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The curley effect meets the revolutionary threshold model.

JEL D70

In "The Curley Effect: The Economies of Shaping the Electorate" [Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 2005], Harvard economists Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer showed how politicians can sometimes use redistributive politics to shape the electorate. They named their model after James Curley, the legendary and long-serving Boston mayor. Curley came from a poor and predominantly Irish Boston neighborhood, and it was from this type of neighborhood that he obtained electoral support. This support was barely enough to get him elected mayor in 1913, so shortly after taking office he adopted a series of redistributive policies that caused wealthy Anglo-Saxon citizens to emigrate out of Boston. This act of political entrepreneurship solidified Curley'S position by increasing the relative size of his voter base.

Glaeser and Shleifer used this example, and others, to illustrate how the economics of shaping the electorate can turn the Tiebout [Journal of Political Economy, 1956] model on its head. In the Tiebout model, the desire of politicians to get re-elected, as well as the threat of out-migration, causes them to pursue public policies that generally improve the welfare of citizens in the community. In the Curley effect model, however, similarly motivated officials can employ distortionary policies to reward their voter base while punishing their political opponents, eventually forcing them to leave the community. The result is a more firmly established political regime, albeit at the cost of making the entire community poorer in the long run.

In their theoretical model, Glaeser and Shleifer assumed that the political incumbent is elected and maximizes the share of the electorate that supports him or her. What if the incumbent cares about maximizing the share of the population that supports him or her but the regime is not democratic but rather autocratic? Does the Curley effect still operate in an autocracy where vote share is essentially unimportant?

We feel that the example of Burma (Myanmar) can shed some light on this question. After a coup d'etat in 1962. General Ne Win ruled the country for over 25 years. In 1988 the military removed him from office and replaced him with a military junta, which ruled until 2011 when political power appeared to be peacefully transferred to a civilian government. The policies pursued by military leaders in Burma during their nearly 50 years of rule isolated the country and turned it into one of the least developed in the world and the poorest country in Southeast Asia [Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, 2009]. While the peaceful handoff of power is interesting, our focus in this note is on Curley-like policies pursued during the five decades of military rule that illustrate the Curley effect operating under autocratic rule.

Unlike in a democratic regime, an autocratic regime does not have to worry about being voted out of power. Autocrats typically lose power either through a military coup or revolution. As the military was already in power in Burma, a military coup was an unlikely threat. A revolution, on the other hand, was a far more likely threat to the incumbent regime. An important factor in revolutions is the size of the visible opposition to the current regime. According to Kuran [World Politics, 1991], mass discontent is insufficient to generate a popular uprising because in oppressive regimes people falsify their true preferences regarding the regime in order to avoid persecution. However, the likelihood of persecution decreases as the size of the opposition grows. Of course, if everyone waited for the opposition to become widespread, the revolution would never happen. Luckily, according to Kuran, some stand up to the regime even when no one else is doing so. In revealing their private preferences for a regime change they create a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a revolutionary bandwagon.

When the incentives of the Curley model are combined with Kuran's model of revolutions, the adoption of policies that encourage the migration of those likely to be visible dissenters appears to be a rational response to the threat of a revolution. A 2008 New Yorker article [George Parker, "Drowning,"] points out a Burmese policy that appears to be Curley-like in its effect. In the late 2000s, the military junta in Burma encouraged migration by making it easier to get passports. As Parker indicated, making it easier to get a passport "...only encouraged the hemorrhaging of the talented and the disgruntled, so that potential threats leave the country...." This policy seems clearly aimed at maximizing the share of the population that support (or at least will not visibly oppose) the current regime. By encouraging the emigration of the educated and disgruntled, the military junta in Burma was able to lower the likelihood of a revolutionary cascade and increase the probability of the current regime remaining in power.

Published on line: 3 October 2013

[c] International Atlantic Economic Society 2013

DOI 10.1007/s11294-013-9441-0

J.C. Hall (*)

Department of Economics, West Virginia University, Morgantown. WV. USA

e-mail: joshua.c. hall@grnail.com

M. Podemska-Mikluch

Department of Economics. Beloit College, Beloit. WI. USA

e-mail: podcmskam@belmt.edu
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Author:C. Hall, Joshua; Podemska-Mikluch, Marta
Publication:International Advances in Economic Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2014
Words:834
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