A Theory of Informational Autocracy

45 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2019 Last revised: 28 Oct 2019

See all articles by Sergei Guriev

Sergei Guriev

Sciences Po; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Daniel Treisman

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 3, 2019

Abstract

We develop an informational theory of modern autocracy. Dictators survive not by means of force or ideology but because they convince the public - rightly or wrongly - that they are competent. Citizens do not observe the dictator's type but infer it from signals in their living standards, state propaganda, and messages sent by an informed elite via independent media. If citizens conclude that the dictator is incompetent, they overthrow him in a revolution. The dictator can invest in making convincing state propaganda, censoring independent media, co- opting the elite, or equipping police to repress attempted uprisings but he must finance such spending at the expense of the public's consumption. We show that informational autocracies prevail over old-style, overtly violent dictatorships when the informed elite is sufficiently large but are replaced by democracies when elites are too numerous to be bribed or silenced.

Keywords: non-democracies, political economy, propaganda, censorship

JEL Classification: P16

Suggested Citation

Guriev, Sergei and Treisman, Daniel, A Theory of Informational Autocracy (April 3, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3426238 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3426238

Sergei Guriev (Contact Author)

Sciences Po ( email )

27 rue Saint-Guillaume
Paris Cedex 07, 75337
France

HOME PAGE: http://econ.sciences-po.fr/staff/sergei-guriev

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Daniel Treisman

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science ( email )

405 Hilgard Ave.
3265 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1472
United States
650-725-8556 (Phone)
650-723-1687 (Fax)

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