Trade Liberalization and Democracy

A Research Note for the Policy Planning Staff, Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 10 June 2013


The aim of the proposed study is to analyze whether trade liberalization has facilitated market economy and democracy, how to reinforce this impact through complementary policies and how to use trade liberalization to achieve a democratization in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This study is to be elaborated in a cooperation between economists and political scientists, and its findings / policy recommendations are to be discussed and agreed with scholars from France and Poland. To organize this cooperation, the research questions need to be addressed and operationalized in different modules.

The present notes describe how a political analysis module could contribute to this study. The analysis proposed here should discuss the plausibility of the different causal mechanisms that link trade liberalization to democratization, in view of the political situation in Russia and the other post-Soviet states. There is a significant body of quantitative, large-n research on the relationship between trade liberalization / globalization and democratization. Based upon a cursory review of the literature, one can state that existing studies do not unequivocally confirm a positive impact of trade liberalization on democracy (see table). This is, inter alia, due to the underspecification of the response variable and the causal heterogeneity associated with variable-centered quantitative research. Since these studies are designed to identify mean effects for a large number of cases, they do not explore country-specific configurations of causal factors.