DRI Working Paper No. 48
By Alastair Smith, NYU and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, NYU
Leader Survival, Revolutions and the Nature of Government Finance
Leaders face multiple threats to their political survival. In additional to surviving the threats to tenure from within the existing political systems, which is modeled using Bueno de Mesquita et al’s (2003) selectorate theory, leaders risk being deposed through revolutions and coups. To ameliorate the threat of revolution, leaders can either increase public goods provisions to buy off potential revolutionaries or contract the provision of those public goods, such as freedom of assembly, transparency and free press, which enable revolutionaries to coordinate. Which response a leader chooses depends upon existing institutions and the structure of government finances. These factors also affect the likelihood and direction of institutional change. Tests of leader survival indicate that revolutionary threats increase the likelihood of deposition for nondemocratic leaders. Leaders with access to resources such as foreign aid, or natural resource rents are best equipped to survive these threats and avoid the occurrence of these threats in the first place.