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A Theory of Political Transitions

  • Acemoglu, Daron
  • Robinson, James A

We develop a theory of political transitions inspired in part by the experiences of Western Europe and Latin America. Nondemocratic societies are controlled by a rich elite. The initially disenfranchised poor can contest power by threatening social unrest or revolution, and this may force the elite to democratize. Democracy may not consolidate because it is more redistributive than a nondemocratic regime, and this gives the elite an incentive to mount a coup. Because inequality makes democracy more costly for the elite, highly unequal societies are less likely to consolidate democracy and may end up oscillating between regimes or in a nondemocratic repressive regime. An unequal society is likely to experience fiscal volatility, but the relationship between inequality and redistribution is nonmonotonic; societies with intermediate levels of inequality consolidate democracy and redistribute more than both very equal and very unequal countries. We also show that asset redistribution, such as educational and land reform, may be used to consolidate both democratic and nondemocratic regimes.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 2277.

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Date of creation: Oct 1999
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:2277
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  1. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1991. "Is Inequality Harmful for Growth? Theory and Evidence," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt00x7n68q, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  2. Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson, 2001. "A Theory of Political Transitions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 938-963, September.
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  7. Daron Acemoglu & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 1994. "Was Prometheus unbound by chance? Risk, diversification and growth," Economics Working Papers 98, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  8. Acemoglu, Daron & Robinson, James A, 1998. "Why did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality and Growth in Historical Perspective," CEPR Discussion Papers 1797, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  19. Wright, Randall, 1996. "Taxes, redistribution, and growth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(3), pages 327-338, November.
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  25. Perotti, Roberto & Alesina, Alberto, 1996. "Income Distribution, Political Instability, and Investment," Scholarly Articles 4553018, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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