IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Kleptocracy and Divide-and-Rule: A Model of Personal Rule


  • Acemoglu, Daron
  • Robinson, James A
  • Verdier, Thierry


Many developing countries have suffered under the personal rule of ‘kleptocrats’, who implement highly inefficient economic policies, expropriate the wealth of their citizens, and use the proceeds for their own glorification or consumption. The incidence of kleptocracy is a serious impediment to development. Yet how do kleptocrats survive? How can they apparently exploit the entire citizenship of countries and not foment successful opposition? In this research we argue that the success of kleptocrats rests on their ability to use a particular type of political strategy, which we refer to as ‘divide-and-rule’. Members of society need to cooperate in order to depose a kleptocrat. A kleptocrat, however, may defuse such cooperation by imposing punitive rates of taxation on any citizen who proposes such a move, and redistributing the benefits to those who need to agree to it. Thus kleptocrats can intensify the collective action problem by threats that remain off the equilibrium path. In equilibrium, all are exploited and no one challenges the kleptocrat because of the threat of divide-and-rule. The divide-and-rule strategy is made possible by the weakness of the institutions in these societies, and highlights the different nature of politics between strongly- and weakly-institutionalized polities. We show that foreign aid and rents from natural resources typically help kleptocratic rulers by providing them with greater resources to buy off opponents. Kleptocratic policies are also more likely to arise when opposition groups are shortsighted and when the average productivity in the economy is low. We also find that greater inequality between producer groups may constrain kleptocratic policies because more productive groups are more difficult to buy off.

Suggested Citation

  • Acemoglu, Daron & Robinson, James A & Verdier, Thierry, 2003. "Kleptocracy and Divide-and-Rule: A Model of Personal Rule," CEPR Discussion Papers 4059, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4059

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: CEPR Discussion Papers are free to download for our researchers, subscribers and members. If you fall into one of these categories but have trouble downloading our papers, please contact us at

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. William Easterly, 2002. "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262550423, January.
    2. Grossman, Herschel I. & Noh, Suk Jae, 1994. "Proprietary public finance and economic welfare," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(2), pages 187-204, February.
    3. 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.
    4. James A. Robinson & Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "Political Losers as a Barrier to Economic Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 126-130, May.
    5. Acemoglu, Daron & Johnson, Simon & Robinson, James A, 2002. "An African Success Story: Botswana," CEPR Discussion Papers 3219, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Green, Edward J & Porter, Robert H, 1984. "Noncooperative Collusion under Imperfect Price Information," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(1), pages 87-100, January.
    7. David Dollar & Craig Burnside, 2000. "Aid, Policies, and Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 847-868, September.
    8. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
    9. Eliana La Ferrara & Robert H. Bates, 2001. "Political Competition in Weak States," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(2), pages 159-184, July.
    10. Robinson, James A. & Torvik, Ragnar & Verdier, Thierry, 2006. "Political foundations of the resource curse," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 447-468, April.
    11. Sachs, J-D & Warner, A-M, 1995. "Natural Resource Abundance and Economic Growth," Papers 517a, Harvard - Institute for International Development.
    12. Knack, Stephen, 2000. "Aid dependence and the quality of governance : a cross-country empirical analysis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2396, The World Bank.
    13. William Easterly & Ross Levine, 1997. "Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1203-1250.
    14. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 2005. "The Economic Effects of Constitutions," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262661926, January.
    15. North, Douglass C. & Weingast, Barry R., 1989. "Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 803-832, December.
    16. Eliana Laferrara & Robert H. Bates, 2001. "Political Competition in Weak States," CID Working Papers 68A, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    17. Wintrobe,Ronald, 1998. "The Political Economy of Dictatorship," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521583299, March.
    18. Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson, 2000. "Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality, and Growth in Historical Perspective," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1167-1199.
    19. Grossman, Herschel I, 1991. "A General Equilibrium Model of Insurrections," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 912-921, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H00 - Public Economics - - General - - - General
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4059. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.