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Olson: Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I even say who wrote them. If you have more recent summaries to add to this collection, send them my way I guess. Sorry for the ads; they cover the costs of keeping this online.

Olson. 1993. Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development. American Political Science Review 87 (Sept): 567-576.

Under anarchy, uncoordinated competitive theft by "roving bandits" destroys the incentive to invest and produce, leaving little for either the population or the bandits. Both can be better off if a bandit sets himself up as a dictator--a "stationary bandit" who monopolizes and rationalizes theft in the form of taxes. A secure autocrat has an encompassing interest in his domain that leads him to provide a peaceful order and other public goods that increase productivity. Whenever an autocrat expects a brief tenure, it pays him to confiscate those assets whose tax yield over his tenure is less than their total value. This incentive plus the inherent uncertainty of succession in dictatorships imply that autocracies will rarely have good economic performance for more than a generation. The conditions necessary for a lasting democracy are the same necessary for the security of property and contract rights that generates economic growth.

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Olson, Mancur (author)Political ScienceComparative PoliticsDictatorshipDemocracyDevelopmentGrowthPublic GoodsDemocratizationRegime Type

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