A Theory of Political Transitions

32 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2000

See all articles by Daron Acemoglu

Daron Acemoglu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James A. Robinson

Harvard University - Department of Government; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 1999

Abstract

We develop a theory of political transitions inspired in part by the experiences of Western Europe and Latin America. Nondemocratic societies are controlled by a rich elite. The initially disenfranchised poor can contest power by threatening social unrest or revolution and this may force the elite to democratize. Democracy may not consolidate because it is more redistributive than a nondemocratic regime, and this gives the elite an incentive to mount a coup. Because inequality makes democracy more costly for the elite, highly unequal societies are less likely to consolidate democracy and may end up oscillating between regimes or in a nondemocratic repressive regime. An unequal society is likely to experience fiscal volatility, but the relationship between inequality and redistribution is nonmonotonic; societies with intermediate levels of inequality consolidate democracy and redistribute more than both very equal and very unequal countries. We also show that asset redistribution, such as educational and land reform, may be used to consolidate both democratic and nondemocratic regimes.

JEL Classification: D72, D74, O15, P16

Suggested Citation

Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A., A Theory of Political Transitions (October 1999). MIT Department of Economics Working Paper No. 99-26. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=195739 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.195739

Daron Acemoglu (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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James A. Robinson

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

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United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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