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Autocrats and Skyscrapers: Modern White Elephants in Dictatorships

62 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2017  

Haakon Gjerløw

University of Oslo, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science, Students

Carl Henrik Knutsen

University of Oslo - Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 2017

Abstract

Political leaders often have private incentives to pursue expensive and socially wasteful "white elephant" projects. Our argument highlights that weak accountability mechanisms allow autocratic leaders to more easily realize such projects, whereas democratic leaders are more constrained from doing so. We subsequently test different implications from this argument by drawing on a global dataset recording various features of skyscrapers, a prominent type of modern white elephant. We find that autocracies systematically build more new skyscrapers than democracies, and this result is robust to controlling for income level, state control over the economy, and country- and year-fixed effects. Further, autocratic skyscrapers are more excessive and wasteful than democratic. Autocratic regimes also pursue skyscraper projects no matter if they preside over rural or urban societies. In contrast, skyscrapers are fewer and - when first built - associated with less waste in democracies, and they are more frequently built urbanized democracies than in rural.

Suggested Citation

Gjerløw, Haakon and Knutsen, Carl Henrik, Autocrats and Skyscrapers: Modern White Elephants in Dictatorships (April 2017). V-Dem Working Paper 2017:44. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2951762 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2951762

Haakon Gjerløw (Contact Author)

University of Oslo, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science, Students ( email )

Moltke Moesvei 31
Oslo
Norway

Carl Henrik Knutsen

University of Oslo - Department of Political Science ( email )

Moltke Moesvei 31
Olso, 0851
Norway

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