Divide and Distribute: The Political Economy of Minority Segregation and Authoritarian Distribution


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  • Speaker: Trevor Johnston
  • Host Department: Political Science
  • Date: 02/08/2013
  • Time: 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

  • Location: Eldersveld Room (5670 Haven Hall)

  • Description:

    Abstract: Contrary to conventional wisdom, few autocrats rely exclusively, or even principally, on repression to survive. Instead, they exploit a variety of distributive strategies, buying popular support and co-opting elite challengers as necessary. According to existing theory, however, none of these strategies should involve targeted goods to politically disenfranchised minorities or other marginalized groups. 

    Yet in some regimes, we find this very practice, begging the question: why provide benefits to the marginalized? To resolve this puzzling behavior, I offer a theory of support-buying under the threat of sabotage. Autocrat survival depends on soliciting support from society while deterring costly economic sabotage. Without growth, an autocrat's support base will erode, making him
    vulnerable to regime challenges. Thus, by sabotaging production or destroying capital, even the most marginalized groups can influence the autocrat's distributive calculus. The theory generates a series of predictions on the conditions under which marginalized groups can credibly threaten sabotage and thus extract targeted benefits. In testing these predictions, I explore the puzzling case of Qatar, where the regime inexplicably targets distributive goods to marginalized migrant workers. 

    Drawing on GIS data, I exploit the spatial segregation of Qatar to evaluate the relationship between distributive targeting and the location of marginalized groups. Ultimately, I hope to show how the provision of distributive goods depends on a group's relative capacity to threaten costly economic sabotage.