How Democracy Mitigates Earthquake Damage

All things — including wealth — being equal, earthquakes kill more people in dictatorships than in democracies, write NYU political scientists Alastair Smith and Alejandro Quiroz Flores. They reason that democratically elected leaders prepare their countries for disaster better because they fear they’ll be voted out of office if their governments are caught unprepared. (Dictators obviously tend to worry less about election outcomes.) A recent World Bank study backs up this argument, with an added wrinkle: institutionalized autocracies, like China’s, tend to outperform non-institutionalized or corrupt autocracies as well as young democracies when it comes to preventing earthquake deaths. Still, another study finds that politicians in democratic elections benefit even more from doling out disaster relief after a catastrophe than they do from preparing for disasters yet to come. [%comments]

Ian Kemmish

Maybe they're both just correlates of whether a country is a "first world" or an emerging economy?

Eric M. Jones

We could argue that the US is hardly a democracy any more than the Ringling Bros circus is a wildlife preserve...but we would get nowhere. Instead I criticise this study for its miserable choice of data sets...The Earth.


Notice that there are only two major earthquake regions, the Circum-Pacific Belt and the Alpine-Himalayan Belt.

Now examine the problems with the data:

1) There are almost no damaging earthquakes in Africa (and Saudi Arabia), Central and Eastern US and Canada, Russia, Northern Europe, Australia, eastern South America, China and India.

2) There is no 2) Refer to 1) Anything else the study has to say based on this is idiotic.


Or maybe it's because democracies also tend to be wealthier, and wealtheir people live in homes that are better constructed and more resistant to earthquake damage. Plus wealthier countries have more resources to assist with post-earthquake relief.


Alejandro ! Alejandro ! Ale-Ale-Ale-Alejandro!


more interesting would be to look at building code regulation and earthquake damage

Jonathan Katz

China built schools that were almost guaranteed to collapse in an earthquake, and did so. They didn't outperform anybody in preventing earthquake deaths.

Democracies respond, imperfectly but better than any other system, to the concerns of their people. Surviving earthquakes is one of them. The Chinese would change their system if they could.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Most Dictators exist in the Equitorial Belt of the World, where it is hotter, tropical and more populated. This includes hotspots like Sub Sahara Africa, the Arab World, Central America, the South China Seas and Indonesia, and Southeast Asia,

By contrast cooler more northern climates have the most Democracies. More wealth, more equitable distribution of wealth, better planning, and more education.

The fact that they are wealthier, means their building have more scientific based construction techniques, higher quality material and better underlying infrastructure. Overall they also suffer from less corruption which makes society more efficient than dicatorships and enable small but critical things like building inspectors who actually are committed to safer earthquake proof buildings.

The equator contries also suffer from existing on fault lines from tectonic plates colliding, such as the geologic collisions of the European, Asian, African continent plates in Asia Minor affecting the volatile Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent buckling with Asia, the Pacific Subduction Zone Ring of Fire running thru Central America and South America Contrast this with relatively earth quake free countries of Canada, Australia and Russia compared to poor authoritarian Regimes in Haiti, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

Maybe chronic disasters like earthquakes can compromise weak democracies precipitate the emergence of a Dictator?


Howard Brazee

In an institutionalized autocracy, failure for bureaucrats can be significant.

When the cost of failure is more significant than the return of success, people work to lessen risk.

When CEOs get big money with failure, and bigger money with success, they seem to prefer more risky strategies.


@5, exactly: and deeper than the building code, how about the architecture of the legal code itself? I can't help but notice that societies built on the Napoleonic code (vs. Magna Carta) tend to more prone to corruption, hence less apt to see tax dollars go where they should, and more apt to see them line the pockets of bureaucrats. This, of course, is what Katrina-stricken New Orleans and Haiti have in common.

Sachin Joshi

While we are on the topic of effectiveness of democracy let me add a simple fact that in first-past-
I recently blogged about this on my blog "Does Democracy make most people unhappy?" on

Main idea is that Democracy is necessarily representative and there is always a problem associated with how to count votes and how minorities are represented. There is always problem of popular vote vs electoral vote.
One of my pet ideas is to have a tri-cameral house.But again being a computer engineer I was just curious about how democracy will work with computerization.

- in UN 8% population