Coyne’s “After War” Challenges US Political Economy

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On Thursday, February 8th the Loyola University Economics Club hosted Dr. Christopher Coyne, assistant professor of economics at West Virginia University and author of “After War.”

In “After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy”, Coyne uses the tools of economics to analyze the ability of the US to export democracy abroad. He analyzes the American intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguing that the US failed to establish democracy by falling into traps of reconstruction:

The Credible Commitment Trap: “Without a binding commitment to reforms that is credible, policymakers may have an incentive to renege in future periods.” In other words, the lack of consistency in policy decisions lowers the credibility and efficiency of the powers exporting democratic principles.

The Fatal Conceit Trap: Reconstruction is based on the idea that authorities have the knowledge necessary to identify and implement an efficient master plan that would provide a solution for all sectors of a country. This concept ultimately limits the development of the occupied country.

The Political Economy Trap: Crucial to Coyne’s argument is the distinction between democracy and liberal democracy. As explained in the book:

Democracy deals with the method of selecting government officials, while liberal democracy deals with the goals of government: the protection of individual rights, the rule of law, and so on. (p. 11)

In other words, limiting the goal to the implementation of democracy did not lead to constitutional democratic societies.

The Bureaucracy Trap: The United States failed to export liberal and constitutional democracy because of too much reliance on bureaucratic agencies and the public sector. According to the author, bureaucratic agencies compete over scarce resources and limited budgets while depending on inefficient information flows.

Due to these constraints, Coyne argues that “reconstruction efforts are least likely to work precisely where they are needed most”. The author proposes the following steps in order to effectively promote liberal democracy abroad. The US should:

  • Disengage from current military occupations
  • Refrain from future military occupations to establish liberal democratic institutions
  • Reduce trade barriers with the ideal goal of reducing them to zero with as many countries as possible

In his conclusion Coyne identifies non-intervention and free trade as the viable means to overcome the four traps and effectively promote liberal democracy.

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