There is growing concern that democratic institutions in Eastern Europe are fragile. This brief compares two perspectives on the state of democracy: expert assessments and surveys of the general population. We show that while experts’ perception of some countries’ institutions has worsened in recent years, voters are increasingly satisfied with their own democracies. This trend is broad-based, encompassing almost all new EU member states and all age groups. We provide evidence that over time, survey respondents’ assessment of democracy has become more closely tied to the outcome of elections rather than actual institutional change. Where governments have imposed restrictions on media freedom or judicial independence, their supporters continue to report high levels of satisfaction with the way democracy works.
“Across the world, democracy is backsliding”
UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres, 2022
In recent years, the prevailing narrative around democracy in Eastern Europe has been negative. The reform momentum that propelled countries towards EU membership has not been sustained after accession. Discussions of global democratic backsliding frequently cite countries from the region as examples (Grillo and Prato, 2023; Chiopris et al., 2021; Mechkova et al., 2017). Following restrictions on judicial independence and media freedom, some new EU members have seen their ratings slide on indices that measure the quality of democratic institutions based on expert opinions. This brief contrasts these expert assessments with a different perspective on the state of democracy: that of the voters themselves.
Data from Eurobarometer surveys show that satisfaction with ‘the way democracy works in our country’ has been increasing in the new EU member states. This upward trend is visible for all age groups and in almost all countries – including those where experts’ assessment of democracy has worsened. We document patterns in the data that may help to explain this divergence. Survey responses increasingly reflect an instrumentalist view of democracy; respondents who are aligned politically with the winning party are more likely to feel that democracy is working well. This trend can be observed across the EU, but it is most pronounced in the new EU member states where the governing parties are right-of-centre.
Perceptions of Democracy
The quality of democracy is hard to measure. A range of indices classify countries by regime type or provide numerical ratings of institutional quality (the Polity, V-Dem, and Freedom House measures are among the most prominent). These indices have somewhat different objectives and methodologies, but they all rely on subjective judgements by expert coders.
Some academic research casts doubt on the prevailing narrative of a global phenomenon of democratic backsliding. For instance, Treisman (2023) and Lueders and Lust (2018) show that there is little consensus across indices, both in terms of individual countries and the global trend. A recent paper by Little and Meng (2023) contrasts subjective indices with more objective indicators of democratic health (e.g. the rate at which incumbents lose elections). The authors find no evidence for global democratic backsliding using the objective measures and suggest that the pessimistic narratives around democracy may have biased coders’ assessment.
There is less disagreement about the development of democracy in Eastern Europe. Treisman (2023) cites Hungary as the only example of a country that has recently been downgraded both from the status of “liberal democracy” by V-Dem and “free state“ by Freedom House. Little and Meng (2023) highlight three cases where both objective and subjective measures indicate backsliding: Hungary and Poland (as well as Venezuela). Further, Becker (2019) shows that downgrades to V-Dem democracy scores in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania are relatively broad-based, driven by declines across multiple sub-categories including freedom of expression and constraints on the executive.
Surveys of Public Opinion
We use individual-level data from the Eurobarometer – a survey of public opinion in the EU Member States and candidate countries conducted by the European Commission. The surveys are conducted at an approximately monthly frequency and comprise of a representative sample (about 1000 face-to-face interviews) for each state. We combine data from 42 surveys, spanning 20 years (2002 to 2022), with a total of 1.3 million respondents. The main question we are interested in is: “On the whole are you very satisfied, rather satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in [our country]?”
At the beginning of the sample period in 2002, around a third of respondents in Eastern European EU countries were satisfied with their respective democracies compared to close to twice as many respondents in Western Europe (Figure 1). Over the past 20 years, the share of Eastern Europeans satisfied with their democracy has grown to around 50 percent, narrowing the gap with Western Europe. Figure 2 shows that this pattern is broad based across age groups. All cohorts of Eastern Europeans are more satisfied with democracy than earlier generations and among the youngest respondents, satisfaction is almost as high as in Western Europe.
Figure 1. Satisfaction with Democracy vs V-Dem Score.
Figure 2. Satisfaction with Democracy by Age Group.
Figure 1 also shows a stark divergence in expert assessment of the state of democracy in Eastern Europe compared to public opinion in the same countries. While the V-Dem democracy scores for Eastern Europe have declined rapidly since the mid-2010s, average satisfaction with the own country’s democracy has increased. A much smaller gap between these two measures has also started to open up in Western Europe over the past couple of years.
In Figure 3, we show the same patterns of satisfaction with democracy and expert opinions for individual countries. Satisfaction with one’s own democracy has increased in almost all Eastern European countries, including in Poland and Hungary which at the same time showed the largest declines in democracy scores.
Figure 3. Satisfaction with Democracy vs V-Dem Score by Country.
This divergence in individual survey responses and expert assessments is not altogether surprising. First, the Eurobarometer surveys a sample of the population in each country, while V-Dem (and most other similar democracy indices) relies on country experts. Another likely explanation for the difference is the interpretation of the question. Democracy ratings tend to emphasise institutional aspects of a democracy, for instance, the V-Dem liberal democracy index is designed to capture rule of law and checks on executive power (see, e.g., Becker, 2019). In contrast, the survey responses are likely to reflect both satisfaction with the state of democracy in a country, as well as the outcomes of that democracy.
Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Alignment
In this section, we investigate whether stated satisfaction with democracy depends on the outcomes of elections and the political ideology of the respondents. A common way of measuring political ideology is the placement on a right-left scale, where the right favours a free-market economy and traditional values while the left favours economic redistribution and socially progressive policies. We compare the right-left placement of each country’s governing party as coded by the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES), with the self-identified right-left placement of Eurobarometer respondents. We calculate the ideological distance from the government as the absolute difference between these two scores.
Figure 4. Relationship Between Ideological Distance from Government and Satisfaction with Democracy.
We find that people are on average less satisfied with their country’s democracy when they are ideologically further from the parties in government (Figure 4). This is consistent with prior evidence (Anderson and Guillory, 1997; Ezrow and Xezonakis, 2011). The alignment effect has become stronger over time – even when taking into account average satisfaction levels for each country and demographic characteristics of the respondents, such as their age and gender. In the past three years, political alignment with the government has become a major factor in explaining satisfaction with democracy, especially in Eastern Europe. Svolik (2019) suggests that voters trade off democratic principles and partisan interests. As political polarisation increases, voters become more willing to accept a government that undermines democratic institutions, as long as it is on ‘their side’ ideologically.
Figure 5. Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Ideology. Western Europe in the Left Panel and Eastern Europe in the Right Panel.
In Figure 5, we break down the effect of political alignment on satisfaction with democracy according to individuals’ political leanings. On the x-axis is the respondents’ left-right placement and on the y-axis there are two series of dots showing satisfaction with democracy depending on whether the government is left of centre (lighter coloured dots) or right of centre (darker coloured dots). As before, being politically aligned with the government increases satisfaction, that is, to the left of the chart, the lighter coloured dots are placed higher than the darker coloured dots and vice versa for the right of the chart. The further from centre a person’s political leanings, the less satisfied they are with a government of the opposite ideology. There is also some evidence of asymmetry across the political spectrum in Eastern Europe, with respondents on the political right reporting much higher levels of satisfaction with right-wing governments compared to voters on the left under a left-wing government.
Over the past decade, there has been increasing concern over democratic backsliding in some of the Eastern European countries that are members of the EU. This is reflected in commonly used democracy indices whose country experts note the worrying trends in countries’ institutions – such as the reduction of freedom of expression, the strengthening of rule of law and constraints on the executive, all hallmarks of a liberal democracy. In this policy brief, we investigate whether this erosion of institutional safeguards affects people’s stated satisfaction with democracy in one’s respective country. We find a broad-based increase in satisfaction with democracy in the Eastern European EU countries, including in the countries that have seen some of the largest declines in liberal democracy ratings. We show that stated satisfaction with democracy reflects less the institutional changes in countries, but more the outcome of democratic elections. Voters who are politically aligned with their government are systematically more likely to report that they are satisfied with the state of democracy in their country. And this effect has become stronger in the most recent years, particularly in the Eastern European EU countries. We also find that this effect is not symmetric across the political spectrum. In the Eastern European EU countries, respondents on the political right are more satisfied with right-wing governments than those on the left are with left-wing governments.
The descriptive patterns outlined in this policy brief illustrate a worrying disconnect in the minds of many voters between institutions and outcomes of the democratic process. The threat of democratic backsliding in Europe and across the globe is predominantly not due to electoral democracies being replaced by autocratic regimes. Rather, genuinely popular (and often populist) governments are democratically elected and, once in power, proceed to undermine and dismantle liberal democratic institutions, such as a free press, an independent judiciary, and a fair electoral system. This process in turn makes it more difficult for opposition parties to win future elections, further cementing the power of the rulers of these illiberal democracies. While the electorate might support these governments now, voters need to be aware that these liberal institutions are designed to safeguard their democratic future.
- Anderson, C. J. and Guillory, C. A. (1997). Political institutions and satisfaction with democracy: A cross-national analysis of consensus and majoritarian systems. American Political Science Review, 91(1), pp.66-81.
- Becker, T. (2019). Liberal Democracy in Transition – The First 30 Years. FREE Policy Brief.
- Chiopris, C., Nalepa, M. and Vanberg, G. (2021). A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Citizen uncertainty and democratic backsliding. Working Paper.
- Döring, H., Huber, C. and Manow, P. (2022). ParlGov 2022 Release. Harvard Dataverse. https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/UKILBE
- Eurobarometer (multiple waves: 2002-2022), European Commission. Brussels
- Ezrow, L. and Xezonakis, G. (2011). Citizen satisfaction with democracy and parties’ policy offerings. Comparative Political Studies, 44(9), pp.1152-1178.
- Grillo, E. and Prato, C. (2023). Reference points and democratic backsliding. American Journal of Political Science, 67(1), pp.71-88.
- Little, A. and Meng, A. (2023). Subjective and Objective Measurement of Democratic Backsliding. Available at SSRN 4327307.
- Lueders, H. and Lust, E. (2018). Multiple measurements, elusive agreement, and unstable outcomes in the study of regime change. The Journal of Politics, 80(2), pp.736-741.
- Mechkova, V., Luhrmann, A. and Lindberg, S. I. (2017). How much democratic backsliding?. Journal of. Democracy, 28, pp.162-169.
- Svolik, M. W. (2019). Polarization versus democracy. Journal of Democracy, 30(3), pp.20-32.
- Treisman, D. (2023). How great is the current danger to democracy? assessing the risk with historical data. Comparative Political Studies, https://doi.org/10.1177/00104140231168363.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The subjects of political discourse are important but hard to quantify. This brief uses data from 30 years of party manifestos to study how the dominant topics in politics have evolved across Europe. Transition countries have seen the most significant shift in the content of political discourse. In the early 1990s, party manifestos in Eastern Europe focused on a distinct set of topics related to transition; by recent elections they had converged to those in Western Europe, with a heavy emphasis on the welfare state, education, infrastructure and technology. Political discourse can change rapidly in times of crisis as shown by the example of Ukraine.
“It’s the economy, stupid!”
James Carville, Bill Clinton’s strategist for the 1992 election.
The dominant topics in politics are not always as apparent as when Bill Clinton was elected US president in the midst of a recession. While it is easy to track winners across election cycles, it is much harder to know what got them elected and what they will do (or at least, promise to do) once in power. The key issues and topics that political parties and candidates talk about form as important a part in our democracies as vote shares.
In this brief, we use data collected by the Manifesto Project (Lehmann et al., 2022) to describe the development of political discourse across Europe, with a particular focus on the differences and similarities between western European countries and transition economies in Eastern Europe.
Political Manifestos as Data
In most countries, voters mainly participate in the democratic process by voting for candidates put forward by political parties. Political parties advertise themselves to voters and distinguish themselves from each other by issuing party programmes or party manifestos where they lay down their ideological and policy positions.
The Manifesto Project provides a publicly available dataset on parties’ policy platforms. The data are based on the manifestos of parties that have won at least one (Western Europe) or two seats (transition countries) in a national election. Coders manually analyse the content of the manifestos and provide the percentage of each party’s manifesto that falls into one of 56 content categories. These content categories summarise a party’s policy position on given issues, for instance, whether they favour environmental protection or an expansion of the welfare state or oppose protectionism or multiculturalism.
The Manifesto Project is an example of “text as data“. Quantitative analysis based on text is becoming increasingly important across the social sciences (Gentzkow et al., 2019) but it is particularly useful in political economy and political science given that “language is the medium of politics“ and objective numerical data are often limited (Grimmer and Stewart, 2013). Unlike many recent approaches which process data using automated text analysis tools, the Manifesto Project relies on the judgement of coders from over 50 countries who read the original text. The resultant dataset has limitations: the subjective choices made by individual coders, the to-some-extent arbitrary determination of content categories to summarise the most relevant issues across different contexts and time periods and the difficulty of imposing consistent classifications for texts written in over 40 languages. Despite these caveats, it is a unique resource for analysing the evolution of countries’ political discourse over time and across countries.
Key Issues in Political Discourse
Figure 1 summarises, through content categories, the policy positions of parliaments in Western Europe and transition countries at two points in time: the early 1990s (around the time of the first democratic elections in most transition countries) and after the latest election. We measure the importance of a policy position in a country’s parliament by weighting the importance of the relevant content category in each party’s manifesto by that party’s vote share. Over time, our measure of a policy position’s importance in political discourse may increase or decline for two reasons. First, parties may change the extent to which they emphasise a given position in their manifestos. For example, parties across the political spectrum are likely to have increased references to healthcare in their manifestos during election campaigns held during the Covid-19 pandemic. Second, as voters’ preferences shift, parties that gain support will see their issues receive greater weight in the aggregate measure relative to parties that lose vote shares. For example, if the pandemic shifted voters’ preferences towards a more comprehensive welfare system, voters could respond by voting for parties which discuss the expansion of the welfare state in their manifestos.
Figure 1. Policy positions of parties in parliament.
Some striking patterns emerge. While the policy priorities of Western European parliaments remain relatively stable over the past 30 years, those of transition countries have changed markedly. During the transition period, many parties focused on the political and economic aspects of transition. Support for democracy, freedom and human rights, as well as the free market economy, featured heavily in the manifestos of parties that formed the first democratic parliaments. Over time, policy priorities in transition countries have become more similar to those of their western neighbours, and issues such as the expansion of the welfare state, the provision of education, and the importance of technology and infrastructure, have come to the fore in all countries.
Nevertheless, some differences still remain. For instance, environmental protection is one of the most important topics in western European parliaments, though its importance has declined over time. In transition countries, the environment is slowly becoming more important, but even in the latest elections it ranked at only number 16 out of 56 issues. In contrast, support for the “national way of life” was and continues to be a prominent part of the political discourse in transition economies and it is also becoming more mainstream in the Western European countries.
Political corruption and governmental and administrative efficiency have become relatively more important issues in the parliaments of transition countries, both over time and relative to their western neighbours. Meanwhile, parties in Western Europe are devoting more of their manifesto to calls for equality and social justice.
A Closer Look at Ukraine
A country’s parliament’s policy platform can change suddenly in response to shocks. Figure 2 shows the big topic groups in the manifestos of political parties in the Ukrainian parliament from 1998 to 2019. The parliamentary election in October 2014 closely followed the Euromaidan Revolution, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the start of the Donbas war. Compared to the previous elections, external relations became a major issue in the Ukrainian parliament, driven in particular by increased mentions of the military and the relationship with the EU. Party manifestos heavily featured appeals to Ukrainian nationhood, national solidarity, and unity (as evidenced by the increasing importance of the content category “Fabric of Society”). The trend of increasing attention to freedom and democracy also continued in this election cycle. In contrast, the previously most important issues in elections (welfare and quality of life) received much less attention in parliament at times of political upheaval and military conflict.
Figure 2. Topics in Ukrainian elections.
Distribution of Political Ideology
While the previous section discussed the main policy issues in parliament, we now turn our focus to the ideology of individual political parties that make up a country’s parliament. A commonly used summary measure of political ideology is a left-right scale (RILE), where left positions favour peace, state intervention in the economy and the expansion of the welfare state and right positions support security, traditional values and the free market economy. The Manifesto Project provides a RILE value for each party at each election (based on Laver and Budge, 1992), which is calculated by subtracting the share of a party’s manifesto devoted to left-leaning policy issues, for instance support for the welfare state, from right-leaning content, such as support for the free market economy. Condensing the complexity of party programmes into a one-dimensional measure based on fixed definitions has advantages and drawbacks. The RILE makes it possible to compare diverse political parties that campaign on different issues (for instance ecological parties compared to nationalist parties) and measure how the same party’s policy stance may have shifted over time. As the definition of left- and right-leaning issues were based on influential political theories around the 1900s, some scholars argue that this measure has become less appropriate to empirically differentiate between modern political parties, particularly in transition countries (see, e.g., Mölder, 2016). In particular, Tavits and Letki (2009) show that during the transition process many leftist parties in Eastern Europe pursued economically right-wing policies and Vachudova (2008) argues that right-wing parties in the region often appealed to a nationalist discourse.
With these caveats in mind, Figure 3 shows the distribution of all parties in parliament in the Manifesto Project database on the RILE scale, weighted by their respective vote shares. In Western Europe in the 1990s, the chart shows the prominence of both centre-left and centre-right parties, as well as smaller parties both on the more extreme left and right. In contrast, the parties in parliament in transition economies at the time were more concentrated in the centre (and slightly towards the right). Fast forward 30 years and the distribution of political ideology has changed in both the east and the west. In Western Europe, the majority of parliamentarians are now situated slightly right of centre with little mass in the more extreme tails. In contrast, in the former transition countries, there is evidence of political polarisation with party representation moving both to the left and the right on the ideological spectrum and relatively few parliamentarians occupying the centre.
Figure 3. Left-right position of parties in parliament.
What are the main topics of political discourse? Are they different across countries? Do they change over time? While there is no perfect way to quantify and track political discourse over time, this brief uses data from parties’ manifestos provided by the Manifesto Project to illustrate some broad trends across Europe over the past 30 years.
We document two kinds of changes in the subject matter of party manifestos. First, there are gradual shifts in content that reflect underlying developments in society. As democracies have matured in Eastern Europe, the content of their parties’ manifestos has evolved away from the immediate concerns of economic and political transition and converged to those of Western European parties. Second, more abrupt shifts can arise when countries experience crises or institutional upheaval. Over the past decade Ukrainians have lived through a revolution, the Donbas war, and the ongoing Russian invasion. Most of the parties that represent them in parliament are new, and the issues that feature prominently in their manifestos are now markedly different from those before the Euromaidan revolution.
Manifestos are not just about substance but also about ideology. Using the Manifesto Project’s classification of parties on a left-right scale, we show how the distribution of parties has evolved in Western Europe and transition countries. By this measure, political polarisation has been increasing in transition countries where centrist positions are less well represented than in Western European parliaments.
- Gentzkow, Matthew, Bryan Kelly, and Matt Taddy. (2019). “Text as data”, Journal of Economic Literature 57, no. 3: 535-74.
- Grimmer, J., and Stewart, B. (2013). “Text as data: The promise and pitfalls of automatic content analysis methods for political texts”. Political analysis 21, no. 3: 267-297.
- Lehmann, P., Burst, T., Matthieß, T., Regel, S., Volkens, A., Weßels, B. and Zehnter, L. (2022) The Manifesto Data Collection. Manifesto Project (MRG / CMP / MARPOR). Version 2022a. Berlin: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB). https://doi.org/10.25522/manifesto.mpds.2022a
- Laver, M. and Budge, I. (eds.). (1992). Party Policy and Government Coalitions, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: The MacMillan Press.
- Mölder, M. (2016). The validity of the RILE left–right index as a measure of party policy. Party Politics, 22(1), 37–48. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068813509525
- Tavits, M. and Letki, N. (2009). When Left Is Right: Party Ideology and Policy in Post-Communist Europe. American Political Science Review, 103(4), 555-569. doi:10.1017/S0003055409990220
- Vachudova, M. A. (2008). Centre—Right Parties and Political Outcomes in East Central Europe. Party Politics, 14(4), 387–405. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068808090252
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The model of city organization proposed by von Thünen in the beginning of the XIXth century, and then formalized by Alonso followed by Muth and Mills (see Ner (1986)), is one of the most “successful” models in economics in terms of practical applications. The model explains why the gradient of population density and land rents decline from the city center towards the periphery. In fact, almost all modern cities fit this pattern, i.e. the model invented two centuries ago is capable of describing today’s spatial structure of cities. Even though von Thünen’s original idea of a city center as a single “marketplace” is no longer realistic, a multitude of factors beyond this make central locations nevertheless attractive. If firms are located near each other, they can take advantage of a common labor pool, easier access to consumers and suppliers, shared infrastructure, and knowledge spillovers, to name but a few advantages. Access to the center brings tangible economic benefits to both labor and capital and these benefits exceed possible losses due to increased competition, and so the von Thünen mechanism still works today, albeit through different channels.
In cities, there are generally two types of spatial organizations possible with respect to household income. If the advantages of amenities in a city center are not very strong, rich people tend to choose to locate in suburbs in order to consume higher quality housing. Such patterns are typical in US cities. If the advantages of a center are strong, the rich choose to live in the center. (Brueckner et al. (1999)) Due to historical circumstances, such patterns are typical of European or Russian cities. In these cases we observe a declining gradient of income; the further we move from the center, the further residents’ average income falls.
There are two forces at work shaping this declining gradient of wage. First, poor people sort themselves into suburban locations. Second, residents of the suburbs who want to take advantage of the labor market in the center face a barrier involving commuting costs. Many of them forgo high-wage opportunities that require tedious everyday commuting and therefore remain poor as a consequence.
An apparent policy solution to reduce income inequality would be to reduce transportation costs. The higher transportation costs are, the steeper the gradient of income. Fast and convenient transportation promotes the integration of local labor markets, gives the residents of the suburbs more, and often better, job opportunities, and works toward equalization of income across the agglomeration. Moreover, as transportation costs decline, the geographic area of agglomeration grows, which opens new opportunities for real estate development as well as new possibilities for rural residents to commute and participate in large labor market.
We conducted a study at CEFIR (Mikhailova et al. (2012)) comparing the spatial patterns of average wages in the Moscow agglomeration with several agglomerations in Western Europe. We considered municipal-level data for Moscow Oblast and for 25 agglomerations in Sweden, Germany, and Netherlands. In the sample of municipalities that are served by suburban train system, we estimated how average wages in a given municipality respond to different lengths of travel times to the city center.
Figure 1 shows the estimated wage-travel time relationship for Moscow Oblast and Figure 2 for the selected European cities.Figure 1. Average Wage and Travel Time to the City Center, Moscow
The residents of the Moscow agglomeration are at a clear disadvantage according to the data shown above. Residents of Moscow Oblast, even those who live in relative proximity to the city, loose drastically in terms of average wage. Doubling the travel time (say, from 20 min to 40 min, which is the range most commuters fit into) results in a 25% drop in the average wage for residents in Moscow Oblast compared to only a 5% drop in Europe. The wage in a municipality, from which it would take 90 minutes to travel to the city center, is almost half of the average wage inside Moscow’s Ring Road whereas in Europe 90 minutes translates into a 10% loss of in average wages.
A 90 minutes travel time could be considered as a realistic limit to the size of an agglomeration. This is roughly the maximum distance over which a typical working commuter would be willing to travel each day in each direction. A 90 minute commute in Europe represents approximately a 100 kilometer distance. In Moscow Oblast, however, it is only 63 km. So, Moscow Oblast loses in the effective “reach” of suburban transportation: people who live further than roughly 60 km from the center cannot practically commute.
Even for the same commuting time, the difference in wages between center and suburban municipality is much smaller in Europe (see Figures 1 and 2). This means that a commute for the same time length (in terms of railroad transport) presents a larger barrier for the residents of Moscow Oblast. This is obviously an over simplification of the situation since taking into account only commuting times as the measure of costs we ignore many other critical factors such as price (relative to income), the convenience of schedule and travel comfort, alternative modes of transportation, etc. Suburban trains in Moscow Oblast run infrequently, they are overcrowded, and alternative transportation modes (car or bus) face considerable delays due to road congestion. All of these additional factors serve to reduce the labor market opportunities of the Moscow Oblast residents and make wage inequality even deeper.
Figure 3 presents wage-distance gradients for the Moscow agglomeration under different scenarios using a hypothetical “European” gradient to show what could be the case if changes were made to reduce barriers to transportation bringing the Moscow agglomeration in line with European standards. The graphs end at a distance that corresponds to a typical 90-minute commuting time under various scenarios ranging from the status quo to the best case, where Moscow Oblast replicates European standards. The red curve represents the upper bound estimate of the possible effect of investments to improve the transportation infrastructure to bring Moscow regional transportation network in line with the quality of a typical European agglomeration. The residents of Moscow region could gain up to 24% more in terms of current average wages if this were to take place. The purple curve, however, presents a more modest scenario assuming that the structure of Moscow regional transportation network remains the same, but the travel time were to be cut by 20%. Even in this case, the gains to Moscow Oblast residents are about 3% of wages which is very significant economically for an area populated by 5.5 million people.Figure 3. Wage Distance Gradient
Further, it is important to note that to take advantage of labor market integration residents do not necessarily all have to commute to work to the center. The mere possibility of commuting creates arbitrage opportunities in the labor market and puts upward pressure on wages. As a result, it is important for economic policy to constantly improve transportation infrastructure even if the private benefits of increased usage are modest.
In the end, our analysis did not touch on the other benefits from transportation infrastructure. Apart from labor market integration, improvements in transportation infrastructure promote real estate development (Baum-Snow (2007), Garcia-López(2012)) and expand the market for goods and services. We leave these questions for further research.
- Baum-Snow, Nathaniel (2007) “Did Highways Cause Suburbanization?” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 122(2): 775-805
- Brueckner, Jan K., Jacques-François Thisse, and Yves Zenou (1999) “Why is central Paris rich and downtown Detroit poor?: An amenity-based theory.” European Economic Review 43.1: 91-107.
- Garcia-López, Miquel-Àngel (2012) “Urban spatial structure, suburbanization and transportation in Barcelona”, Journal of Urban Economics, Volume 72, Issues 2–3, September–November, Pages 176-190
- Mikhailova, T, V. Rudakov and N. Zhuravlyova (2012) “Economic effects from the Moscow Oblast suburban railroad infrastructure development” («Экономические эффекты от развития инфраструктуры пригородного железнодорожного сообщения в Московской области»), project report, CEFIR.
- Ner, J. B. (1986). The structure of urban equilibria: A unified treatment of the Muth-Mills model. Handbook of regional and urban economics: Urban economics, 2, 821.