It is always fascinating when you have more than one set of variables in play or when the cause-effect link is more complicated than you imagined.
Consider this simple question: Why do regimes turn democratic?
There are many possible answers: It could be for political reasons (to create support for the regime), for economic reasons (greater transparency and efficiency), for internal reasons, for external reasons, because of popular demand or because actors force democratisation upon the regime.
And how about this: Should you democratise first and then liberalise the economy – or expect that a liberal economy leads to the adoption of a democratic form of government? And what about economic crises – do they lead to authoritarianism or democratisation? And what about climate change, now we’re at it?
As it is, a couple of VoxEU posts (and the underlying research) suggest this pattern:
The first one is: Economic liberalisation does not lead to greater support or demand for a democratic form of government. On the other hand, having a democratic government in a country increases the legitimacy of a liberal economy.
The second one is: Economic hardship – in the form of droughts – is linked with democratisation, at least in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So maybe, if you want, economic liberalisation a severe economic crisis followed by democratisation is the best way to go.
The next question is how this squares with Fareed Zakaria’s claim (from 2003) that – provided a country isn’t based on an extractive economy – a GDP above 6000 USD per inhabitant is linked with a clear move towards democracy. GDP, of cause, measures wealth, not the degree of economic liberalisation.