How Often Do Dictators Have Positive Economic Effects? Global Evidence, 1858-2010

The Leadership Quarterly, Forthcoming

47 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2019 Last revised: 19 Aug 2021

See all articles by Stephanie Rizio

Stephanie Rizio

University of Melbourne

Ahmed Skali

University of Groningen

Date Written: June 1, 2019


Supposedly well-intentioned dictators are often cited as drivers of economic growth. We examine this claim in a panel of 133 countries from 1858 to 2010. Using annual data on economic growth, political regimes, and political leaders, we document a robust asymmetric pattern: growth-positive autocrats (autocrats whose countries experience larger-than-average growth) are found only as frequently as would be predicted by chance. In contrast, growth-negative autocrats are found significantly more frequently. Implementing regression discontinuity designs (RDD), we also examine local trends in the neighbourhood of the entry into power of growth-positive autocrats. We find that growth under supposedly growth-positive autocrats does not significantly differ from previous realizations of growth, suggesting that even the infrequent growth-positive autocrats largely "ride the wave" of previous success. On the other hand, our estimates reject the null hypothesis that growth-negative rulers have no effects. Taken together, our results cast serious doubt on the benevolent autocrat hypothesis.

Keywords: Benevolent Autocrats, Democracy, Autocracy, Economic Growth, Leaders

JEL Classification: D72, H1, P16, P48

Suggested Citation

Rizio, Stephanie and Skali, Ahmed, How Often Do Dictators Have Positive Economic Effects? Global Evidence, 1858-2010 (June 1, 2019). The Leadership Quarterly, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Stephanie Rizio

University of Melbourne ( email )

12th floor Redmond Barry Building
Parkville Campus
Melbourne, 3010

Ahmed Skali (Contact Author)

University of Groningen ( email )

P.O. Box 800
9700 AH Groningen, Groningen 9700 AV

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