Mass Purges: Top-Down Accountability in Autocracy

35 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2016 Last revised: 3 Feb 2019

See all articles by Pablo Montagnes

Pablo Montagnes

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Stephane Wolton

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government

Date Written: January 31, 2019

Abstract

This paper proposes a novel theoretical framework to study the features of mass purges in authoritarian regimes. We contend that mass purges are an instrument of top-down accountability meant to motivate and screen a multitude of agents (e.g., single-party members, state bureaucrats). We show that the set of purged agents is well delineated in mild purges, whereas no performance indicator is a guarantee of safety in violent purges. The proportion of purged agents is non-monotonic in the intensity of violence. For the autocrat, increasing the intensity of violence always raises performance, but improves selection of subordinates only if violence is low to begin with. Hence, even absent de jure checks, the autocrat is de facto constrained by her subordinates' strategic behavior. We use historical (i.a., the Soviet purges, the Cultural Revolution) and recent (the Erdogan purge) events to illustrate our key theoretical findings.

Keywords: Accountability, Effort, Selection, Violence

JEL Classification: D73, D74, D80

Suggested Citation

Montagnes, Pablo and Wolton, Stephane, Mass Purges: Top-Down Accountability in Autocracy (January 31, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2810511 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2810511

Pablo Montagnes

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Stephane Wolton (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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