Working Papers

Segment and Rule: Modern Censorship in Authoritarian Regimes (with Kun Heo)

Job Market Paper draft.

Abstract. The internet grants citizens with the ability to choose which media outlets to consume. This access to foreign independent outlets risks exposing citizens to negative information about the authoritarian regime. In response to this novel threat, authoritarian regimes introduced censorship firewalls which seem to fail at their task: millions bypass these restrictions everyday. We contend that the regime deliberately aims for a specific segment of the population to self-select into bypassing the firewall: regime opponents. By bypassing the firewall, opponents are occasionally convinced to comply after seeing positive and credible reporting about the regime by banned foreign outlets. The firewall ensures that regime supporters exclusively consume content from domestic outlets and so their compliance is secured via regime propaganda. We label this strategy one of segment-and-rule and show how it maximizes compliance. We also explain how authoritarian regimes can engineer segment-and-rule by making local outlets parrot the party line, investing in domestic entertainment or strategically banning foreign entertainment. By providing citizens with more choice, the internet may have entrenched authoritarian regimes.


Censorship in Large Societies (with Kun Heo)

Draft coming soon. 

Abstract. A freer press is empirically associated with democratic institutions, yet there exists substantial variation across authoritarian settings in how freely information flows to citizens. To explain this variation, we consider a setting where the leader faces citizens who differ in their (ex-ante) alignment with the regime. We consider any distribution of citizens and assume that censorship – closing an opposition outlet – does not come at any cost previously studied in the literature. Still, we show that censorship need not be optimal. Given some median citizen who is moderately aligned with the regime, censorship is only optimal if there are many citizens located around this median citizen. In low-polarization citizenries, authoritarian leaders shut down opposition outlets to free themselves of a credibility constraint so that they may convince “moderate” citizens to comply through the propaganda of the state media. In polarized citizenries, the leader secures the compliance of regime supporters by having the state media parrot the party line. Conditional on positive reporting from opposition outlet, regime opponents also comply. Censorship incentives are thus rooted in the shape of the regime’s support base within the citizenry.




From Elite to Mass: Repression and Purges in Authoritarian Regimes (with Stephane Wolton)

Slides available here. Draft coming soon.

Abstract. This paper proposes a unified theoretical framework to study the interaction of mass and elite purges in authoritarian regimes. We contend that the decision to purge the elite and the breadth of a mass purge of agents are closely intertwined and crucially depend on how closely connected are new hires to the elite in place. If this connection is low so that the autocrat has good control of the hiring process, good performance is not always sufficient to save the elite. As the autocrat starts purging the elite, she carries out a smaller mass purge. Mass purges are, therefore, mostly used to dissuade a disloyal incumbent elite. In contrast, if the connection between agent and the elite is high, so that the latter controls the hiring process, the elite can survive poor performance. As the autocrat starts purging the elite, the breadth of the mass purge increases. Mass purges become a tool to dissuade a disloyal replacement elite.


The Case for Lobbying Transparency

Draft available here.


In response to voters’ demands to reduce interest groups’ influence over policy-making, many countries are passing or discussing transparency regulations on the activities of lobbyists. What is the impact of these laws? To study this question, I add a lobbying stage to a canonical model of political agency. On top of helping voters control the influence of interest groups, lobbying transparency makes clear why a policy was implemented and thus helps voters better punish politicians who do not represent their best interests. Perhaps most surprisingly, the need for lobbying transparency is rooted in the conflicting policy and electoral incentives of politicians rather than in the risk of influence by interest groups. Lobbying transparency is most needed in environments where it is hard for voters to observe whether the incumbent implemented the best policy, such as environments with a weak media freedom. This suggests a substitutability between different levels of horizontal accountability. Unfortunately, politicians need not benefit from lobbying transparency, and may thus prevent their implementation.


Work In Progress

Dynamics of Violence in Authoritarian Regimes (with Anna Denisenko and Kun Heo)