Please turn on JavaScript

Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Leeson and Dean: The Democratic Domino Theory

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Leeson and Dean: The Democratic Domino Theory

The Bush administration believed that establishing democracy in Iraq might embolden reformers in other lands seeking to spread freedom.  In remarks to the national Endowment for Democracy at the United States Chamber of Commerce on November 6, 2003, President Bush said
Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.
Peter Leeson and Andrea Dean refer to the idea that establishing a democratic government in one country increases the probability of neighboring countries adopting more democratic institutions as the democratic domino theory.  They attempted to measure the size of the domino effect in "The Democratic Domino Theory: An Empirical Investigation."  The abstract of the paper reads
According to the democratic domino theory, increases or decreases in democracy in one country spread and “infect” neighboring countries, increasing or decreasing their democracy in turn. Using spatial econometrics and panel data that cover over 130 countries between 1850 and 2000, this article empirically investigates the democratic domino theory. We find that democratic dominoes do in fact fall as the theory contends. However, these dominoes fall significantly “lighter” than the importance of this model suggests. Countries “catch” only about 11% of the increases or decreases in their average geographic neighbors’ increases or decreases in democracy. This finding has potentially important foreign policy implications. The “lightness” with which democratic dominoes fall suggests that even if foreign military intervention aimed at promoting democracy in undemocratic countries succeeds in democratizing these nations, intervention is likely to have only a small effect on democracy in their broader regions.
Like beauty, the "lightness" impact is in the eye of the beholder.  If we are successful at establishing more democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, is an 11% increase in surrounding countries significant?


  1. A step in the right direction should never be underestimated. If the domino effect causes an 11% increase in surrounding countries, than it is logistical to say that a proportional increase would take effect in the countries that surround the "surrounding countries". I believe that in the long run the more countries that become "infected" by democracy, the better off the world will be as a whole—even if the “infection” only increases democratic influence by 11%.

  2. Michelle Toups3/11/09 10:50 PM

    11% is more free than 0%, however, this 11% may only be enough for the country to taste, leaving them wanting more, but unable to attain it. This may cause the nation to become discouraged or give up or cause riots in the streets, whereas before, they did not expect freedom and learned to accept life. Then again, the 11% may be just the beginning of gaining 100% freedom, and therefore, would be incredibly important to the nation. The beginning is usually the most difficult part. This way, the nation has at least begun to gain freedom. The lightness truly is in the eye of the beholder.

  3. Kolby Kilgo4/11/09 7:44 PM

    yes, 11% is progress. IN time that number should rise. after the people in that country get a better idea and get used to more freedom- they will want more. you just have to take one step at a time. Eventually things will become closer to the acutal goal.

  4. Dana Neeper7/11/09 6:24 PM

    It is true that a country works as a major influence to its surrounding neighbors. If we make Iraq into a democracy 11% of its neighboring countries will follow.Unfortunately 11% is not a lot, but it is a step towards becoming 100% democratic.

  5. Rina Patel16/3/10 9:08 PM

    "Monkey See, Monkey Do" Also known as the Domino Effect, One will start and others are sure to follow. Over time, the 11% will rise, slowly but surely it will.

  6. the 11% is better than none at all....i agree with Rina, "monkey see monkey do".....obvioulsy it would take some time....but it can happen....

  7. Patricia Gager22/3/10 1:33 PM

    While data indicates an approximate 11% increase in democracy in neighboring countries, in the big scheme of things, this number is too small to call it a success in my opinion. I don't think that 11% is enough to make a significant change in a broad spectrum. What I am hearing people say is the price of losing many American lives by military intervention in other countries is worth a 11% "possibility" of democracy in neighboring countries. I fail to see the benefit.

  8. Lyntoria says
    11% is the a lot better than 0%. I believe good things take time to achieve. When most people realize that they have some freedom, they are going to want more. While it will take some time they will eventually achieve it. The U.S. wasn’t always how it is now; we kept chipping at the ice until it was sculpt to our liking. Although we have a couple of kinks that need to work out, we have a plan and without a plan we have planned to fail.

  9. Andrea Garza4/4/10 12:49 AM

    I think in time the goal will be met. Although 11% may not be a lot right now but down the road I can see an increase in democratic influence. It is the whole “monkey see, monkey do" idea as others have mentioned. Counties are key influences to others around them being significant.