A long-standing research question asks whether democracy promotes or inhibits development, but relatively few studies explore the developmental consequences of human rights. I analyze the effect of respect for bodily integrity rights and civil liberties on economic growth rates, measured as percentage changes in gross domestic product over pooled five-year intervals, for 138 countries between 1965 and 2010. Bodily integrity rights entail fundamental protections against torture, political imprisonment, extrajudicial killing, and disappearances. Civil liberties include the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and movement. The analyses make use of estimators designed to isolate causal directionality. I find that improvements in countries’ rated bodily integrity practices boost economic growth rates, even after accounting for other important explanatory factors and the possibility of reverse causality. Additional analyses suggest that this effect operates largely through increased domestic investment. Static levels in bodily integrity scores, conversely, have no effect on growth; neither do static levels of or dynamic changes in civil liberties.
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