Political Performance


Political extraction measures the ability of a government to obtain resources from a population given their level of economic development. 

The concern with an accurate measurement of performance is not unique to politics. Economists have developed measures of total output to assess the general well-being of individuals and have aggregated such outputs across populations to estimate the size of the national economy. Per capita GDP and total GDP are the current parsimonious, robust yet simple indicators of economic performance widely used to compare the economic performance of global economy, nations, provinces or districts. 

We approach political performance objectively. The parsimonious goal is to create measures of political performance that provide an objective assessment of government capacity across time nations and within societies. This assessment is not based on the type of governments, nor does it reflect the level of economic productivity, the human rights or the wealth a society has achieved.  Rather the political performance measures the ability of governments to extract resources to implement policies chosen by governing elites, determine if the population is mobilized in support of such goals, and asses if government allocations maximize the long run the well being of the populations.  Thus, political performance incorporates the ability of governments to reach their population, to extract economic resources from that population and to allocate those resources to secure the long term survival of the political structure.

Governments may choose to brutally impose policy or to convince populations to support policy objectives .Most governments will use a mixture of these strategies to advance policy.  We focus on the efficient extraction from a mobilized population that allows allocation of public resources. In sum, Political performance does not reflect economic success, regime characteristics, or political values embraced by a government. Rather political performance measures a government’s success in achieving defined policy outcomes.  An effective government will achieve desired policy outcomes; a weak one will not. Political performance emulates in the political and institutional arena what GDP approximates is in the economic field.  Just as a rising GDP/capita indicates financial success, political performance reflects sustained implementation of policy.

Political performance does not simply reflect the wealth or productivity of societies. These elements are already captured by economic variables (GDP or GDP/per capita and related variants) and reflect the economic openness in terms of monetary, investment, financial freedom or property rights. Our second objective is to show that extraction, reach and allocation measures are distinct from alternate measures based on the type of governments – authoritarian- democratic - that reflect electoral preferences; or preferences for freedom of the press, human rights or equality. These are clearly laudable goals but may or may not reflect the performance of governments.  Coercive regimes like Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Pre-World War II Japan or North Vietnam performed very well under war conditions but did not have a democratic system and did not support freedom of the press, human rights or gender equality.  By our definition these governments reached very high performance standards.  This is not to say that democracies that advance the freedom of the press, support human rights or advocate and institute gender and racial equality are ineffective.  Britain in World War II or France in World War I performed magnificently.  We postulate that regardless of structure governmentsmay perform well or poorly.  The USSR collapsed because their governments performed poorly, Russia lost World War II largely because of the low governmental performance and France failed to stop Nazi Germany because of major deficiencies in their political performance.  Performance varies and it is not directly related to the attributes commonly associated with “good” and “bad” governments.  Political performance assessments will show that such structural or regime measures are not equivalent to ours.

Political performance measures have to be parsimonious, robust and simple. By necessity the assessments are crude and hide much.  Yet, these crude measures of political performance allows direct comparisons between the political performance of Argentina, Thailand or Nigeria,  China, Russia and the United States.   Much has been written about such topics but no useful measures are widely used.

Political Performance conceptually fits this vacuum. Like GDP, this measure can be aggregated fro cross national comparisons or disaggregated to the provincial level for intra-state analysis.

Various measures of national income and output are used in to estimate total economic activity in a country. The most prominent today is Gross National Product (GDP) that replaced Gross National Product (GNP) which incorporated profits from foreign investments, and Net Material product (NMP) used to measure the output in centralized economies. All these indicators aggregate the total amount of goods and services produced within some pre-established "boundary".