Friday, 16 March 2012

Empirical Puzzles from the Arab Spring

On Acemoglu & Robinson's excellent new blog "Why Nations Fail", they point out that the prospects for a peaceful resolution in Syria are bleak, to say the least.

Their post reminded me of an empirical puzzle that I noticed back at Uni. Why is it that Monarchs seem to behave so differently to autocrats when they are faced with rebellions? The Arab Spring (which those who know me will realise post-dates my thesis by some time) provides what seems to me to be clear evidence on this. Looking across the monarchies that have seen protests, Oman, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, all have avoided out and out civil war or revolution, generally by buying off their populations and/or with small political liberalisations. By contrast, the dictatorships in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Libya have been far less succesful, generally avoiding any conciliatory policies and hence often leading to total overthrow or civil war. In fact the only country that seems to somewhat buck the trend is Algeria, which politically as I understand it (which honestly is not that well) is somewhat less authoritarian than most of the other countries that benefitted from the Arab Spring. The case is bolstered still further when we look further at Monarchies outside the Middle East, such as Bhutan, Swaziland and Brunei.

The answer to why there is this difference is not immediately obvious.

In the end, I decided not to make this the central puzzle of my thesis, and instead focussed on an associated but more specific problem to do with the distribution of liberalisations within Monarchies (for anyone interested, that work, adapted to be reader friendly and without ugly tables, can be found here, pages 4&5 giving the best summary of what it is about). Given the events that have since happened, perhaps I ought to have focussed on this problem. I've sent these questions over to Acemoglu & Robinson, who were kind enough to write back to me indicating that they might deal with issue in an upcoming blog post. I look forward to reading their views.

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