DP4059 Kleptocracy and Divide-and-Rule: A Model of Personal Rule

Author(s): Daron Acemoglu, James A Robinson, Thierry Verdier
Publication Date: September 2003
Keyword(s):
JEL(s): H00, O10
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=4059

Many developing countries have suffered under the personal rule of ?kleptocrats?, who implement highly inefficient economic policies, expropriate the wealth of their citizens, and use the proceeds for their own glorification or consumption. The incidence of kleptocracy is a serious impediment to development. Yet how do kleptocrats survive? How can they apparently exploit the entire citizenship of countries and not foment successful opposition? In this research we argue that the success of kleptocrats rests on their ability to use a particular type of political strategy, which we refer to as ?divide-and-rule?. Members of society need to cooperate in order to depose a kleptocrat. A kleptocrat, however, may defuse such cooperation by imposing punitive rates of taxation on any citizen who proposes such a move, and redistributing the benefits to those who need to agree to it. Thus kleptocrats can intensify the collective action problem by threats that remain off the equilibrium path. In equilibrium, all are exploited and no one challenges the kleptocrat because of the threat of divide-and-rule. The divide-and-rule strategy is made possible by the weakness of the institutions in these societies, and highlights the different nature of politics between strongly- and weakly-institutionalized polities. We show that foreign aid and rents from natural resources typically help kleptocratic rulers by providing them with greater resources to buy off opponents. Kleptocratic policies are also more likely to arise when opposition groups are shortsighted and when the average productivity in the economy is low. We also find that greater inequality between producer groups may constrain kleptocratic policies because more productive groups are more difficult to buy off.