Does democracy promote capital account liberalization?

David A. Steinberg*, Stephen C. Nelson, Christoph Nguyen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Conventional wisdom maintains that democracy promotes market-oriented economic reforms. This paper argues that democracy’s effect on economic liberalization hinges on international-systemic factors. To develop this argument, we focus on one important reform issue: capital account liberalization. We hypothesize that the level of financial openness abroad moderates the relationship between democracy and financial policy at home. An open global financial system increases societal support for capital account liberalization and incentivizes democratic leaders to liberalize the capital account. Analyses of country-level panel data demonstrate that democracy is only positively associated with capital account openness when proximate countries maintain open capital markets. Firm-level survey data and an illustrative case study of Argentina provide support for the mechanisms by showing that policy choices abroad influence domestic support for capital account liberalization. Our findings suggest that integrating domestic- and international-level variables in a single framework improves our understanding of the political economy of reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)854-883
Number of pages30
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2018


  • International finance
  • capital account liberalization
  • capital controls
  • developing countries
  • economic reform
  • political institutions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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