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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.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 4059.

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Date of creation: Sep 2003
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4059
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  1. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 2005. "The Economic Effects of Constitutions," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262661926, June.
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  12. 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.
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  18. Easterly, W & Levine, R, 1996. "Africa's Growth Tragedy : Policies and Ethnic Divisions," Papers 536, Harvard - Institute for International Development.
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