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Development Economics Paper
Making Autocracy Work
Timothy Besley and Masayuki Kudamatsu
May 2007
Paper No' DEDPS 48:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: P16; P26

Tags: keywords: dictatorship; democracy

One of the key goals of political economy is to understand how institutional arrangements shape policy outcomes. This paper studies a comparatively neglected aspect of this - the forces that shape heterogeneous performance of autocracies. The paper develops a simple theoretical model of accountability in the absence of regularized elections. Leadership turnover is managed by a selectorate - a group of individuals on whom the leader depends to hold onto power. Good policy is institutionalized when the selectorate removes poorly performing leaders from office. This requires that the selectorate’s hold on power is not too dependent on a specific leader being in office. The paper looks empirically at spells of autocracy to establish cases where it has been successful according to various objective criteria. We use these case studies to identify the selectorate in specific instances of successful autocracy. We also show that, consistent with the theory, leadership turnover in successful autocracies is higher than in unsuccessful autocracies. Finally, we show by exploiting leadership deaths from natural causes that successful autocracies appear to have found ways for selectorates to nominate successors without losing power - a feature which is also consistent with the theoretical approach.