The social contract revisited: Evidence from communist and state capitalist economies
The social contract thesis explained stability in communist autocracies as a consequence of an implicit exchange between the regime and the populace: citizens remained quiescent and the regime provided them with secure jobs, social services, subsidised housing, and consumer goods. Our essay asks how well the social contract thesis applies in three different types of regimes. We review classic literature on the socialist social contract in light of newly available archival evidence on the Soviet Union. We turn then to reform-era China and Putin’s Russia, finding that these post-socialist regimes create distinctive ‘market social contracts’. Our work shows that communist and authoritarian leaders cater to the consumption needs of populations in a strategic effort to remain in office and highlights the centrality of mass cooptation for explaining durable authoritarianism.