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Galbraith Featured in New "Journal of Ideas"

In an article entitled "Development's Discontents," which appears in the second issue of the online journal "Democracy: A Journal of Ideas," LBJ School professor James Galbraith reviews two new books which discuss the link between economics and democracy.

From where does democracy come? Is rule "by the people, for the people" a telos—an ethical endpoint—as the great American civic faith would have us believe? Is it the most effective way to solve social problems—as John Dewey and the pragmatists argued? Or is it merely the worst system except for all the others, as Winston Churchill dismissively quipped?

These two important books—Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson and A Free Nation Deep in Debt by James MacDonald—take an economic view, well-suited to a material age. They locate the origins of democracy not in ethics or social engineering, but as a side effect of the struggle for goods and services, wealth and market power. And yet, that is their only resemblance. They refer to few of the same facts and none of the same literature. Their uses of the term "economic" are totally dissimilar, and in that dissimilarity they reveal as much about the great divides within economics as they do about the origins and fate of democracy.

The contrast is, first of all, one of substance. One book associates democracy with the material temptations of populism: Democracy arises because it redistributes income to the masses. The other sees the democratic advantage in evolutionary and comparative perspective: Democracies survive and thrive because they beat out rival systems, most especially on the battlefield, history's ultimate test of material capacity.

To read the rest of this article, visit the Democracy Journal website.

Copyright 2006 Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Inc.


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22 September 2006

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