Sunday, November 1, 2020

Review of After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy by Christopher J. Coyne

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Politics

Short Description



Elaborate Description

The U.S. has been involved in many reconstruction efforts in weak, failed, and illiberal states. The major reason for these interventions is the war on terror which should make the world safe for democracy. These efforts had some success, but the author finds that the majority of cases, the efforts were either inconsequential or counterproductive. In many cases the efforts created conflict rather than helping spread democracy. The purpose of this book is to examine why some intervention efforts succeeded, why some efforts failed, and whether intervention is necessary at all.


For reconstruction efforts to be successful, the rules of the games set by the occupiers have to be maintained after the occupiers leave. To do this, the occupier needs to rebuild formal and informal institutions. As part of the effort deals with creating a democratic preference, that means that there are institutions in which individuals express their preferences, having institutionalized constraints on the executive, and civil liberties for everyone during daily and political life. What is known is what is needed for functioning democracy. What is not known is the tacit knowledge in how to bring functioning democracy about.


Expanding the same resources on different intervention efforts will not yield the same results. The same resources will create different outcomes in different places and at different time due to a host of factors primarily known as culture. Culture is defined by informal institutions which constrains human interaction. Values and belief systems passed down from generations before. Any resource use will have a variety of cultural constrains which may become less effective or counterproductive.


Part of what makes reconstruction efforts successful is aligning behaviors with broader aims. If there are or were institutional norms which helped people coordinate before the state failed, utilizing those norms reduces transactions costs and enables coordination. Views of what is expected to happen and that which actually happens can shape the way the occupying force is seen, as those expectation make a set of actions appear to be liberating in a given situation or in the same situation be seen as hypocritic and opposed to what the people need. The aims of the occupying force may be vastly different from what the people want. An unwillingness of the people to part from their prior institutional experience.


This book utilizes economic concepts to explain the politics of reconstruction efforts. Game theory and public choice theory are used to show how cooperation can be brought about or how conflict can become perpetuated. This book is split between a few chapters of theory base explanations and then chapters using examples of when reconstruction efforts succeeded and failed. It can sometimes be a tedious read. Blending the theory within the historical explanations potentially would have made this a more fluid read. The book is a bit limiting in explaining the historical examples, although short reviews of the situations are made. Providing more detail about the historical situation would have provided more credibility to the claims being made.


Weak, failed, and illiberal government may not be conducive to the people and foreign nations, but that does not mean that foreign government intervention will solve their problems. Each government is constrained by public choice and other factors that can bring about inappropriate outcomes such as making the situation worse. Coyne suggests that nonintervention methods should be experimented with given the failure rate of interventions. The US can reduce market barrier to foreign countries who will then be able to experience democracy and seek to emulate democratic governments. Rather than claiming liberalism by using illiberal means, the US can create wealth in poor countries which exposing them to Western institutions.


Book Details

Edition ISBN: 9780804754408
Pages to read:  196
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability     5
Content           5
Overall           5