The relevance of social policies for democracy: preventing autocratisation through synergies between SDG 10 and SDG 16

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Leininger, Julia
Lührmann, Anna
Sigman, Rachel
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Leibniz Information Centre for Economics
Global threats to democracy – one of the world’s most important forms of inclusive governance – have been rising recently. This paper assesses the effects of social and economic inequalities on autocratisation, meaning a decline in the democratic qualities of a political regime. The key question we study is whether different types, levels and changes in distributional inequalities (Sustainable Development Goal 10) contribute to the erosion of democratic institutions, thereby making governance less inclusive (SDG 16). The paper focusses, in particular, on distributional inequalities and more or less inclusive forms of governance (autocracy vs. democracy). Our findings suggest that conventional measures of income inequality – namely the Gini coefficient – have little to no discernible relationship to the likelihood of a decline in the democratic qualities of a political system. By contrast, inequalities in the provision of social services, particularly healthcare and education, have a clear and consistent relationship to the likelihood of autocratisation. As countries provide social opportunities more equally across their population, they are significantly less likely to experience a weakening of their democratic qualities.. The paper provides an empirical analysis of data from a global sample of countries from 1945 to 2017. Unlike most studies of the effects of inequality on political outcomes, we consider not only income inequality but also inequalities in the distribution of social services such as healthcare, education and welfare. Unequal social opportunities are potentially important for understanding a decrease in democratic quality because they represent individuals’ experiences with the government beyond simply paying taxes, and they affect citizens’ prospects for future social and economic mobility. In addition, citizens with access to social goods and services such as healthcare and education are more empowered to hold the government accountable. In other words, (better) access to social goods and services (SDG 10) helps to achieve SDG 16. The findings provided in this discussion paper are meant to be a starting point for further studying how – and through which mechanisms – equality and inclusive institutions are linked to each other.
Working Paper
This paper was prepared as a background paper for the Global Sustainable Development Report of the United Nations, which will be presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2019. It was made possible with financial support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ).
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German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Bonn
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35 p.
Leininger, Julia; Lührmann, Anna; Sigman, Rachel (2019) : The relevance of social policies for democracy: preventing autocratisation through synergies between SDG 10 and SDG 16, Discussion Paper, No. 7/2019, ISBN 978-3-96021-098-6, Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Bonn,
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This publication is a work of the U.S. Government as defined in Title 17, United States Code, Section 101. Copyright protection is not available for this work in the United States.