Threats and Political Instability in Authoritarian Regimes: A Dynamic Theoretical Analysis

64 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2018 Last revised: 27 Jul 2018

See all articles by Pengfei Zhang

Pengfei Zhang

Peking University - School of Economics

Victor Shih

University of California, San Diego (UCSD), School of Global Policy & Strategy, 21st Century China Center

Mingxing Liu

Peking University - School of Government

Date Written: July 16, 2018

Abstract

Non-democracies are seen as inherently unstable because of the high frequency of irregular and often-violent leadership turnovers. Our tractable stochastic game model investigates authoritarian stability and instability by portraying a world in which dictators are forced to tolerate threatening lieutenants because they are skillful at overcoming existential threats (shocks) to the regime. This unavoidable choice allows lieutenants to build up their own power bases, planting the seeds of various forms of authoritarian instability, including purges, coups, and civil war. Our model predicts, first and foremost, that changes in the frequency and severity of exogenous threats can have a profound impact on political stability. Contrary to research on the trade off between competence and loyalty, our model shows that when threats to the regime are existential and purges are an option, the dictator will always prefer to employ a competent lieutenant. Also, surprisingly, even with minimal institutional guarantees, we find that authoritarian regimes can be quite stable if the dictator and the lieutenant need each other for their unique skills in the face of major challenges. However, in accordance with the existing literature, credible institutions to ensure the welfare of ousted officials do, indeed, reduce the chance of internal conflict.

Keywords: authoritarian instability, stochastic game, leadership turnover, skill, threats

JEL Classification: C73, D74, D83

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Pengfei and Shih, Victor and Liu, Mingxing, Threats and Political Instability in Authoritarian Regimes: A Dynamic Theoretical Analysis (July 16, 2018). 21st Century China Center Research Paper No. 2018-05. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3218676 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3218676

Pengfei Zhang

Peking University - School of Economics ( email )

Beijing
China
86-10-6275-2016 (Phone)
86-10-6275-1460 (Fax)

Victor Shih (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD), School of Global Policy & Strategy, 21st Century China Center ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive #0519
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

Mingxing Liu

Peking University - School of Government ( email )

No. 38 Xueyuan Road
Haidian District
Beijing, Beijing 100871
China

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