News Stories

What Makes a Democracy

On Dreamland, we're not afraid to ask the hard questions (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show). When we see signs of unrest in countries, such as the "Arab Spring," where young people are clamoring for a voice in the government, we ask ourselves why some nations become democracies while others don't. Researchers think it may have to do with kind of CROPS they grow.

People used to grow, hunt and gather everything they needed, but then they discovered trade--and after that, money. When that happened, farmers started specializing in one particular crop, which they would barter or sell in order to get the other things they needed. In the May 1st edition of the Wall Street Journal, Matt Ridley reports on research by Stephen Haber and Victor Menaldo, who say democracy has depends on growing grain, because it's a tradeable commodity that is easily grown on a small plot. Therefore, he writes, "the parts of the world suited to grain-growing have developed the institutions that build equitably distributed human capital, and hence democracy. This explains why democracy flourishes where rainfall is modest.

"Their idea has just as much to say about economic development as about politics. The key is perishability. Where farmers produced food that could be stored, especially cereal grain and pulses (peas and beans), trade flourished, specialization increased and cities emerged, filled with manufacturers, soldiers and priests who swapped their outputs for the grain supplied by the farmers." Ridley points out that tropical fruit is harder to store and therefore harder to trade, which is why a farmer of perishable fruit is at the mercy of a large organization that will can it or otherwise preserve it, the way Dole does with pineapple. Interestingly, some "fruit" societies have overcome this problem and become democracies by turning their crops into storable goods, such as olives into olive oil and grapes in wine.

If the recent killing of Osama bin-Laden brings out your fascination with conspiracy, the man YOU need to meet IN PERSON is Dreamland's conspiracy expert Jim Marrs (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show), who will be holding court in a nearby pub (as usual) at our Dreamland Festival in June!



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