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Monday, 13 June 2011

Is our education to blame for having a poor government?

Italian economists Fortunato & Panizza provide new evidence that democratic institutions work well only when the electorate is sufficiently educated. Democratic elections do not help (may even possibly harm) the recruitment of a competent and honest political elite in countries with largely uneducated populations. This seems to make perfect sense. Though information and electoral fair play are important, the voter needs to be able to digest the data and make rational choices. My only quibble is that it would be good to this relationship tested for the type of electoral and political systems. I suspect education may be more important in certain systems. I also wonder whether "education" is simply a proximate for some deeper e.g. local power? In rural areas for example its quite clear the uneducated  largely vote for under performing governments - not necessarily because they are less "rational" or less "informed", but because they have little power - they may be culturally coerced. The implications of these questions are immense (e.g. do some governments deliberately under-educate their people to stay in power?) :

The standard efficiency argument in favour of democracy is based on the idea that free elections are an effective instrument for ousting inept and corrupt politicians (e.g. Sen 2000). This view, however, is based on the assumptions that voters are capable of monitoring and evaluating government actions.

The ability of monitoring elected officials, in turn, depends on the availability of high quality information about the actions of these officials. A recent literature finds that increased media presence improves electoral accountability (Besley and Burgess 2002) and that better rules and practices of disclosure by politicians are associated with lower corruption (Djankov et al. 2010).

In order to evaluate the actions of politicians, voters need to be able to process the available information and understand the impact of the actions of elected officials on their welfare. Voters unable to process information and make rational decisions are as ineffective as uninformed voters. Winston Churchill, who had a dismal view on voters' ability to process information, once said: “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”.

But from where does this ability to process information come from? It seems reasonable to assume that higher education should increase citizens' ability to make rational electoral choices and that a country's average level of education should be positively associated with civic culture. According to Almond and Verba (1963), “the uneducated man or the man with limited education is a different political actor from the man who has achieved a higher level of education”.

In a recent paper (Fortunato and Panizza 2011), we develop a simple model of candidate selection in which the outcome of the electoral process is determined by the interplay between the level of democracy and that of education. In the model, politicians of different quality decide whether they should run for office by taking into account the probability of winning the electoral competition. We show that democratic institutions and education complement each other. Democracy leads to the election of better politicians only if the level of education is above a certain threshold. Improvements in the level of education, in turn, can only affect the quality of the elected officials if the cost of entry into politics is not prohibitive (i.e. in democratic systems). Our model has also something to say about corruption. In particular, we find that, even though high-quality politicians are not inherently more honest than low-quality politicians, more competent elected officials endogenously adopt a more honest behaviour.

When we take the model to the data we find support for the idea that the correlation between democracy and the quality of government is statistically significant only in countries with high levels of education. Figure 1 illustrates these findings. We plot first the relationship between the quality of government and democracy at different levels of education (left panel of Figure 1) and show that the relationship is negative (but not statistically significant) for countries with low levels of education (fewer than 4 years) and becomes positive and statistically significant when average education reaches 8 years. Analogously, the relationship between the quality of government and education (right panel of Figure 1) is insignificant for low and intermediate levels of democracy but it becomes positive and statistically significant in countries that are deemed to be fully democratic.

Figure 1. Democracy, education and the quality of government
In the paper, we acknowledge the potential endogeneity of our core explanatory variables and run a set of Monte Carlo simulations aimed at testing the robustness of the results. We find that our results are fairly robust. Even the presence of extreme endogeneity would not reverse our estimations.

Our research suggests that the success of democracy ultimately relies on the quality of the average voter.

Democratic elections do not help (and may possibly harm) in the recruitment of a competent and honest political elite in countries with largely uneducated populations. At the same time, education and political consciousness of the masses improve the quality of elected officials only if channelled through democratic institutions. One caveat of our work is that our model abstracts form political actions that take place outside the traditional electoral process. Recent work by Campante and Chor (2011) suggests that, by increasing the probability of uprisings, education may provide incentives for good government even in non-democratic regimes.


Almond, G and S Verba (1963), The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, Sage Publication.

Besley, T and R Burgess (2002), “The political economy of government responsiveness: Theory and evidence from India”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(4),1415-1452.

Campante, FR and D Chor (2011), “‘The People Want the Fall of the Regime’: Schooling, Political Protest, and the Economy”, Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP11-018.

Djankov, S, E Glaeser, R La Porta, F Lopez-de-Silanes, and A Shleifer (2010), “Disclosure by Politicians”, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2:179-209.

Fortunato, P, and U Panizza (2011), “Democracy, Education and the Quality of Government”, POLIS Working paper 155.

Sen, A (2000), Development as Freedom, Alfred A Knopf.

This article may be reproduced with appropriate attribution. See Copyright (below).


  1. ‘Projects ‘ll guarantee RB’s stay — Mwata’

    By Alex Mukuka

    SENIOR Chief Mwata Kazembe of the Lunda people in Luapula Province has said there is nothing on the ground anywhere to warrant a change of Government in this year’s elections.

    The chief said on Monday that equitable delivery of development programmes was indicative of the MMD Government’s desire to develop Zambia and guaranteed the continued existence of the Rupiah Banda-led administration.

    He said this at his palace in Mwansabombwe yesterday when Luapula Province Minister Besa Chimbaka paid a courtesy call on him.

    Chief Mwata Kazembe said there was no indication or sign whatsoever that the Government of President Banda would be removed from power.

    He said the equal distribution of development projects throughout the country was evidence of the good work of the MMD Government.

    He commended the Government for putting in place measures that were making the electoral process favourable to the electorate.The Mwata said people should be aware of their rights and encouraged his subjects to turn up in large numbers to exercise their rights to vote.

    He said he was happy that the voter verification exercise had ended peacefully in his chiefdom.

    The traditional ruler advised some traditional leaders and politicians in the province to desist from holding the Republican president to ransom as the nation heads towards elections.

    He said he would call a Press conference and give a full statement over some issues in Chiengi Constituency as soon as he concludes his consultations.

    Meanwhile, the Mwata said he last Friday held a joint meeting with the Copperbelt Mutomboko traditional ceremony organising committee to finalise preparations for this year’s ceremony which would take place next month.

    He has since invited President Banda to grace this year’s Mutomboko ceremony of the Lunda people.

  2. RB’s crafts 5 year master plan

    By Times Reporter

    PRESIDENT Rupiah Banda has put together a seven-point plan that will be used to drive the Zambian population out of poverty between 2011 and 2016 and be able to meet the United Nations millennium development goals that seek to reduce the number of people living in abject poverty.

    The seven-point agenda would be implemented within a period of five years which would be Mr Banda’s last term of office as president of Zambia and much focus would be dedicated toimplementing the MMD manifesto.

    The points include an intensified fight against corruption, provision of more food for everybody, improved education for the children, better health services for the Zambian people and more job opportunities for all.

    Others would be quality roads throughout Zambia and equal opportunities for accessing productive tools such as loans and land to promote productivity at household level.The plan was made available to the Times of Zambia by special assistant to the president for political affairs Francis Chigunta in Lusaka.

    During his Press conference at State House recently aimed at interacting with journalists on development issues, President Banda said he had assembled the plan and directed Dr Chigunta to make it available to the media for the people to understand his vision for Zambia after the elections.

    This was after the president was asked to tell the nation what his focus would be for the next five years having delivered infrastructure development in the three years that he had been in office.

    Dr Chigunta said President Banda had placed the fight against corruption top of his agenda after this year’s elections to give value to the economy and protect citizens’ welfare.

    He said the concept of more food for everybody would entail policies that promote agriculture and structure the cost of food in a way that the poor people would not be disadvantaged on account of unfair wealth distribution and high costs.

    The president wants high production levels of food while deliberately promoting access for the poor, Dr Chigunta said.He said the one on better schools for the children would entail providing adequate teachers in all the schools while improving on school requirements such as good quality classrooms.

    He said President Banda had decided that better health services should be provided to build on the mobile hospitals and the on-going construction of clinics and hospitals.

    The president would also focus on more investment promotions so the foreign direct investment could deliver more and secure jobs for the youth and other people.

    Dr Chigunta said the president’s vision was to leave a legacy that everyone would remember him for because there would be schools, roads, hospitals and other facilities in every district by the time he leaves office in 2016.

  3. Clinton lauds Zambia’s growth
    wednesday, June 15, 2011


    UNITED States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has commended the Zambian government for fostering development in the country.

    Mrs Clinton said the authorities in Zambia have made notable efforts in enhancing development in the nation.

    She said on Monday when she addressed the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that Zambia is among three African countries which have successfully diversified their economies to create jobs in various sectors of the economy.

    Mrs Clinton said that the efforts have contributed to poverty reduction as a result of the jobs which continue to be created.

    She commended the governments of Zambia, Ghana and Rwanda for investing in their economies and expanding financial services to grow businesses.

    “Zambia, Ghana and Rwanda are continuously reinvesting in their economies by building roads, power plants and expanding access to financial services to allow more people to start or grow their businesses,” Mrs Clinton said.

    She said the Obama administration would deepen partnerships with countries which have broad-based, inclusive and sustainable approaches to growth.

    She cited Zambia as one of the African countries which have significantly reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which effort will save many lives in the country.

    Mrs Clinton urged the African Union to empower African women to effectively participate in economic development.

    She said despite African women being hard workers, their work goes unrecognised in the formal economy.

    “If African women from Cairo to Cape Town decided to stop work for a week, the economies of Africa would collapse,” Mrs Clinton said.

    Speaking, earlier African Union Commission chairperson Jean Ping said it would not be possible to overcome challenges affecting Africa without partners such as the United States of America.

    Mr Ping said the AU-US partnership has contributed towards Africa’s quest for peace, security and development on the continent.


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