A Short Post on the Long Game in Russia

While the recent trial, conviction, and incarceration of Pussy Riot have refocused Western attention on the sham that is “managed democracy” in Russia, the long game rumbles on. Two recent developments warrant some attention as portents of political change on a time scale the 24/7 press rarely discusses.

First, the opposition continues to get organized. On the eve of the Pussy Riot frenzy, an assemblage of opposition groups announced plans for an online election this October. If all goes according to plan, voters will choose a Coordination Council that will try to hash out some of the differences among Russia’s fractious opposition groups and lead a more effective campaign against the “power vertical.” To enhance its validity and heighten the contrast with politics as usual, the intra-opposition election will be publicly audited by experienced observer groups.

Second, Putin’s popularity continues to decline. According to a recent survey by the highly respected Levada Center, the president’s approval rating has slipped to 63 percent, about where it stood in the wake of December 2011’s scandalous elections. More telling, though, were the answers to a question about who respondents would like to see in the president’s post six years from now. On that score, only 22 percent named Putin, while 49 percent said they would like to see a new face as head of state.

In contrast to Joshua Foust, I’m not convinced that the elevation of Pussy Riot to Western cause célèbre is a bad thing. The group’s plight certainly isn’t novel, and some of the reactions of their case have been misguided or downright laughable, but the spectacle of the trial and the absurdity of the trio’s sentences may have helped sharpen many outsiders’ understanding of just how authoritarian the Russian regime really is.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that the Pussy Riot frenzy has basically been a distraction from the long game on which democratization in Russia really depends. This episode is to Russian politics what the scandal of the week is to the American presidential race: a momentary digression from a process that actually turns on deeper, slower-moving processes which are harder to see and less exciting to talk about.

The fact is, international outcry and diplomatic squeezes will not end Putinism. This regime will not come undone without serious pressure from its own citizenry. Of course, it’s hard to generate this kind of pressure—and, more important, even harder to sustain it—against a president who’s widely liked with an opposition that’s disorganized. Those two variables still tilt in Putin’s favor for now, but the developments highlighted above suggest they are trending against him.

Why the Communist Party of China Is Right to Worry about Popular Protests

China’s rulers are very nervous about collective action by their own citizens, and they have reason to be. Statistical forecasting of democratic transitions supports the supposition that, far more than leadership change or a slumping economy, the mobilization of nonviolent uprisings is what could tip China toward deep political reform. In the short term, the most likely outcome under all scenarios is a continuation of Communist rule, but the path to democratization seems almost certain to run through popular protests.

We know that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is very worried about collective action because they’re showing it. According to a recent study by social scientists Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Molly Roberts of more than 1,400 social-media services in China,

Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collection action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content. Censorship is oriented toward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future — and, as such, seem to clearly expose government intent, such as examples we offer where sharp increases in censorship presage government action outside the Internet.

We also know that, in spite of these efforts, popular protests are still happening in China, and their frequency seems to be increasing, particularly around issues of environmental protection and public health. According to a recent post on the International Herald Tribune‘s IHT Rendezvous blog,

Although there are tens of thousands of civic protests every year in China, most are small-scale, ineffectual and officially smothered. But high profile demonstrations over environmental issues are occurring with more regularity, size, violence and political oomph.

That last point about the size, violence, and “political oomph” of these popular challenges was driven home by photographs from a recent protest in the eastern Chinese city of Qidong, where citizens confronted local authorities over their plans to dump waste water from a paper plant and compelled them to reverse course.

How much of threat does contentious collective action really pose to Communist Party rule, though? To try to answer this question, I used a statistical model designed to predict switches from authoritarian to democratic rule to estimate the likelihood of that event’s occurrence in China under various alternative scenarios. Technical details follow at the end of this post, but here I’ll simply note that the model controls for several risk factors widely thought to influence the odds of a democratic transition, including prior experience with democracy, the duration of authoritarian rule, natural-resource wealth, and the end of the Cold War. On top of those structural conditions, the model also considers the following more dynamic factors (with the “other things being equal” caveat attached to all of the following statements).

  • Leadership Change. Democratic transitions are more than three times as likely for at least a few years after a new leader takes office as they are under longer-tenured leaders.
  • Economic Growth. As expected, transitions are more likely when growth is slower.
  • Civil Liberties. Also as expected, transitions are more likely to occur in autocracies that impose fewer restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly.
  • Nonviolent Rebellion. Autocracies are more than eight times as likely to transition to democracy when challenged by nonviolent civil-resistance movements as they are when these organized popular challenges are absent.

To see what this model says about prospects for democratization in China, I fed it values of the relevant variables under several different scenarios, starting with one representing the current state of play. In all of the scenarios, China experiences a leadership change in 2012 as expected, an event that should already more than triple its risk of democratization.

  • Baseline. GDP growth hits the Party’s latest target of about 7.5 percent, civil liberties remain unchanged, and no civil-resistance movements emerge in 2012.
  • Slow Growth. GDP growth slumps to a more bearish 5 percent in 2012, but civil liberties remain unchanged and no civil-resistance movements emerge.
  • Modest Liberalization. Civil liberties expand slightly, moving from 6 to 5 on Freedom House’s inverted seven-point scale, but growth hits current targets and no civil-resistance movements arise.
  • Popular Challenge. One or more nonviolent movements emerge, even as growth reaches current targets and no political liberalization occurs.
  • Popular Challenge and Slow Growth. Growth slows to 5 percent and one or more nonviolent movements emerge while the Party holds steady on civil liberties.
  • Crackdown. Growth slows to 5 percent and nonviolent movements emerge, but the Party responds by tightening the screws, dropping the country’s civil-liberties score from 6 to 7.

Now, here are the predicted probabilities of a democratic transition occurring in 2013 we get when we plug in the numbers for these various scenarios.

A few things stand out to me from that chart.

First and foremost, the likelihood of a transition to democracy occurring before the end of 2013 appears to be quite small in absolute terms, and that doesn’t change much under any of these scenarios. The predicted probabilities in the chart range from less than 0.001 under the baseline scenario—which already takes into account the leadership change that’s occurring this year—to a maximum of roughly 0.005 under the popular challenge-plus-slow growth scenario. Because democratic transitions are so rare—on average, only one or two of these happen worldwide in any given year—the forecasts this model produces are always skewed toward zero. Even taking that downward bias into account, however, these numbers are pretty small. To put them in perspective: a country would need to score about a 0.05 to land in the top fifth of all authoritarian regimes in any given year, and nearly all transitions have historically happened in countries somewhere in that fifth. In short, continuation of the status quo is by far the most likely outcome in China over the next year, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Bearing that in mind, I’m struck by how little the forecasts are moved by the ongoing leadership change and the prospect of a sharp economic slowdown. The former is already factored into the baseline forecast, which hovers perilously close to zero. As for the GDP growth rate, a drop from 7.5 percent to 5 percent would be a tremendous slump for China, unprecedented in its recent history, but the model suggests that variations of a few percentage points have not historically had much effect on the odds of regime change.

Last but not least, the chart clearly shows how strong the historical association is between the organization of civil resistance to authoritarian rule and the occurrence of democratic transitions, and what that patterns suggests about how democratization is likely to come about in China. The few scenarios that finally push the forecast upward all involve popular mobilization, and even a crackdown in response to that kind of agitation doesn’t do much to reverse that push.

Thus, of all the things that might happen in China in the next several months, the one that would probably have the biggest impact on near-term prospects for a democratic transition is the successful organization of a civil-resistance movement calling for fundamental changes to China’s political system. Intriguingly, statistical modeling of the conditions under which these movements get started suggests that, of all the countries in the world, China—because of its size and socio-economic development—is the most likely place for this kind of movement to emerge.


The model I used to generate these scenarios is a logistic regression model that was estimated with the ‘glm’ command in R from data for all authoritarian regimes in the world during the period 1972-2008. In the jargon of event history analysis, this is a “discrete-time logit” model that considers the risk of a democratic transition in annual slices while controlling for duration dependency, parameterized here as the natural log of the authoritarian regime’s lifespan in years, interacted with a binary indicator for countries that have attempted democracy before. The resulting model includes the following parameters:

p(transition to democracy | authoritarian rule) = f { any history of democracy + log(regime duration) + [history of democracy * log(regime duration)] + post-Cold War period + energy and mineral extraction as a % of GNI + civil-liberties index + annual GDP growth + any civil-resistance movements + any leadership changes in past three years }

The data on regimes and regime transitions used in this analysis comes from a data set I created for the Political Instability Task Force (PITF). The indicator of civil-resistance movements was taken from a data set created by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan for their widely-cited work on “why civil resistance works.” Data on GDP growth and energy and mineral extraction come from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators. The civil-liberties index is produced by Freedom House, and the indicator of leadership change is based on another data set created for PITF, this one by Monty Marshall.

If you are interested in seeing detailed results from this analysis the data used in it, please email me at ulfelder <at> gmail.

New Leaders and Political Change in Authoritarian Regimes (with an Eye on Ethiopia)

Does leadership change in authoritarian regimes open the door to democratic reform?

A post yesterday by Alula Alex Iyasu at the Royal African Society’s African Arguments blog implies that it does, or at least that it might in the case of present-day Ethiopia, where longtime leader Meles Zenawi is rumored to be gravely ill, dead already, or “recuperating,” depending on whom you ask. Whatever the precise condition of Zenawi’s health, Iyasu sees the leadership crisis spawned by this uncertainty as an opportunity for political and economic reform:

The next Prime Minister of Ethiopia should take this potential and impending leadership crisis and turn it into an opportunity – to reform and improve areas hampered by overreaching government policy and an absence of democratic institutions.  There is a golden opportunity to view the private sector as a true partner in national economic growth and not an entity to be feared and stymied. An opportunity to encourage public-private partnership as a means to raise capital for the kinds of ambitious development goals Ethiopia has outlined but lacks the funds. An opportunity to create democratic institutions with truly independent bodies that facilitate, arbitrate and encourage entrepreneurship.

Iyasu’s post is more prescriptive than diagnostic, but I think it also reflects a widespread view that leadership change in authoritarian regimes opens doors to more fundamental institutional changes. There are at least a few reasons this might be true. It may be that leadership transitions helps cause democratization by stimulating struggles among elites, thereby presenting would-be reformers with new room to maneuver. It may be that leadership change often coincides with democratization because both occur in response to increases in deeper pressures for political reform. A correlation between leadership change and democratization could also arise for sociological reasons; perhaps it’s the leader’s values that matter, and leaders who are personally committed to reform usually launch those changes soon after arriving in office, but you can’t get that effect without changing leaders first. And, of course, all of those statements could be true. Whatever the pathway(s), the point is that we might expect the likelihood of a democratic transition to be higher during the several years after a new leader takes the helm of an authoritarian regime than it is during the rest of their tenures.

So, is it? Talking on Twitter yesterday about Iyasu’s post, I suggested that leadership change wouldn’t make much difference in Ethiopia, but this morning I figured I ought to check that claim.

Details of the statistical analysis I used to do that are at the bottom of this post, but the bottom line is that I was probably wrong: in fact, authoritarian regimes are much more likely to transition to democracy during the several years following a leadership change, other things being equal. According to my estimates, a democratic transition is more than three times as likely to occur during the first three years of a new leader’s tenure as it is after a ruler becomes more established. That estimate comes from a statistical model that also accounts for the age of the authoritarian regime, the civil liberties it allows, and the occurrence of economic recession and nonviolent popular uprisings in the previous year, among other things. In the context of this kind of modeling, it’s a pretty big “effect.”

After seeing that relationship, I wondered if leadership change might also indirectly improve prospects for democratic transition by increasing the likelihood that a nonviolent popular uprising would take shape. To test that conjecture, I added the same indicator of new leadership to a model that tries to predict the starts of civil-resistance campaigns in authoritarian regimes. To my surprise, the association actually seems to run in the opposite direction; other things being equal, popular uprisings are only about half as likely to flare up during the first few years of an authoritarian ruler’s tenure as they are during later years.

For autocracies in general, this pair of results suggests that leadership changes do open the door to democratization, at least temporarily, and that the linkage between those two events does not run through popular uprisings. The association we see probably has more to do with elite infighting, the new leader’s values, or deeper forces that impel change in both leaders and institutions.

For Ethiopia in particular, those results imply that Iyasu has reason to be optimistic about widening opportunities of political reform in that country, whenever and for whatever reason Zenawi leaves office. My statistical forecast of Ethiopia’s prospects for democratic transition put it close to the bottom of the pile of authoritarian regimes this year, but a change in leadership would bump it up toward the middle of the pack, other things being equal. If the new leadership loosened restrictions on civil liberties as Iyasu recommends, those odds would get even better. Even with those changes, history tells us that the authoritarian regime would be more likely to survive than not, but I’ll take a forecast that calls for a few breaks in the clouds over portents of unending rain any day.


My indicators of authoritarian rule and transitions to democracy come from a Political Instability Task Force data set, while my indicator of civil-resistance campaign onset comes from Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s NAVCO data set. I used R’s generalized linear model (glm) command to estimate logistic regression models with the following covariates.

  • p(democratic transition | authoritarian rule) = any prior democracy (yes/no) + log(duration of authoritarian rule) + [any prior democracy * log(duration of authoritarian rule)] + post-Cold War period (yes/no) + civil liberties index (1-year lag) + any ongoing civil-resistance campaign (yes/no, 1-year lag) + negative annual GDP growth (yes/no, 1-year lag) + natural-resource wealth (categorical by tercile) + new leader (yes/no, 1-year lag)
  • p(onset of civil-resistance campaign | authoritarian rule) = log(infant mortality rate relative to annual global median,1-year lag) + log(total population relative to annual global median, 1-year lag) + post-Cold War period (yes/no) + any national elections (yes/no) + (post-Cold War period * any national elections) + civil liberties index (1-year lag) + negative annual GDP growth (yes/no, 1-year lag)  + new leader (yes/no, 1-year lag)

The estimated odd ratios for periods of new leadership (with lower and upper bounds of a 95% confidence interval) were as follows:

  • Democratic transition: 3.5 (2.2, 5.8)
  • Onset of civil-resistance campaign: 0.5 (0.2, 0.9)

To check the robustness of these results, I re-estimated the models with random intercepts for countries using the ‘glmmML’ package, and the parameters were basically unchanged. I also reran the models with an indicator that extended the “new leader” period to five years from three and got very similar results. For democratic transitions, they were essentially unchanged; for popular uprisings, the association was a bit weaker, suggesting that the period of depressed odds is short. Finally, I reran the models with continuous measures of leader’s time in office (logged) and got the expected patterns: other things being equal, as leaders’ time in office passes, the odds of democratic transition decline while the odds of a civil-resistance campaign forming go up.

If you’re interested in seeing the data and code I used, hit me up at ulfelder <at> gmail.

The Libyan Surprise

Libya doesn’t have a democratic government yet, but after yesterday’s elections, it’s awfully close. As Juan Cole summarizes, turnout for the national vote was good, violence was scarce, and voters were ebullient. If the national assembly these elections were choosing manages to convene and to appoint a government, Libya will have crossed the threshold to electoral democracy for the first time in its history.

According to prevailing theories of democratization, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Libya is an oil-rich country with no democratic experience in a part of the world where democratic development has lagged badly. Because of its oil, Libya is not poor, but decades of punitive rule by the Gaddafi regime left the country without the kind of organized “civil society” often cast as the workhorses of democratization. Theories of authoritarian breakdown predicted correctly that Gaddafi’s personalistic regime would end with a bang, but they also told us that democracy was unlikely to follow. Contrary to theories that see European and American democracy-promotion schemes as crucial catalysts of reform, democratization is occurring in Libya with virtually no outside prodding. Foreign forces helped tip the revolution against Gaddafi, and the U.N. has provided important technical assistance for the elections, but the impetus to the transition has really been domestic. Reflecting many of these conventional views, a statistical model I built to forecast when countries with authoritarian regimes would cross this threshold pegged Libya’s prospects for a transition in 2012 pretty close to zero.

Libya is also unusual in that it isn’t really a state right now, at least not a functional one. The National Transitional Council (NTC) that is supposed to step aside when the new assembly appoints a government is recognized internationally as Libya’s sovereign authority, but its domestic recognition is much weaker. By my reckoning, the Libyan state collapsed in 2011, and the NTC’s bumbling rule hasn’t reversed that process. I can’t think of another modern case where national elections were held successfully in a country that was as politically fragmented as Libya is today. The NTC is the nominal national government, but the country is largely being run by a melange of city and neighborhood councils and the revolutionary militias that midwifed their birth.

What the faithful might call a miracle, statisticians would call an outlier. Whatever tag we apply, this is clearly a happy surprise.

I don’t have much to say (yet) about why this surprise has happened. I will say that grand theories of democratization have failed plenty of times before, and efforts to construct new mid-range theories probably ought to wait a few more years for new patterns to cohere—not just in the Middle East and North Africa, but also in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia—before attempting to assert any new patterns with confidence.

Of course, even a successful transition would not put Libya on a glide path to a democratic future. As I discussed on this blog last year, most first attempts at democracy fail, usually within a decade of their start. At this early stage, there’s no reason to assume that Libya will also buck the trend on this side of the imaginary wall.

It might, though, and the fact that this possibility even exists is a welcome and delightful surprise—for the world, yes, but for Libyans most of all.

On the Consequences of Transition Politics for Democratization

In academic work on political development, the term regime transition refers to the period of time between the end of one political regime and the establishment of another. As Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe Schmitter say on page 6 of their Little Green Book, “It is characteristic of the transition that during it the rules of the political game are not defined. Not only are they in constant flux, but they are usually arduously contested.” Think Tunisia from Ben Ali’s ouster in January 2011 until the convocation of its elected Constituent Assembly in October of that year, or Egypt since Mubarak’s resignation (now 18 months and counting!).

So, we might wonder, does the way that transition unfolds affect the quality and duration of the democracy that ensues? Does it make a difference if, say, this period is characterized by negotiation and compromise instead of tumult and violence? If it’s carefully managed by the remnants of the old regime or driven by outsiders? If democracy is imposed by foreign forces instead of built from within?

According to an interesting paper upon which I recently stumbled—and, I gather, a forthcoming book based on the same research—authors Gary Stradiotto and Sujian Guo conclude the answer to that question is a resounding “yes”:

 The literature offers competing claims among scholars concerning the role the mode of transition plays in influencing post-transitional democracy. The authors reconcile these claims. First, they classify democratic transitions into four transitional modes, and hypothesize that cooperative transitions result in higher levels of democracy that last longer than other transition types. A method to quantitatively test the mode of transition (the independent variable) against democratic quality and longevity (the dependent variables) is developed. The results provide strong confirmation that states that transition through cooperative pacts are associated with higher levels of democracy and a lower risk of reversion compared to other transition types.

The question this paper is trying to answer is a really important one for participants in these transitions, who have to think strategically about how to try to push developments in a particular direction, and for policymakers and activists in other countries, who might wish to influence those trajectories as well.

As careful as the authors are in their analysis, though, and as plausible as their story is, I don’t think their research design succeeds in solving the vexing problems that make it so hard to answer this question with confidence. I’m thinking of two problems in particular.

The first is the problem of confounding factors. The conjecture that modes of transition might have lasting effects on the democracies they produce is rooted in the idea of path dependency, which is just a fancy way of referring to the persistent influence of events or conditions deeper in the past than the moment or period we’re studying. Using this language, the hypothesis Stradiotto and Guo are exploring could be restated as the idea that the survival and quality of democracy after a transition depends, in part, on the form of the politics that occur during the transition process itself.

That statement seems obviously true, and yet it’s devilishly hard to prove. The problem is that transitions don’t occur on blank slates, and the history that preceded the breakdown of the old regime might—really, must—also have some effect on both a) what form the transition takes and b) what happens afterwards. For example, numerous scholars of comparative democratization have argued that the structural features of an authoritarian regime affect the likelihood that the regime will break down, and if it breaks down, that democracy will follow (see here, here, and here). Others emphasize the effects of even deeper forces—things like Jared Diamond’s argument about the persistent influences of climate and geography on political and economic development, or Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James Robinson’s claim that institutions imposed at the time of initial colonization have powerfully shaped developmental trajectories right up to the present.

When confounding factors are present, it’s really hard to be sure that the patterns we see are causal and not just coincidental. An analogy might help here. The trajectory of a golf ball, for example, is highly path dependent. Changes in wind speed and direction after the ball is struck will have some effect on where it lands, but, under most conditions, the ball’s flight path is largely predetermined by the way it was struck. If we wanted to explain why balls land where they do, we could analyze the relationship between distinct flight paths–hooks, slices, worm-burners, and such–and landing spots, and we would find a strong association between the two. But, of course, it’s not really the flight path that caused that outcome. Instead, it’s the club selection and swing mechanics that caused that flight path to occur, and it’s the training and experience that caused those swing mechanics and club selection, and so on. If our analysis began the moment the ball left the ground, we would find strong patterns in our data, but we would misunderstand the causes of those patterns.

To look for independent effects of transition modes in the face of this problem, we can’t just pile measures of likely confounding factors into a statistical model and expect to have “controlled” for them. Instead, we have to think more like experimenters. One way to do this is to focus on variation within sets of cases that have similar values on potential confounding factors. Matching before modeling and conditional regression are two ways to do this. Mixed-effects models with cases clustered by likely confounders might work, too, although this could get quite messy if those confounding factors aren’t nested. I suspect the causal-inference pros could suggest many others, and in any case, my point is that, without some more careful structuring of the comparisons, we really can’t tell if variation in the mode of transition is causing variation in outcomes, or if that variation in modes is just symptomatic of deeper differences that would likely have doomed or blessed the ensuing democracy anyway.

The second big problem is selection bias. Stradiotto and Guo limit their study to cases where democracy happened and exclude ones where a transition led to something else. “Excluding cases that never reach a democratic threshold is not problematic,” they argue, “as we are only concerned with understanding how the mode of transition influences the resultant democracy.”

In my view, this isn’t quite right. To fully understand how modes relate to outcomes, we also have to consider transitions that failed to produce democracy. Freek Vermuelen nicely illustrates why in an old post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network called “Beware the Dangers of Selection Bias”:

Consider, for example, the popular notion that innovation projects require diverse, cross-functional teams. This notion exists because if we analyze some path-breaking innovation projects, we see they were often staffed by such teams. However, it has also been suggested (see for instance the work of Professor Jerker Denrell from Stanford Business School) that diverse, cross-functional teams also often created the biggest failures of all. However, such failures never resulted in any products… Therefore, if we (only) examine the projects which actually resulted in successful innovations, it seems the diverse cross-functional teams did much better. Yet, on average, the homogeneous teams—although not responsible for the few really big inventions—might have done better; always producing a reliable, good set of results.

What Stradiotto and Guo are analyzing is the outcome, conditional on the successful conclusion of the transition. If we’re interested in how the dynamics of the transition process shapes prospects for democratization, though, I think it’s pretty clear that we’ll also want to consider how those dynamics affect whether or not democracy even arises in the first place. Indeed, in an earlier stab at this problem, Gerardo Munck argues that modes of transition have strong effects on both of those stages:

All too often the literature on modes of transition has failed to distinguish between transitions from established regimes and transitions to new regimes and thus reduced the assessment of modes of transition to their impact on the consolidation of democracy. The mode of transition not only affects the consolidation of new regimes but also helps to determine whether the transition is to democracy or some other regime type.

In sum, confounding factors and selection effects make it very hard for us to identify the marginal effects of transition modes on prospects for democratization, and I don’t think Stradiotto and Guo succeed in overcoming these problems in their recent contribution to the literature on this timely question. Perhaps the authors have addressed these issues in their forthcoming book, which I look forward to reading. In the meantime, it’s frustrating that we don’t have much of an answer to this very important question, especially at a moment when so many countries are experiencing these kinds of transitions. Unfortunately, though, I think that’s still where we are.

What We Should Call What’s Happening in Egypt

Yesterday, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court re-scrambled that country’s already-messy politics by dissolving the country’s recently elected parliament and overturning a law that would have barred the old regime’s last prime minister from participating in the upcoming presidential runoff election. Although the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) didn’t actually issue those rulings, it appears to have endorsed them. “From a democratic perspective, this is the worst outcome imaginable,” Shadi Hamid told the New York Times. “This is an all-out power grab by the military.”

What should we call this turn of events? Judging from Twitter feed, no one’s really sure. Lots of observers are calling it a military coup, but others object, noting that the military never gave up power in the first place. That fact suggests that the court’s rulings might be described as a kind of self-coup, or autogolpe, but those tags are usually applied to situations where elected officials short-circuit the electoral machinery, and Egypt’s ruling junta was most certainly not elected. More generally, the struggle between SCAF and its political rivals has been cast as a still-unfolding process of revolution and counterrevolution, and yesterday’s rulings are being described by some as a decisive blow in favor of the latter.

The question of what to call the various twists and turns in Egyptian politics in the past year and a half isn’t purely semantic. The labels we choose should reflect our thinking about the nature of the process involved and the historical cases to which we might usefully compare it.

I don’t think we can figure out what to call yesterday’s events without first choosing a conceptual framework to characterize the larger change process in which those events are embedded. As a student of comparative politics, I’m going to make a case for anchoring the discussion in theories of authoritarian breakdown and democratization. The best of these theories a) distinguish between different phases of regime change and b) recognize that the outcome at each of those phases is not predestined.

Regarding phases, most theories of regime change now usefully distinguish between breakdown, transition, and consolidation. Breakdown refers the dismantling or collapse of existing patterns of political authority; consolidation refers to the reinforcement of, and habituation to, new patterns; and transition is just what we call the interval between the two, when the rules are in flux or undefined.

When the regime that breaks down at the start is authoritarian and the transition involves talk of competitive elections, we might say that democratization is occurring, but we don’t actually get to democracy until a freely and fairly elected government takes power. Once that happens, we can start talking about democratic consolidation. Sometimes, though, one form of authoritarian rule is simply supplanted by another, in which case we have breakdown, transition, and consolidation without democratization. When transitions drag on for too long, we get a collapsed state, but that’s a topic for another day.

With that lexicon in hand, I think it’s a little easier to figure out how to describe Egypt’s trajectory over the past 16 months. The story starts in January 2011 with a nonviolent popular uprising, or what Erica Chenoweth would call a campaign of civil resistance. In and of itself, that uprising did not constitute a regime change, but it did succeed in triggering the breakdown of the decades-old authoritarian regime characterized simultaneously by the formal dominance of the National Democratic Party, the political power of the military, and the personal power of Hosni Mubarak.

The breakdown of the Mubarak/NDP regime kicked off a period of transition, and in the Egyptian case, it’s fair to say that transition also involved democratization. Civil liberties were expanded (albeit fitfully), parliamentary and presidential elections were held, a new legislature was seated, and a constitutional assembly was even formed.

Crucially, though, the forces that seized power at the start of that transition have never actually relinquished it. When Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that state authority was passing to the then–newly formed SCAF, and that body has retained virtually all of that authority ever since.

The result has been a twin-streamed process entailing both democratic transition and authoritarian consolidation. As the democratic transition has unfolded, SCAF has simultaneously set about consolidating its own power, and those two processes have often been at odds. These competing streams were neatly reflected in the outcome of presidential election’s first round, which set up a showdown between Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister and former commander of the Egyptian Air Force, and Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the country’s most popular political organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.

While it’s too soon to say that Egypt’s democratic transition is dead, there’s no question that the dissolution of the recently elected parliament has badly wounded it. Instead of a coup, we have what wrestlers would call a hard takedown. The match between authoritarian consolidation and democratization isn’t over, but SCAF is ahead in points and has now democratization on its back.

If SCAF cancels or manipulates the second round of presidential elections and then sets about writing a new set of national political rules on its own, I think it would be fair to say that Egypt’s democratization process has been aborted, and that we have officially entered a new phase involving the open consolidation of military rule. If, however, SCAF allows the presidential election to proceed—and, more importantly, either calls fresh legislative elections or allows the recently convened constituent assembly to proceed with its work—then I think we could more accurately describe this week’s events as yet another bend in Egypt’s highly uncertain, still-ongoing, twin-streamed transition.

In Which I Acknowledge Adam Przeworski’s Brilliance and Then Argue with Him in Absentia

A few weeks ago, the blog ABC Democracy posted a video of Adam Przeworski speaking at a Kenyon College conference entitled “Should America Promote Democracy Abroad?” Przeworski is widely and justifiably considered one of the preeminent scholars on comparative democratization, so I was very curious to hear what he had to say on a topic that greatly interests me.

It turned out that I agreed wholeheartedly with Przeworski on the conference’s titular topic, but I disagreed with a few assertions he made along the way about the state of our knowledge on transitions to and from democracy. I thought I would take advantage of my blogger’s platform to engage in a virtual dialogue with Przeworski on those issues and then close on some points of agreement.

Point of Disagreement #1: We Can’t Predict Transitions to Democracy

Here’s what Przeworski said, starting at about the 46-minute mark, with the part to which I’m responding in bold:

In spite of an enormous amount of research over the past 30 years, we don’t have a general understanding of why dictatorships fall. There are [sic] statistical work that introduces every possible factor you can imagine–not just the kitchen sink, the grandmother’s attic. And the results are, one, not robust, and, two, in statistical terms, have very weak predictive power. Which leads me, after many years of this kind of work, to believe that, in fact, dictatorships run many different, idiosyncratic risks and fall for idiosyncratic reasons.

Przeworski is surely correct that there are many pathways to democracy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use statistical models to forecast where and when democratic transitions will occur. In fact, we’ve got solid evidence that we can.

In a report I wrote for my old job as research director for the Political Instability Task Force, I summarized the results of modeling exercise aimed explicitly at assessing the likelihood of transitions to and from democracy in countries worldwide since the early 1970s. As the report describes (pp. 22-24), a relatively simple statistical model discriminates fairly well between impending transitions and durable autocracies. In an out-of-sample forecasting exercise using a simple decision rule (Top 20), that model correctly flagged 26 of the 29 impending transitions (sensitivity of 90 percent) as “high-risk” cases while producing roughly nine false positives for each of those true positives (specificity of 73 percent).

Those accuracy rates are far from perfect, but they’re also a lot better than chance, which is what I hear in Przeworski’s phrase “very weak predictive power.” The specific causes and catalysts of democratic transitions may vary widely over space and time, but there seem to be enough commonalities across recent cases that we can get a decent read on which ones are “ripest” for this kind of change.

Point of Disagreement #2: Well-to-do Countries Never Backslide

According to Przeworski,

We do understand quite well conditions under which democracies survive…There is a fact, which you probably know because I know that some of you have read it, but which continues to be astonishing, which is that no democracy ever fell in a country with per capita income higher than that of Argentina in 1976.

This fact may not be as, well, factual as Przeworski believes. As I noted in a recent post, using economist Angus Maddison’s estimates of GDP per capita, I can think of at least two breakdowns of democracy in countries richer than Argentina in 1976: Thailand in 2006, and now Hungary in 2011.

To be fair to Przeworski, Thailand in 2006 was not much richer than Argentina in 1976–their per capita incomes were $8,238 and $7,965, respectively–and not everyone would agree that Hungary’s crossed the line into authoritarian rule in 2011.

Still, that there’s some doubt about this “iron rule” of politics has deeper implications for our understanding of democratization, and “development” more generally. In American political science, at least, the prevailing view is that democracy is the best and final form of government attained by countries as they modernize and “mature,” politically and economically. This view seems to find confirmation in a world where democracies that have crossed some developmental threshold never fail. If democracy sometimes does fail even in richer countries, however, then the whole premise of modernity as the end stage of a process of growth and maturation becomes a bit muddled. The strong correlation between wealth and the survival of democracy is still there, but the inference from that correlation that modernity is a package deal looks a bit shakier.

Point of Disagreement #3: The Risk of Democratic Breakdown Falls with Each Passing Election

Around minute 49, Przeworski says:

One thing that’s striking is that elections seem to be a self-institutionalizing mechanism. By this, I mean the following: that once a country holds one decent election, the probability that the democratic regime will be overthrown in the future declines rapidly. I can tell you, without an election is 1 in 8; after one election, 1 in 25; after two elections, 1 in 55; after three elections, 1 in 90. So that first decent election–and not even with alternation that was Sam Huntington’s criterion–just having an honest election in which there’s some competition and somebody wins, the winner occupies the office of government and runs an honest election again, that’s enough.

Once again, that’s not the pattern I see. In the report I mentioned earlier–and blogged here in September–I find that the risk of backsliding actually increases over time until democracies are in their teens or even early 20s. In Przeworski’s terms, the pattern I see implies that democracies have to survive at least a few election cycles before their risk of breakdown starts to decline, other things being equal. At the same time, I also find that alternation in power does make a big difference; other things being equal, democracies that have seen at least one alternation of the party in power are less than half as likely to fail as ones that have not.

Maybe this disagreement is, at least in part, an artifact of differences in the measures of democracy employed by our respective studies. Unsurprisingly, I happen to think my measure is more useful, but plenty of people use the version on which Przeworski’s assertion is based.

Still, that we can’t be sure Przeworski’s pattern is real is a big deal, not the least because it suggests very different strategies for interested parties seeking to support the survival of democracy in cases that have recently established it. In Przeworski’s world, a strategically minded supporter might focus her efforts on the first one or two elections. In my world, that supporter pretty much needs to keep worrying until a democratic alternation in power occurs. If we’re not sure which of those worlds we inhabit but we care deeply about the survival of democracy, then we’ll probably want to err on the safe side and assume the risk persists much longer than Przeworski’s inference about elections as a “self-institutionalizing mechanism” would lead us to do.

Points of Agreement

Alongside those points of disagreement, there were many things Przeworski said with which I agree wholeheartedly. I’ll close with a couple of those bon mots:

Identifying the causal effects of any kind of policy intervention is extremely tricky.

Yes, in a world with no “control” group, a relatively small number of events, and a dense web of causes and interventions, it’s virtually impossible to say anything with confidence about the marginal effects of specific policies and programs on the prospects for democratic transitions and consolidation.

Last, and without comment:

Look at the United States from the point of view of Russians or the Chinese…It’s a country where half of the population doesn’t vote, even in presidential elections; where barriers of entry to politics are enormous; in which practices which in other countries would be considered political corruption are ubiquitous; a country with the highest degree of inequality among the developed countries; a country in which, at least for black American males, being free means only being out of jail; the oldest democracy in the world which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. I think that, if democracy promotion is to be at all credible and at all effective, it should begin at home.

The WTO as Catalyst of Democratization

In a statistical analysis written up a few years ago in the journal Democratization, I found that countries belonging to the World Trade Organization (WTO) or its predecessor, the GATT, were more likely to attempt and sustain democratic government than ones that did not. By contrast, I found no such “boost” from participation in global or regional human-rights treaty regimes. This WTO effect showed up in models that also included a measure of trade openness, suggesting that the increased trade flows that membership is supposed to produce were not the source of the association. The statistical analysis wasn’t properly designed to identify a causal relationship, but I speculated that the WTO effect had to do with institutional and organizational changes it spurred within countries seeking to join:

Of all the organizations included in this analysis, the GATT/WTO is the one most explicitly and exlusively linked over the past half-century to deliberate Western efforts to globalize liberalism as such. Working in tandem with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the GATT/WTO has encouraged developing countries to create and sustain certain laws and practices in order to realize benefits from increased economic exchange with the world’s wealthiest states. Although democracy is not an explicit criterion for membership, it is certainly part of a larger suite of of liberal institutions and norms that are preferred by these organizations and their most powerful members. The decision to participate in this regime sets in motion a range of elite and technical exchanges aimed at producing certain kinds of institutional outcomes. In this manner, formal participation in this liberal project may facilitate or accelerate the development of local and international expectations, and even specific new actors, conducive to the establishment and persistence of democracy.

I was reminded of my conjecture by a story I read this morning on Laos’ ongoing effort to win WTO membership. At this point, 159 countries are already members, so we don’t get that many more chances to observe the effects of joining on domestic political economies. Still, this one seems to fit the story line so far:

After almost a decade of major economic transformation, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is on the brink of World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership.

But the small country’s Herculean effort to join the exclusive trade club is a reminder to the ten other least developed countries (LDCs) now seeking membership of the cumbersome process involved.

“LDCs think it is easy to accede to the WTO, like becoming a United Nations member, but it is not,” Nicolas Imboden, director of the Geneva-based Ideas Centre, told IPS. The non-governmental organisation has been counselling Lao PDR, whose accession will be completed in October, for fourteen years. It is now starting to assist Liberia and Comoros, two other least developed countries on a waiting list that also includes Afghanistan, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Sao Tome, Sudan, Vanuatu and Yemen.

“They have to adopt the rules of the WTO and this is a huge task for most of them,” said Imboden. “They must undertake reforms, completely revise their legal systems and establish rules that apply to all foreign investors and importers, without discrimination.”

Imboden noted that many LDCs justify clamouring for membership on the grounds that it will open up new markets, a motive he argued is “flawed”, since LDCs already have good trade relations with most countries.

Rather, the “benefits” of membership are mainly domestic: aligning national economic policies with the WTO regime sets up the basis for improved economic efficiency and attracts companies eager to invest in these countries, not because of their market size, but to export to the neighbouring region.

“Reforms related to WTO accession require a change of attitude, not only a change of law,” Khemmani Pholsena, vice-minister of industry and commerce for Lao PDR, told IPS. “Lao PDR has reviewed and enacted some 25 trade-related laws and 50 other legislations since 2000. And I believe that these reforms will strengthen the rule of law, thereby cutting down on undue privileges and possibilities of corruption.”

If the statistical model is capturing something real, then these transformations should marginally improve the odds that Laos will transition to democracy. Of course, the observed “effect” is probabilistic, not deterministic, so I’m not suggesting that Laos will start holding free elections as soon as it joins.

I do, however, expect that Laos will eventually democratize, and that when it does, that data point will further reinforce the clear liberal trend in human political organization. As far as I’m concerned, what I said at the end of that 2008 paper still holds:

Taking a longer view, the evidence that international integration and the global trend toward democratic rule are interrelated is compelling. In his landmark work on the dynamics of political institutions over time, Paul Pierson reminds us that change processes involving complex causes and slow-moving outcomes are not readily explained by the kinds of models social scientists usually employ, especially in statistical analyses. When we focus narrowly on the kinds of discrete transitional moments studied here, these limitations do not loom so large. If we switch our vision to the long haul, however, they could be critical.

From a historical perspective, we might think of these transition events as the visible signals emanating from a slower-moving but also much-harder-to-quantify process of political and economic development that includes institutions at the levels of state and society as well as regime. Watching for patterns at this temporal and geographic scale is a bit like watching for climate change. The mechanisms generating the larger pattern are extremely complex and undoubtedly include elements of endogeneity, contagion, threshold effects, and feedback loops, to name just some of the possibilities. This kind of causal complexity makes it very hard to isolate the effects of specific variables, especially when the data we might use to test those relationships are often scarce or unreliable. And yet a pattern emerges. The production of greenhouse gases accelerates, temperatures rise, glaciers retreat, and species disappear.

Meanwhile, trade flows swell, international organizations, proliferate, more countries attempt democracy, and fewer of those democracies fail. The nexus of these trends almost certainly lies in the functional links between democracy and economic development–links that promote exactly the kind of positive feedback loops Pierson identifies as a key mechanism for path-dependent change in political institutions. When governments discover they cannot survive by force alone, they must find ways to secure the habitual, quasi-voluntary compliance of the populations they seek to rule. To secure that compliance, they need to promote prosperity and remove incentives to rely on force as a means to effect political change.

The second half of the 20th century demonstrated convincingly that the combination of democratic governance with market-based economies offers the most effective means to achieve those ends in a durable way. That combination does not always produce immediate gains, but at present there appears to be no sustainable alternative, so polities that try democracy and fail almost invariably try again. As Robert Bates argues, ‘The creation of limited government may not be sufficient to secure high levels of investment, much less the growth of national economies. But assurances to investors surely are necessary to secure the formation of capital,’ and thus to allow economic growth to occur. As technological and political developments have expanded the possibilities for global exchange, governments have increasingly reached out to one another in an effort to create new opportunities for growth and then to help their citizens realize the resulting gains. Thus, even as the instantaneous and visible status of many countries’ domestic political institutions remains highly volatile, the historical trajectories point decidedly toward a world increasingly composed of states with elected governments linked by dense networks of economic exchange and political and legal entanglements.

Democratization by Heart Attack? The Peculiar Case of Malawi

Malawi has a new president. Last week, President Bingu wa Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) died unexpectedly of a heart attack. After two days of obfuscation and delay, the government finally lined up behind the constitution and accepted that Vice President Joyce Banda would succeed him. On Saturday, Banda was sworn in to office.

What makes Banda’s ascent to the presidency unusual is that it marked a transfer of power from ruling party to opposition in an authoritarian regime without an election or a rebellion. Banda had become vice president as Mutharika’s running mate in 2009, but she was expelled from the DPP in 2010 after a dispute with the president and recently said she had not spoken with Mutharika for more than a year.

Under these circumstances, Banda’s inauguration as president is remarkable. While the constitution is clear on the matter, the initial signals from the government were not promising. A strong press from Malawian activists probably discouraged the DPP from pursuing an extra-constitutional solution to its dilemma, and signals from foreign governments may have helped as well. Whatever the precise causes, though, I can’t think of another case like it. As Malawi researcher Kim Yi Dionne put it on Twitter, the DPP came into power without winning an election, and now it’s gone out of power without losing an election.

Until this strange succession, Malawi had followed a path of political development that’s typical for a relatively poor, post-colonial country. Malawi first transitioned to democracy in 1994, a year after crippling drought, a wave of anti-government protests, and the suspension of foreign aid spurred “president-for-life” Hastings Banda to convoke a national council that midwifed the birth of multiparty politics some thirty years after independence.

The survival of that democracy was in doubt as early as 2004, when Mutharika first won the presidency in elections tilted, according to E.U. observers, by the incumbent party’s flagrant abuse of state resources and intimidation of its rivals. Those flaws were repeated in the general elections of 2009, when Mutharika won a second term and his DPP solidified its hold on the legislature with a 113/193 majority.

Whatever doubts remained about the diminution of democracy in Malawi were erased in the past two years as President Mutharika openly threatened his partisan rivals and trampled civil liberties, one of the bright spots in election observers’ recent assessments. In July 2011, the government responded to anti-government protests over inflation and unemployment with a harsh crackdown that killed 19 and arrested nearly 300. Meanwhile, the government was engaging in a campaign of intimidation against journalists, activists, and its partisan rivals. When a leaked memo revealed that the British high commissioner had criticized Mutharika as “arrogant and intolerant of criticism,” Mutharika had the high commissioner deported.

By my standards, democracy won’t really be restored in Malawi unless and until the country holds new, free, and fair elections. As it stands, both the new chief executive and the DPP’s parliamentary majority won office on a tilted playing field.

Still, the initial signals are promising. So far, President Banda has sacked the police chief linked to the lethal repression of July 2011; opened an investigation into the death of a prominent anti-government activist; and fired top government officials suspected of trying to block her ascension to the presidency over the weekend. Meanwhile, a coalition of leading civil-society groups is keeping the pressure on with a statement on the political transition that cautions President Banda against seeking revenge on her DPP rivals, calls for reforms in election administration and the police, and casts a jaundiced eye on a rush of defections by legislators from the DPP to Banda’s People’s Party.

As promising as those developments are, Malawi’s next elections aren’t due until 2014, and two years is a long time. I wonder: Is Banda really trying to dismantle autocracy, or is she just trying to tilt the power balance in favor of her own faction? Whichever is true, how will entrenched interests respond? If the history of democratization teaches us anything, it’s that these victories are often fleeting, and the work of defending them never ends.

Economic Inequality, Democracy, and Inferential Sand Castles

One of the most important and influential research programs in comparative politics in my professional lifetime depends on data that are, in my view, far too flimsy to support the inferential edifices we keep trying to build with them.

I’m talking about research on the relationship between economic inequality and democracy. This topic is hardly new–Karl Marx had some important things to say about it in the mid-1800s–but interest in the subject was renewed in the early 2000s with the publication of books by comparativist Carles Boix (2003) and economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (2006).  Drawing intellectual inspiration from Marxist political sociology, both books casts politics as, at its roots, a struggle between rich and poor over the distribution (or redistribution) of wealth. The poor want more of it, but they have a hard time getting and staying organized enough to take it from the rich, who can usually use their wealth and power to dispel or repel any challenges. When the poor finally do manage to organize a credible and formidable threat, however, wealthy elites may offer democratic government as a form of compromise, allowing them to concede the redistribution of some wealth without having their assets seized or suffering the costs of a long fight.

Boix and Acemoglu & Robinson identify several factors that contribute to the relevant actors’ strategies, but the one around which a major research program has emerged is economic inequality. According to Boix, democratic transitions are most likely to occur when inequality is low. In Acemoglu & Robinson’s model, democratic transitions are most likely when inequality is either very low or very high. Whichever model we use, though, the implication is that democracy emerges as a strategic concession to pressures on the haves from the have-nots under conditions that are specific enough to test, provided we have the requisite data.

These authors’ theoretical models are explicitly intended to explain hundreds of years’ worth of institutional stability and change in all parts of the world, and their work has inspired many new and interesting research projects in comparative politics. When I started attending academic conferences in the mid-2000s, this topic seemed to be gulping down most of the intellectual oxygen in the field of comparative democratization. Whole panels were devoted to the topic, usually more than one per conference, and I was often told that my statistical analyses which excluded inequality (see here and here for examples) were incomplete. Some of the projects spawned by this burst of activity have produced articles that have appeared in the discipline’s most influential journals, including one in the most recent issue of the American Political Science Review.

Here’s the problem, though: Democratic transitions are rare events. So, to test the broad historical claims these authors make, we need reliable measures of economic inequality from a large number of countries for long periods of time. Coarse measures would suffice if the relevant theories were only concerned with gross and static variations in inequality, but they’re not. These theories are meant to be dynamic, and they posit that modest differences or changes in the degree of inequality can have significant effects.

The measures of economic inequality we actually have, however, are nowhere near that good. To accurately measure economic inequality, we need to observe variation in assets, income, or consumption at the individual or household level. (See this paper for a careful discussion of different ways to measure inequality.) That kind of observation can only happen through well-designed surveys or carefully kept tax records. Everything else is guesstimation, often with very wide confidence intervals. Of course, household-level surveys rarely happen in poor countries, and they hardly happened anywhere until fairly recently in human history. Poor countries also tend to have poor tax records, and even the records in wealthy countries are sometimes suspect.  We also know that some dictatorships simply don’t share this kind of data with the outside world–Cuba and North Korea are still black holes in major cross-national economic data sets–and when they do, the validity of the reported values is often suspect.

These problems are all clearly reflected in the gaps and confidence measures in the leading source of data on this topic, the World Bank’s Measuring Income Inequality Database (a.k.a. Deininger & Squire). Browsing the data in country-year format, it’s easy to see that many countries (e.g., Afghanistan) have few or no observations; countries generally come online as they get richer (e.g., Latin America in the latter half of the 20th century); and where poor countries are included, the data are often marked as unreliable. In one paper on the topic, Christian Houle notes that the Deininger & Squire dataset includes observations for just 10% of all country-years during the period 1950-2001. Ten percent! And that’s just for the most recent half-century. Other scholars have attempted to improve on those data–see here for one prominent effort–but no alchemy can spin reliable measures from thin air.

In short, there’s a systematic relationship between the existence and quality of our observations of inequality and the very outcomes we’re trying to explain. For statistical analysis that’s meant to generate causal inferences, this is the worst kind of problem to have.

Given that problem, it’s hard for me to understand how the field of comparative politics has come to take the results of these studies so seriously. If we want to stick to cases where we have reliable measures of inequality, we have to limit our analysis to recent decades in richer countries, where there’s little or no variation on the dependent variable. What we can’t and never will be able to do with confidence–because no one can go back in time or reconstruct surveys or records that never existed–is a global analysis of the relationship between income inequality and political instability in the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe the requisite data will become available to study this relationship in poorer societies of the future, but the past is mostly lost to us.

This hasn’t stopped many from trying, but the flimsy data on which those studies are usually based makes me wonder how we’ve come to consider the results to be much more than intriguing curiosities. I understand and agree that this is a really interesting and important question. One of the frustrating things about being a social scientist, though, is that there are often important questions to which we simply can’t provide clear answers. I believe this is one of those questions, and I hope this post has convinced a few of you of that, too.

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