Christopher S. Magee, Professor of Economics
Some recent papers have concluded that authoritarian regimes have faster economic growth than democracies. These supposed growth benefits of autocracies are estimated using data sets in which growth rates rely heavily on data reported by each government. Governments have incentives to exaggerate their economic growth figures, however, and authoritarian regimes may have fewer limitations than democracies on their ability to do so. This paper argues that growth data submitted to international agencies are overstated by authoritarian regimes compared to democracies. If true, it calls into question the estimated relationship between government type and economic growth found in the literature. To measure the degree to which each government’s official growth statistics are overstated, the economic growth rates reported in the World Bank’s World Development Indicators are compared to a new measure of economic growth based on satellite imaging of nighttime lights. This comparison reveals whether or not dictators exaggerate their true growth rates and by how much. Annual GDP growth rates are estimated to be overstated by 0.5-1.5 percentage points in the statistics that dictatorships report to the World Bank.
Magee, Christopher S. and Doces, John A. “Reconsidering Regime Type and Growth: Lies, Dictatorships, and Statistics.” International Studies Quarterly 59, no. 2 (2015) : 223-237.