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Migration and Democracy: How Remittances Undermine Dictatorships

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How remittances-money sent by workers back to their home countries-support democratic expansion

In the growing body of work on democracy, little attention has been paid to its links with migration. Migration and Democracy focuses on the effects of worker remittances-money sent by migrants back to their home countries-and how these resources shape political action in the Global South. Remittances are not only the largest source of foreign income in most autocratic countries, but also, in contrast to foreign aid or international investment, flow directly to citizens. As a result, they provide resources that make political opposition possible, and they decrease government dependency, undermining the patronage strategies underpinning authoritarianism.

The authors discuss how international migration produces a decentralized flow of income that generally circumvents governments to reach citizens who act as democratizing agents. Documenting why dictatorships fall and how this process has changed in the last three decades, the authors show that remittances increase the likelihood of protest and reduce electoral support for authoritarian incumbents.

Combining global macroanalysis with microdata and case studies of Senegal and Cambodia, Migration and Democracy demonstrates how remittances-and the movement of people from authoritarian nations to higher-income countries-foster democracy and its expansion.

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