Constitutional orders and deforestation: A cross-national analysis of the humid tropics
In this study, I explore the intermediary role of national political institutions in the context of deforestation in the humid tropics. More specifically, I focus on those institutions that shape the constitutional order--that is, the basic macropolitical framework that defines a polity's most fundamental rules regarding political roles and relationships. I give special attention to those rules that determine the locus of policymaking authority and the accountability relationships that obtain between politicians and citizens. I hypothesize that open constitutional orders will suffer lower levels of deforestation because such orders are more likely to be responsive to the policy preference of peasant producers--the predominant occupational class in the humid tropics--for a more diffuse distribution of landed property rights. Where the distribution of landed property rights is more diffuse, fewer shifted cultivators (peasant producers displaced to frontier regions) will be created and, therefore, the pressures to clear tropical forest cover will be less pronounced.
To examine this hypothesis, I conduct a statistical analysis of fifty-eight (58) countries in the humid tropics using data from the period 1976-1990. Because of the presence of several influential cases in the data set, I employ robust regression methods, supplemented with bootstrap methods. To probe the potential fragility of the relationship between constitutional openness and tropical deforestation, I also perform a sensitivity analysis. This consists of the estimation of various alternative model specifications, controlling for additional factors that existing theory suggests are also important in explaining cross-national variation in tropical deforestation levels. The results of the analysis reveal that the relationship between constitutional openness and tropical deforestation levels is consistently in the hypothesized direction, and generally within the limits of conventional levels of statistical significance.
Among the important conclusions of the study are that tropical deforestation processes are inextricably linked to landed property rights struggles within tropical countries and that national political institutions matter in determining the outcomes of such struggles.