Authoritarian Elites

46 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2018

See all articles by Adlai Newson

Adlai Newson

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Vancouver School of Economics

Francesco Trebbi

Vancouver School of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 20, 2018


We explore the role of ruling elites in autocratic regimes and provide an assessment of tools useful to clarify the structure of opaque political environments. We first showcase the importance of analyzing autocratic regimes as non-unitary actors by discussing extant work on nondemocracies in Sub-Saharan Africa and China, where the prevailing view of winner-take-all contests can be clearly rejected. We show how specific biographical information about powerful cadres helps shed light upon the composition of the inner circles that empower autocrats. We further provide an application of these methods to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), one of the most personalistic, opaque, and data-poor political regimes in the world today. Employing information from DPRK state media on participants at official state events, we are able to trace the evolution and consolidation of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un around the transition period following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. The internal factional divisions of the DPRK are explored during and after this transition. Final general considerations for the future study of the political economy of development are presented.

Keywords: Political Economy, Development, Autocracy, Elites, Power Sharing, North Korea, DPRK, China, PRC, Sub-Saharan Africa

JEL Classification: P16, P3, P5

Suggested Citation

Newson, Adlai and Trebbi, Francesco, Authoritarian Elites (August 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Adlai Newson (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Vancouver School of Economics ( email )

997-1873 East Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1


Francesco Trebbi

Vancouver School of Economics ( email )

University of British Columbia
6000 Iona Dr.
Vancouver Canada, BC V6T 1L4


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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