedom is good for growth, but it turns out not always.

It turns out not to be so. Beginning with Robert Barro's Robbins lecture, we have understood that after some point, increasing political freedom could set off distributional battles between factions. Those battles might inhibit growth. That result isn't conclusive in the economics literature by any stretch, but it makes some sense.

We see this in many places: The creation of a power vacuum by decapitation of an autocratic regime has led to troubles in places as diverse as Indonesia post-Suharto or Phillipines post-Marcos, or the 'revolutions' of Ukraine and Georgia. We are rather spoiled by past experience in the decapitation of historically planned economies to think they will be unmessy. Romania is one case where it wasn't. I don't see any reason why Romania should have been an exception. That is, there's no reason why the messiness of transfer in the KR should be considered exceptional other than the good fortune we've had in peaceful Ukraine and Georgia.

The second, and broader point is where does this end with the FSU, after corrupt regimes fall in Georgia, Ukraine and the KR? Alex Rodriguez of The Chicago Tribune reviews the remaining candidates. The difference with the KR is that it was in fact the most democratic of the Central Asian regimes, and we now have evidence that a little movement towards democratization can get one quickly to a tipping point where full-blown political freedom comes to fruition. This is likely to cause some places to clamp down. Turkmenistan is run by Niyazov, a.k.a. Turkmenbashi "(leader of the Turkmen") who allows no dissent and has created cult status; same is true with Uzbekistan except for the cult part. I don't know whether we'll see democracy movements spring up there: I rather doubt it, but then again nobody expected Lebanon to pop. Uzbekistan's poor economic performance might make it more likely the place to see something happen.

Kazakstan's economic freedom is better than the others only by the comparison. It's still a pretty bad place and economic freedom is very restricted. Kazakstan does have an active opposition movement, and it seems a likely place for contagion. Of the others outside Central Asia, I would also tab Moldova as a possible place for more democratic trends, though it already has a parliament whose election appears to have been free and fair. Sitting with EU candidates on one side and Ukraine on the other, it has strong Russian roots (as does Belarus) but without a real geopolitical significance as a buffer state like Ukraine and Belarus. Thus, if Putin is relaxing its grip, that would seem the most likely place we'd observe it.

UPDATE: Onnik notes this Agence France Presse article that thinks it could be Azerbaijan, where parliamentary elections occur in 2008. He assesses the situation:
By most if not all accounts, Azerbaijan is more autocratic than Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were. In fact, I think it was Freedom House that recently declared that it was effectively under a dictatorship. Even so, the last Presidential Elections were particularly bloody with clashes on the streets of Baku between opposition protestors and riot police.

The situation there, however, is not exactly the same as in those republics that managed to successfully stand up against a falsified vote and not least because there is no imminent issue of succession to the Presidency.
I doubt it for approximately the same reasons. When Aliev died he had handpicked his son to succeed him in a country that is not a monarchy. So there were protests. Such will not be the case in November.

Onnik is also unhappy that the government in Armenia is not held up to the same criticism. That may be because the US has much less influence in Armenia than in these other countries; taking on Russia in Armenia would be harder because both the Armenians and the Russians see the area as vital to each's security interests.

UPDATE 2: Fistful of Euros explains how I'm probably wrong on Moldova, at least in the short run.