Do political dynasties make countries less democratic?

at 02:21 PM ET, 03/11/2012

Political dynasties have persisted in democratic countries, as those with family political ties still make up about 6 percent of the members of Congress and up to 40 percent of the legislature in Mexico and the Philippines, UNICEF economist Ronald Mendoza notes in a new paper for VoxEU. In certain ways, these dynasties exacerbate existing economic inequality and make political power less democratic, reducing access to political power among those who don’t have the privilege of politically connected families and the wealth that often comes with them. In the Philippines, for example, Mendoza finds that political dynasties are most prevalent in the poorest areas of the countries.
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose husband was president first. (Marcos Brindicci - Reuters)

“Either poor people continue to vote for political dynasties, or dynasties continue to frustrate poverty-reduction efforts,” Mendoza says. “Neither of these explanations is palatable for most of us who long to see development accompany democracy.”

But although political dynasties may reinforce or exacerbate inequality due to income, they can also make political power more accessible to other underrepresented groups, Mendoza acknowledges. “One study of political dynasties in the US Congress showed how dynasties helped to improve the gender balance in the US Congress, by allowing more female legislators to get in via their familial ties,” he writes, citing a 2009 paper. The so-called widow effect has subsided in recent decades, but family connections are still a key method of entrance for women into Congress.

 
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