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Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places

Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places

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by Paul Collier

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“Collier has made a substantial contribution to current discussions. His evidence-based approach is a worthwhile corrective to the assumptions about democracy that too often tend to dominate when Western policy makers talk about the bottom billion.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Before President Obama makes a move he would


“Collier has made a substantial contribution to current discussions. His evidence-based approach is a worthwhile corrective to the assumptions about democracy that too often tend to dominate when Western policy makers talk about the bottom billion.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Before President Obama makes a move he would do well to read Professor Paul Collier’s Wars, Guns, and Votes. . . Unlike many academics Collier comes up with very concrete proposals and some ingenious solutions.” — The Times (London)

In Wars, Guns, and Votes, esteemed author Paul Collier offers a groundbreaking, radical look at the world’s most violent, corrupt societies, how they got that way, and what can be done to break the cycle. George Soros calls Paul Collier “one of the most original minds in the world today,” and Wars, Guns, and Votes, like Collier’s previous award-winning book The Bottom Billion, is essential reading for anyone interested in current events, war, poverty, economics, or international business.

Editorial Reviews

Kenneth Roth
Whatever one's feelings about Collier's recommendations, there is no denying that he has made a substantial contribution to current discussions. His evidence-based approach is a worthwhile corrective to the assumptions about democracy that too often tend to dominate when Western policy makers talk about the bottom billion.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this accessible and very sensible analysis, Collier (The Bottom Billion) argues that the spread of democracy after the end of the Cold War has not actually made the world a safer place, as the West has "promoted the wrong features of democracy: the façade rather than the essential infrastructure." The author hypothesizes that an insistence on elections without a system of checks and balances has led to widespread corruption, nations mired in ethnic politics and economic underperformance. Collier examines the effect of civil wars, coups and rebellions on burgeoning democracies, founding all arguments on methodology and data sets that provide a hard, quantitative view of political violence. While many of his observations are insightful and occasionally prescient, his analysis weakens when it strays from the data and enters more theoretical territory. However, the author maintains an approachable style and reaches beyond jargon to provide a highly readable account of the complex realities facing the developing world. Collier's suggestions are pragmatic, and although they may incense ideologues, most readers will connect with this common sense approach matched with obvious expertise. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A leading expert on the economics of developing nations spells out his prescriptions for solving problems that haven't been fixed by democracy. Collier (Economics/Oxford Univ.; The Bottom Billion, 2007, etc.) combines scholarly analysis with an engaging writing style to quantify why elections and other manifestations of free societies have been far from a panacea for much of the world. Developed, affluent countries can deal with the messiness and inefficiency that accompany a democratic system, but he shows that many poorer nations are too structurally dangerous to handle these things. After examining economic and voting data to find out why liberal democracy has fallen short, he concludes that the main culprits include tribal warfare, autocratic leaders' tendency toward corruption and insufficient democratic tradition. He focuses on Africa, Asia and Latin America, using case studies from those regions and anecdotes gleaned from personal conversations with officials in several countries. He doesn't discuss the Iraq War much but provides a withering critique of the mindset that led to it. Though sometimes lapsing into academic jargon, the author succeeds in making his material accessible to general readers. Those with knowledge of economics and international affairs, however, will be at an advantage. Collier's goal is to make the case for additional involvement, preferably by the United Nations, to fill the gaps caused by democratic shortcomings. He realizes this is a hard sell: "The key idea is that a minimal international intervention could unleash the powerful force of the political violence internal to the bottom billion as a force for good instead of harm. As such it recognizes thatthe scope for robust international action is very, very limited." His proposals include more international efforts to ensure fair elections and fiscal restraint and to discourage poor countries from spending too much on defense. Rigorous analyses plus policy prescriptions make for a readable treatise.

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Wars, Guns, and Votes
Democracy in Dangerous Places

Chapter One

Votes and Violence

Our times have seen a great political sea change: the spread of democracy to the bottom billion. But is it democracy? The bottom billion certainly got elections. They were heavily promoted by American and European pressure, and, as the most visible feature of democracy, they were treated as its defining characteristic. Yet a proper democracy does not merely have competitive elections; it also has rules for the conduct of those elections: cheating gets punished. A proper democracy also has checks and balances that limit the power of a government once elected: it cannot crush the defeated. The great political sea change may superficially have looked like the spread of democracy, but it was actually the spread of elections. If there are no limits on the power of the winner, the election becomes a matter of life and death. If this life-and-death struggle is not itself subject to rules of conduct, the contestants are driven to extremes. The result is not democracy: I think of it as democrazy.

The political system that preceded democrazy was personal dictatorship. Usually it did not have even the veneer of an ideology. Personal rule reached its apogee in President Mobutu of Zaire, whose extraordinary system of government is depicted in Michela Wrong's In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz. Personal rule meant ethnic favoritism and the erosion of the institutions of the state. Mobutu's power came to rest on greed and fear: his patronage might reward loyalty with unseemly wealth, and his thugs might punish suspected opposition withtorture. Where there was an ideology it was Marxist, such as the Derg regime in Ethiopia, and the MPLA in Angola; grim and ruinous regimes that attracted a predictable swath of support among the Western left. More commonly the Marxist ideology was a decorative veneer, a language of politeness appropriate for the circles in which political leaders mixed, much as Christian sentiments must have been de rigueur in a nineteenth-century drawing room. In Zimbabwe, where this make-believe blossomed, there was a politburo and everyone was referred to as comrade. Such undemocratic regimes looked as though they were inviting violent opposition. Mobutu and the Derg were both overthrown by rebellions, and the MPLA faced a huge uprising from UNITA.

Across Africa, Latin America, and Asia during the 1990s, autocracies fell like ninepins. Sometimes citizens took heart from the example of Eastern Europe and massed in the streets, the most stunning instance being the overthrow of President Suharto in Indonesia. Sometimes aid donors made further funding conditional upon democracy, the best-established instance being Kenya, where the diplomatic community recognized that President Moi could be pressured. Sometimes autocrats saw which way the wind was blowing and decided to go with the flow. Autocrats commonly surround themselves with sycophants, and this probably helped the process of democratization on its way. Imagine what an autocrat who is contemplating democratization is going to ask his entourage. There is really only one question: if I hold an election, would I win? And what can a sycophant say? Quite possibly the sycophant has no clue: it has not been his job to gauge public opinion. However, even if he suspects that people detest the president, he has a problem. Hasn't he been telling the president for years how much his people love him? Those advisers who told the president the truth tended not to last long as advisers.

At least three autocrats got caught this way, Suharto in East Timor, Kaunda in Zambia, and Mugabe in Zimbabwe. All let citizens vote because they were sure they would win. Suharto lost East Timor as a result: people voted overwhelmingly for independence. Kaunda did a little better than Suharto: he managed to get about 20 percent of the vote, so some people did indeed love him, namely those in his home region, which he had favored with public spending. As the results came in he was naturally outraged that citizens had been so ungrateful. Quite what might have happened at that point we will never know. Fortunately, Jimmy Carter was in the country leading a team of election observers. As the results started to come in, Carter sensed what to do. Rushing to the presidential palace, he felt Kaunda's pain and stayed there until it was too late to annul the election. After all, he had lived through a similar experience. With Carter there in the palace, Kaunda had little choice but to accept the defeat. Whether he would have done so without Carter is an open question: reputedly he then went around the capitals of Africa advising presidents not to make his mistake.

And President Mugabe? By the mid-1990s President Mugabe had followed the fashion, adopting a constitution in which there were multiparty elections and term limits on the presidency. Many dictators agreed to term limits, confident that by the time the limit was due to bind they could change the constitution by one means or another. And so term limits turned into time bombs. President Putin of Russia is, of course, the most spectacular example of a successful constitutional side step: don't even bother to change the term limit, make yourself prime minister and shift effective power from the presidency to the new position. President Obasanjo of Nigeria tried but failed to extend his term, as did President Chiluba of Zambia. Presidents Deby of Chad and Museveni of Uganda were more successful. President Mugabe decided to change the constitution, removing the term limit and drastically increasing presidential powers. To do this he needed a referendum. It was this that he lost. Unfortunately, the referendum did not coincide with a presidential election, and so Mugabe continued as president, now knowing that he would lose a democratic election. I will return to the problem he faced shortly. For the present I want to stay with the spread of democracy. Country by country, governments subjected themselves to competitive elections. Sometimes they won, sometimes they lost, but either way, opposition was now better able to express itself.

Wars, Guns, and Votes
Democracy in Dangerous Places
. Copyright © by Paul Collier. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Paul Collier is a professor of economics at Oxford University. He is the author of The Bottom Billion, which won the Lionel Gelber Prize and the Arthur Ross Book Award of the Council on Foreign Relations. He lives in Oxford, England.

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