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Rational dictators and the killing of innocents: Data from Stalin's archives


  • Gregory, Paul R.
  • Schröder, Philipp J.H.
  • Sonin, Konstantin


We posit a rational choice model of dictatorship to explain the tendency of dictators to repress innocent citizens. This model demonstrates that, when the quality of information about regime enemies is low, a rational dictator will knowingly kill and imprison citizens who are not real enemies. We use the formerly secret Stalin archives to test this proposition against the stylized facts of Stalin's three major repressions.

Suggested Citation

  • Gregory, Paul R. & Schröder, Philipp J.H. & Sonin, Konstantin, 2011. "Rational dictators and the killing of innocents: Data from Stalin's archives," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 34-42, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jcecon:v:39:y:2011:i:1:p:34-42

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lazarev, Valery, 2007. "Political labor market, government policy, and stability of a non-democratic regime," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 546-563, September.
    2. Wintrobe,Ronald, 2000. "The Political Economy of Dictatorship," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521794497, March.
    3. Edward L. Glaeser, 2005. "The Curley Effect: The Economics of Shaping the Electorate," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(1), pages 1-19, April.
    4. Valery Lazarev, 2005. "Economics of One-Party State: Promotion Incentives and Support for the Soviet Regime1," Comparative Economic Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Association for Comparative Economic Studies, vol. 47(2), pages 346-363, June.
    5. Jody Overland & Kenneth Simons & Michael Spagat, 2005. "Political instability and growth in dictatorships," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 125(3), pages 445-470, December.
    6. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1999. "Political economics and macroeconomic policy," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 22, pages 1397-1482 Elsevier.
    7. Eugenia Belova & Paul Gregory, 2009. "Political economy of crime and punishment under Stalin," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 140(3), pages 463-478, September.
    8. Casey B. Mulligan & Ricard Gil & Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 2004. "Do Democracies Have Different Public Policies than Nondemocracies?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 51-74, Winter.
    9. Acemoglu,Daron & Robinson,James A., 2009. "Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521671422, March.
    10. repec:cup:apsrev:v:84:y:1990:i:03:p:849-872_19 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Edward L. Glaeser & Andrei Shleifer, 2002. "The Curley Effect," NBER Working Papers 8942, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mark Harrison, 2016. "Fact and Fantasy in Soviet Records:The Documentation of Soviet Party and Secret Police Investigations as Historical Evidence," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 263, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    2. Daron Acemoglu & Georgy Egorov & Konstantin Sonin, 2015. "Political Economy in a Changing World," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 123(5), pages 1038-1086.
    3. Harrison, Mark, 2011. "Secrecy, Fear and Transaction Costs: The Business of Soviet Forced Labour in the Early Cold War," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 47, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    4. Xue, Melanie Meng & Koyama, Mark, 2018. "Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China," MPRA Paper 84249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Ferrero, Mario, 2013. "Extermination as a substitute for assimilation or deportation: an economic approach," POLIS Working Papers 174, Institute of Public Policy and Public Choice - POLIS.
    6. Dmitriy Vorobyev, 2010. "Growth of Electoral Fraud in Non-Democracies: The Role of Uncertainty," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp420, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    7. Yuri M. Zhukov, 2014. "Theory of Indiscriminate Violence," Working Paper 365551, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    8. Andrei Markevich, 2007. "The Dictator’s Dilemma: to Punish or to Assist? Plan Failures and Interventions under Stalin," Working Papers w0107, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR).
    9. Miller, Marcus & Smith, Jennifer C., 2015. "In the shadow of the Gulag: Worker discipline under Stalin," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 531-548.
    10. Gehlbach, Scott & Keefer, Philip, 2011. "Investment without democracy: Ruling-party institutionalization and credible commitment in autocracies," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 123-139, June.
    11. repec:cge:wacage:2018 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Koyama, Mark & Xue, Melanie Meng, 2015. "The Literary Inquisition: The Persecution of Intellectuals and Human Capital Accumulation in China," MPRA Paper 62103, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    Dictatorial systems Stalinism Soviet State and Party archives NKVD OPGU;

    JEL classification:

    • N44 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: 1913-
    • P00 - Economic Systems - - General - - - General
    • P26 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies - - - Political Economy


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