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Anna Dekalchuk and Ivan Grigoriev

School of Autocracy: Pensions and Labour Reforms of the First Putin Administration

The argument put forth in the paper is that the would-be autocrats learn their business while in office, thus making it a dynamic process. This knowledge is created as part of a collective trial and error process whereby all actors interact to obtain some intermediate goals. Normally these goals would not be related to power directly. Rather, they would concern specific policies the state government wishes to pursue. Various actors present in the political arena would then struggle to achieve their immediate policy goals, but this struggle would bring to life structures of interaction that would later stick with the regime and become its backbone. These structures would become the new norms of interaction, but they would also ascribe roles to various actors. The way the regime is would therefore be a result of collective learning rather than a deliberate design by one dominant actor. We therefore draw from the theory of cognitive institutionalism (Mantzavinos, North, and Shariq 2004) and from coordination game theory to formulate a theory of autocratic learning. We illustrate the theory with a case-study of the labour and pension reforms conducted by Vladimir Putin in Russia in the early 2000s. The empirical part consists of a description of the initial attempts at such reforms started in mid-1990s to reveal the set of relevant actors and their prior experience. This also prepares the mise en scene for the second wave of reforms conducted by Vladimir Putin in the first years of his presidency. These reforms are then analysed to show how chaotic the interactions were initially, and how they were further structured in two years time to create by 2002 the new political order. The empirical findings are informed by a series of in-depth interviews conducted in Autumn 2013 with the stakeholders in labour and pension reforms.