Dictators and Oligarchs: A Dynamic Theory of Contested Property Rights
In an economy with weak economic and political institutions, the major institutional choices are made strategically by oligarchs and dictators. The conventional wisdom presumes that as rent-seeking is harmful for oligarchs themselves, institutions such as property rights will emerge spontaneously. We explicitly model a dynamic game between the oligarchs and a dictator who can contain rent-seeking. The oligarchs choose either a weak dictator (who can be overthrown by an individual oligarch) or a strong dictator (who can only be replaced via a consensus of oligarchs). In equilibrium, no dictator can commit to both: (i) protecting the oligarchs' property rights from the other oligarchs and (ii) not expropriating oligarchs himself. We show that a weak dictator does not limit rent-seeking. A strong dictator does reduce rent-seeking but also expropriates individual oligarchs. We show that even though eliminating rent-seeking is Pareto optimal, weak dictators do get appointed in equilibrium and rent-seeking continues. This outcome is especially likely when economic environment is highly volatile.