Shocks, Skills, and Political Instability in Authoritarian Regimes: A Theoretical Analysis and Application in Maoist China

Victor Shih, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UCSD; Pengfei Zhang, School of Economics, Peking University; Mingxing Liu, Institute of Education Finance Research, Peking University

| Perry World House, 3803 Locust Walk

Non-democracies are seen as inherently unstable because of the high frequency of irregular and often violent leadership turnovers.  We investigate the underlying logic of stability and instability in authoritarian regimes.  Our model portrays a world where dictators are forced to tolerate threatening lieutenants because they are skillful at resolving major shocks, which can destroy the regime.  As such, the dictators and their lieutenants need to consider purges and coups, as well as civil war as best responses.  In an infinitely repeated game that takes into account possible future payoffs for actors in different scenarios, the game predicts that changes in the frequency of exogenous shocks can have a profound impact on political stability. We apply this insight in the analysis of Mao's relationship with his top generals.  Although Peng Dehuai was his most capable general for fighting large-scale modern conflicts, the end of the Korean War and US focus on other parts of the world created a window in which Mao could purge Peng Dehuai without
incurring too many future costs.

Co-sponsored with Perry World House and Political Science Department.