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An Agent-Based Model of Centralized Institutions, Social Network Technology, and Revolution


  • Michael D. Makowsky

    () (Center for Advanced Modeling of the Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins University)

  • Jared Rubin

    (Department of Economics, Chapman University)


Recent uprisings in the Arab world consist of individuals revealing vastly different preferences than were expressed prior to the uprisings. This paper sheds light on the general mechanisms underlying large-scale social and institutional change. We employ an agent-based model to test the impact of authority centralization and social network technology on preference revelation and falsification, social protest, and institutional change. We find that the amount of social and institutional change is decreasing with authority centralization in simulations with low network range but is increasing with authority centralization in simulations with greater network range. The relationship between institutional change and social shocks is not linear, but rather is characterized by sharp discontinuities. The threshold at which a shock can �tip� a system towards institutional change is decreasing with the geographic reach of citizen social networks. Farther reaching social networks reduce the robustness and resilience of central authorities to change. This helps explain why highly centralized regimes frequently attempt to restrict information flows via the media and Internet. More generally, our results highlight the role that information and communication technology can play in triggering cascades of preference revelation and revolutionary activity in varying institutional regimes.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael D. Makowsky & Jared Rubin, 2011. "An Agent-Based Model of Centralized Institutions, Social Network Technology, and Revolution," Working Papers 2011-05, Towson University, Department of Economics, revised Oct 2011.
  • Handle: RePEc:tow:wpaper:2011-05

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kuran, Timur, 1991. "The East European Revolution of 1989: Is It Surprising That We Were Surprised?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 121-125, May.
    2. Kuran, Timur, 1987. "Preference Falsification, Policy Continuity and Collective Conservatism," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(387), pages 642-665, September.
    3. Cowan, Robin & Jonard, Nicolas, 2004. "Network structure and the diffusion of knowledge," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 28(8), pages 1557-1575, June.
    4. Young, H Peyton, 1993. "The Evolution of Conventions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(1), pages 57-84, January.
    5. Christopher J. Ellis & John Fender, 2011. "Information Cascades and Revolutionary Regime Transitions," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 121(553), pages 763-792, June.
    6. Bikhchandani, Sushil & Hirshleifer, David & Welch, Ivo, 1992. "A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change in Informational Cascades," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 992-1026, October.
    7. Abhijit V. Banerjee, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817.
    8. Timur Kuran, 1989. "Sparks and prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 61(1), pages 41-74, April.
    9. In Ho Lee & Akos Valentinyi, 2000. "Noisy Contagion Without Mutation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 67(1), pages 47-56.
    10. Wright, Gavin, 1999. "The Civil Rights Revolution as Economic History," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(02), pages 267-289, June.
    11. Rubin, Jared, 2014. "Centralized institutions and cascades," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 340-357.
    12. Joshua M. Epstein & Robert L. Axtell, 1996. "Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262550253, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rubin, Jared, 2014. "Centralized institutions and cascades," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 340-357.

    More about this item


    preference falsification; revolution; protest; network technology; agent-based model.;

    JEL classification:

    • C63 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Computational Techniques
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • D85 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Network Formation
    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government

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