After finishing the previous post, a clearer way of presenting the idea of a "benevolent" regime occurred to me. Essentially, we can classify all regimes along two dimensions: the degree to which the executive is constrained by formal institutions, and the degree to which the state (directed by the executive) engages in killing, political imprisonment, torture, and so on. Using the CIRI data on the protection of physical integrity rights, the Polity IV measure of executive constraint, and the DD measure of political regimes (by Cheibub, Gandhi and Vreeland) we then get the following four-fold classification:
Benevolent regimes are on the upper left hand quadrant: here, rulers are formally unconstrained but nevertheless have, on average over the last 30 years, respected the physical integrity rights of their subjects. These tend to be relatively wealthy, as we can see, and many of them are absolute monarchies: the Qatar of al-Thani (2001-2008), the Oman of Sultan Qabus ibn Sa'id (1981-2008), Swaziland under various monarchs, Bhutan under Sigme Wangchuk (I've labeled the top 5% of the regimes by the benevolence measure, though they may be hard to see, and some are missing from the plot because they don't have GDP data). But many of them are poor countries (even if their GDP figures are occasionally inflated by oil discoveries, for example) and frankly a bit surprising: Gabon under Bongo (1981-2008), Burundi under Buyoya (1981-1991), Malawi under Banda (1981-1993), for example. All of the latter were rulers who consolidated their power long before 1981, I think; so perhaps with a longer dataset we would get somewhat different results. But still, it is worth noting that "the good" are sometimes long-established autocrats.
The bad are typically regimes that hold elections and have formally constrained executives, but where public opinion and the political class is indifferent or even supports violating the rights of various groups of people: Colombia, India, Israel, Indonesia, all make appearances here, as well as South Africa under Apartheid and Peru during the Sendero Luminoso years. The constraints have stopped working with respect to particular groups - poor peasants in Colombia, native peoples in rural areas in Peru, people who are thought to be associated with separatists in the Philippines, Palestinians in Israel.
The ugly are the usual suspects: your typical unconstrained, megalomaniacal dictator, like the regimes of Gaddhafi in Libya, Kim Jong-il in North Korea, Milosevic in Serbia, Mobutu in Zaire, Marcos in the Philippines, Galtieri in Argentina, al-Bashir in Sudan, Hoxha in Albania, Taylor in Liberia, and so on. It's the dismal roster. Interestingly, Buyoya of Burundi appears again here (1996-2000) among the unconstrained - a striking illustration of the fragility of mere benevolence.
The constrained are the boring regimes - not without problems, to be sure, but about as well-functioning as we usually get. (Though some, of course, may note that constrained regimes "internally" does not mean that the regime will be constrained "externally"; as I mentioned in the previous post, threats to the state seem to turn constrained regimes bad).
Here, just for the hell of it, is a list of countries ranked by their average degree of benevolence; the boxes tell you were how much their "benevolence" has varied over time, and the dots are the outliers - years where their benevolence has strayed far from the mean:
|Fig. 2. Regime rankings by benevolence. Dashed lines identify the USA, Venezuela, and New Zealand|
We can see at a glance that "benevolence" is mostly a phenomenon of autocracy, though a few democracies have above-average levels of it; and that malevolence is mostly a democratic phenomenon. Yet benevolence among autocracies varies a bit more than among democracies; your average benevolent despot is not extremely reliable, perhaps. (Note also how Burundi is represented at the top and the bottom of the scale, with two different regimes). It is mostly countries in the middle of the distribution that have consistent records of protecting rights, though they are not unblemished.
Here a final picture ranking countries by their average levels of protection of physical integrity rights (thickness of the line represents democracy level; color represents level of protection - darker blue is better; each colored line shows changes from 1981 to 2008):
|Fig. 2: Ranking of countries by avg. levels of physical integrity protection, showing changes during the 1981-2008 period. Dashed lines identify the USA, New Zealand, and Venezuela|
New Zealand has done very well during this period (by this measure at least), but the USA ranks 35 out of 167, with a big dip at the end of the period, and a spotty record (note the light blues in earlier years); and Venezuela's state has been going bad since 1989, with the Caracazo. More dictatorships appear at the bottom of the scale, but also many democracies. Interestingly, the end of the cold war seems to have produced improvements in the protection of rights in very few countries; at a glance, only Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Albania stand out. But New Zealand is only in the middle of the benevolence ranking; it does well because its constraints have worked, not because its rulers are unusually benevolent, though perhaps its constraints have worked because public opinion has been reasonably enlightened, and public opinion has been reasonably enlightened because it has faced no big conflicts in the recent past.
(Some messy code that produces these and other graphs is here).