Origins of Early Democracy

Ali T. Ahmed, David Stasavage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The idea that rulers must seek consent before making policy is key to democracy. We suggest that this practice evolved independently in a large fraction of human societies where executives ruled jointly with councils. We argue that council governance was more likely to emerge when information asymmetries made it harder for rulers to extract revenue, and we illustrate this with a theoretical model. Giving the population a role in governance became one means of overcoming the information problem. We test this hypothesis by examining the correlation between localized variation in agricultural suitability and the presence of council governance in the Standard Cross Cultural Sample. As a further step, we suggest that executives facing substantial information asymmetries could also have an alternative route for resource extraction-develop a bureaucracy to measure variation in productivity. Further empirical results suggest that rule by bureaucracy could substitute for shared rule with a council.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)502-518
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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