The European Public Choice Society had its annual conference in Braga (Portugal) in the week of the 11th of April. To give you an idea of what is hot and happening in the field of political economy, Joes interviewed attendants of the conference. For this interview, he spoke with Yasmine Elkhateeb, who is writing a paper on the effect of the usage of the internet on people’s support for democracy. You can find the working paper here.
Joes: “Could you please tell me something about the paper you are presenting at the EPCS conference?”
Yasmine: I am presenting a paper on internet use and the perception of democracy in Africa. We are looking at whether using the internet to access the news affects people’s preference for democracy, and will this affect their satisfaction with and perception of the level of democracy in their country? I have a set of 25 African countries, in which we look at these two questions. The preference for democracy we call the ‘demand for democracy’, and we combine the satisfaction and the perception of the extent of democracy to measure the ‘supply of democracy’.
Joes: What I can imagine being difficult for your research, is that people may live in a society in which the government underperforms, and people blame democracy for that, even though the faults of the government are exactly that it is not sufficiently democratic and does not stick to the rule of law. Can you take care of that in your data, or is that a problem for you?
Yasmine: It is difficult to assess that, but interestingly, when we looked at the impact of the internet we thought that because they have information from beyond the border of their country, so they can have a better idea of democracy. And that they would want and demand more democracy because of that. But the use of the internet actually has a negative impact on their view of democracy. This was surprising to us. We are still figuring out what is happening there. Now we think that maybe in democracies the use of the internet makes people distrust democracy, while in autocracies the use of the internet may lead people to prefer democracy.
Joes: So what do people who are against democracy want instead?
Yasmine: Well, we ask people whether they prefer democracy to any other type of governance. The second question we ask is ‘Can sometimes non-democratic governance be preferred?’. If they answer yes, we ask whether they want a specific type of autocratic rule: ‘Do you agree to have a one-party rule? Or military rule? Or presidential dictatorship?’. And surprisingly some people would like to have that, so they think that a certain type of autocratic rule is more appropriate than their actual regime.
Joes: Do you think that is because these people are regime-insiders or a social group favoured by the current regime? Or do they just like getting hit with a stick once in a while?
Yasmine: I think there might actually be people who think that without a stick you can’t keep order. But I cannot tell from the data who these people exactly are.
Joes: So, Churchill is proven wrong after all, democracy is not necessarily the least bad type of government.
Yasmine: Not to everyone everywhere, indeed.