This talk offers a theory of the sources of authoritarian durability, which emphasizes the importance of mass support for ensuring nondemocratic regime survival. It argues that the most resilient autocracies in the modern world extend their lifespans not by repressing the masses but by guaranteeing universal access to jobs, by providing subsidized housing, by rolling out generous welfare benefits, and by pricing basic services, consumer goods, and staple foods below the cost of production. In these welfare dictatorships there exists an implicit understanding that the masses will reward the regime with compliance as long as their consumption preferences are satisfied. According to the terms of this social contract, citizens would be justified to rebel should the regime renege on its commitments to maintain a high level of basic consumption.
The talk argues that although they initially developed in centrally planned economies prior to 1989, welfare dictatorships have had an afterlife well past the end of the Cold War in a range of authoritarian regimes. The theory is developed through an in-depth study of the case of pre-1989 Bulgaria and is tested through a paired comparison of three centrally planned economies (the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union, and pre-1989 China) with the cases of post-1989 China, contemporary Russia, and Cuba. The talk is based on extensive archival research with Bulgarian, Chinese, Soviet, German, and Cuban documents, as well as interviews conducted in China, Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, and Cuba.
Professor Martin K. Dimitrov will present his work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 22 August, 2019 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki). The event is chaired by Professor Vladimir Gel'man.