Conference Abstracts

Scott Abramson and Sergio Montero
Friday, 1:00pm

Title: Learning About Growth and Democracy

Abstract: Scholars of democratization have sought to understand two patterns: the observed correlation between income and democracy, and the clustering of democratization events. We develop and estimate a model of learning that explains both patterns. In our model, countries’ own and neighbors’ past experiences shape elites’ beliefs about the effects of democracy on economic growth and their likelihood of retaining power. These beliefs influence the choice to transition into or out of democracy. We show that learning from past experiences is crucial to explaining observed transitions since the mid-twentieth century. Moreover, our model predicts reversals to authoritarianism if the world were hit with a shock to growth the size of the Great Depression.


Monika Nalepa, Georg Vanberg and Caterina Chiopris
Friday, 2:00pm

Title: Authoritarian Backsliding

Abstract: A prominent contemporary phenomenon is an apparent “backsliding” of democratic countries into (semi-)authoritarian practices. Importantly, such episodes unfold over time, and often involve uncertainty about the ultimate intentions of governments. Governments typically do not attempt to engage in authoritarian practices immediately, but rather initiate policies or institutional reforms that may in the future facilitate or enable actions that are inconsistent with liberal democratic practices. Building on recent work (Svolik 2017), we develop a formal model that explores both features (and their interaction) in a two-period game in which a government takes an action in period 1 that may allow for subsequent actions that are inconsistent with the rule of law in period 2. Citizens face uncertainty over the ultimate intentions of the government, and must decide whether to replace the first-period government before period 2. The model generates several insights. First, consistent with other work (e.g., Svolik 2018), it suggests that polarization among citizens and elites is an important factor in driving authoritarian backsliding. Extending this logic, the model demonstrates that the degree of polarization necessary to generate the potential for backsliding depends critically on the uncertainty facing citizens about the type of incumbent. Finally, in such a setting, citizens may support incumbent governments even if there is some risk that these governments are “closet autocrats” despite the fact that citizens are fundamentally opposed to authoritarianism. One consequence is that in our model, citizens may genuinely come to regret their electoral choices—a marked contrast from models in which citizens accept authoritarian outcomes because on balance these are preferable to the alternative. We illustrate the model’s implications through an analytic narrative that focuses on the current Polish government’s efforts to reform the Polish judiciary.


Jack Paine
Friday, 3:15pm

Title: The Repression-Revolution Dilemma

Abstract: Empirically, authoritarian regimes vary in their durability, democratization likelihood, and violence. This paper presents a game theoretic model that explains a dictator’s dilemma to exercising heavy preventive repression, and consequences for regime dynamics. The authoritarian government can choose among high repression, authoritarian power-sharing, and democratization, and society reacts by endogenously mobilizing to negotiate transfers or launch a revolution. Repressing at high levels creates a trade-off relative to power-sharing: although higher repression enables the government to consume higher rents by decreasing mobilization frequency, it also leaves society “no other way out” except revolution. Introducing additional political survival concerns shows that the government may fail at either repression or power-sharing because each potentially generates conditions for coups. Furthermore, the government cannot extricate itself from a violent path by democratizing because repression empowers societal extremists. Instead, the dictator only democratizes when too weak to sustain durable authoritarianism but also strong enough to protect elite interests under democratic rule. The model implications help to explain empirical differences across authoritarian regimes distinguished by institutional basis: personalist (high repression and other violence), military (high democratization likelihood), and party-based (greater power-sharing and durable authoritarian regimes).


Marco Battaglini, Rebecca Morton, and Eleonora Patacchini
Friday, 4:30pm

Title: Public Protests and Policy Making: Theory and Experiments

Abstract: We present an informational theory of public protests, according to which public protests allow citizens to aggregate privately dispersed information and signal it to the policy maker. The model predicts that information sharing of signals within social groups can facilitate information aggregation even when it is not predicted with individual signals when the social groups are sufficiently large enough. We use experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk to test these predictions. We find that information sharing in social groups significantly affects citizens’ protest decisions and as a consequence mitigates the effects of high conflict leading to greater efficiency in policy makers’ choices. Our experiments highlight that social media can play an important role in protests beyond simply a way in which citizens can coordinate their actions; through information sharing use of social media in protests can lead to protests that are more informative to policy makers and more effective in changing policies.


Juan Camillo Castillo and Dorothy Kronick
Saturday, 9:00am

Title: Prohibition vs. Peace

Abstract: Drug traffickers sometimes divide profits via peaceful agreement. Other times they fight. We model criminal war as the result of a dynamic commitment problem among traffickers in which a third party—the state—can change the magnitude of the contested profits. We show that enforcing prohibition generally increases profits, and that higher profits drive violence. Killing capos makes traffickers short-sighted, further hindering peaceful pacts. This describes the logic of violence in criminal war, which is less studied than interstate or civil war but often as deadly. We use data from alcohol prohibition in the United States and cocaine trafficking in Mexico to illustrate how the model predicts violence among traffickers.


Brendan Cooley, Colin Krainin, and Kristopher Ramsay
Saturday, 10:00am

Title: Prohibition, Theft, and Violence: Monopolistic Pricing and Exchange in Illicit Markets

Abstract: Why are black markets more prone to violence than their licit counterparts? Sellers in black markets face two problems largely absent from licit markets. First, they have no legal recourse if their product is forcibly stolen from them. Second, attempts at exchange may be punished by the authorities. In a simple model of monopolistic pricing, we show these forces interact to produce increased violence as prohibition enforcement increases. More broadly, we build a typology of exchange under anarchy, generalizing the standard model of monopoly under incomplete information (Maskin and Riley 1984) to settings featuring prohibition and theft.


Benjamin G. Ogden
Saturday, 11:15am

Title: The Imperfect Beliefs Voting Model

Abstract: In real-life elections, voters do not have full information over the policy platforms proposed by political parties. Instead, they form (imprecise) beliefs. I propose a new model of partisan competition to represent the interaction of these beliefs with platform selection. Both parties gain more from appealing to the voters with more precise beliefs over their platform. Minority candidates viewed with less precision overall gain relatively more from outliers. Therefore, the Median Voter Theorem is recovered if and only if voters’ policy preferences are uncorrelated with the precision of their beliefs about each candidate, and preferences are distributed symmetrically. Otherwise, even election-motivated parties diverge away from each other. As the population becomes polarized in how they form beliefs about politics, they will become polarized on political grounds as well, providing a new explanation for recent political polarization in the United States which, under reasonable assumptions, is more in line with the stylized facts than models with perfect beliefs.


Torun Dewan and Stephane Wolton
Saturday, 1:00pm

Title: A Political Economy of Social Discrimination

Abstract: From burqa ban to minaret ban, from right to detain suspected illegal immigrants to restricting the help to migrants, the number of social laws specifically targeting minorities have raised in recent years across Western democracies. We show that these episodes of social discrimination are far from being innocuous, they can have dramatic consequences on the employment prospect and welfare of minorities. We study a political economy model where politicians compete by choosing a proportional tax rate, that is uniformly distributed, and policies that raise the salience of social identity before citizens interact on the labour market. Raising the salience of identity can lead to work discrimination affecting both the employment prospects and the duration of unemployment spells of workers with a minority identity. We further provide necessary and sufficient conditions for an equilibrium in which a plurality of the citizenry demands social discrimination and politicians respond via the introduction of socially discriminatory policy. We highlight that social discrimination can have serious redistributive consequences leading to less transfers and (possibly) lower level of taxation. The minority thus suffers on several counts from social discrimination. She is less likely to be employed and receives less assistance when she needs it the most. We discuss several policy recommendations with respect to the deleterious effect of social discrimination.