The Legacies of Authoritarian Rule in Indonesia

My colleague Sharon Poczter and I have just completed a new paper on the legacies of authoritarian rule in Indonesia. Here is the abstract.

Democratization has fundamentally changed the formal institutional structure of Indonesian politics, but a wealth of contemporary research has demonstrated that the informal mechanisms of power and influence have survived the transition. This paper uses a unique, hand-collected dataset of information on Indonesia’ political elites over the democratic transition to empirically catalogue the changes and continuities in Indonesian politics since democratization. Our results provide quantitative evidence for substantial change in Indonesia’s political economy over the past half century, with the simultaneous rise of capital and decline of military and the state as avenues to political power at the national level. Our evidence also suggests that the origins of this transition pre-date democratization itself.

There are lots of interesting findings, but to me, the most significant one is the last sentence.

Marc Bellemare would call this a “determinants of…” paper. He’s right. There is a danger with a paper such as this:

The issue with “determinants” papers is that they put the ox before the cart, i.e., the author decided to have a bit of fun playing with data, found some interesting partial correlations, and then retro-fitted a story to fit the facts.

This is not exactly the case here. Our findings about the rise of capital really are consistent with a long line of research on Indonesia’s political economy. The real problem would have emerged if our data had not been consistent with that established interpretation of Indonesian politics. What story would we have told then?

I also see a difference between a partial correlation between a policy outcome and covariate that is used to inform policy analysis—Marc’s worry—and a partial correlation between two socioeconomic variables that used to describe the variation that we observe in a particular social setting. As we are doing the latter, we heed Marc’s advice in describing the limitations of our findings, and I think that that should suffice for all but the most obstreperous reviewers.