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A Theory of Political Transitions

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Abstract

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 to the elite, highly unequal cocieties 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 unequality 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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  • Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson, 1999. "A Theory of Political Transitions," Working papers 99-26, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mit:worpap:99-26
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    democracy; dictatorship; inequality; political instability; redistribution;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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