My point is that respect for the rule of law does not necessarily result from free and open elections. Respect for the role played by the rule of law in the general welfare may need to exist before democratic institutions can establish strong foundations.
Daron Acemoglu argues that “if you wish to fix institutions, you have to fix governments” and I’m not sure that I agree that governments are the starting point for reform. On the other hand, his view that we should push non-democratic regimes to be more transparent and democratic and encourage foreign citizens to use technological tools to organize themselves can be supported on first principles without an appeal to economic growth.
Thus, while I am supportive of Acemoglu’s specific recommendations, I am not sure that they are sufficient to “fix institutions”. Think about European history. Europe exited the middle ages and began to develop a merchant class long before it could lay claim to democratic governance. The development of wealthy merchant enclaves in Italy led kings in other parts of Europe to cede their legal jurisdiction to “merchant law” in special economic zones that facilitated the growth of taxable wealth. Over time cities where merchant interests predominated became centers of wealth throughout Europe — and the value of “merchant law” became obvious. In England trade facilitated the merger of common law with the merchant law developed on the continent and helped lay the foundations of economic growth there. Thus, the foundations of contract law had deep roots in Europe that preceded the revolutions which subjected monarchs to the rule of law by centuries.
In short, only after the value of the rule of law in common affairs was well established were democracies able to flourish in Europe. Thus, if the goal is to “fix institutions”, it is possible that supporting economic growth in non-democratic regimes by pursuing goals like those of Paul Romer’s charter cities
may be more effective than pushing democracy on countries that lack the economic foundations to maintain their democracies.