June 7, 2011, 4:48 p.m.
With the recent uprisings in the Middle East Filipe R. Campante and Davin Chor have written a paper analyzing the relationship between the education levels of a population combined with their economic circumstances and their levels of political participation. The paper is titled 'The People Want the Fall of the Regime': Schooling, Political Protest, and the Economy. Campante and Chor came to the conclusion that there is a positive correlation between higher levels of education combined with low economic opportunities and the increased political participation in protests which led to the Arab uprisings seen in the Middle East.
Our investigation proceeds in two parts. First, we ask whether individuals who earn a low income relative to what their level of human capital would be expected to command are more likely to be politically involved, especially in time-intensive activities such as demonstrations that are most threatening to authoritarian regimes. Second, we investigate whether this interaction translates into a greater threat to incumbent regimes at the broader cross-country level. Specifically, are increases in schooling, when coupled with worsening macroeconomic conditions that detract from the returns to that schooling, associated with a greater probability of incumbent turnover?
We examine several hypotheses regarding the determinants and implications of political protest, motivated by the wave of popular uprisings in Arab countries starting in late 2010. While the popular narrative has emphasized the role of a youthful demography and political repression, we draw attention back to one of the most fundamental correlates of political activity identified in the literature, namely education. Using a combination of individual-level micro data and cross-country macro data, we highlight how rising levels of education coupled with economic under-performance jointly provide a strong explanation for participation in protest modes of political activity as well as incumbent turnover. Political protests are thus more likely when an increasingly educated populace does not have commensurate economic gains. We also find that the implied political instability is associated with heightened pressures towards democratization.