Social Origins of Dictatorships: Elite Networks and Political Transitions in Haiti

November 01, 2016

Suresh Naidu, James A. Robinson, and Lauren E. Young


Existing theories of coups against democracy emphasize that elite incentives to mount a coup depend on the threat that democracy represents to them and what they stand to gain from dictatorship. But holding interests constant, some potential plotters, by the nature of their social networks, have much more influence over whether or not a coup succeeds. We develop a model of elite social networks and show that coup participation of an elite is increasing in their network centrality and results in rents during a dictatorship. We empirically explore the model using an original dataset of Haitian elite social networks which we linked to firm-level data on importing firms. We show that highly central families are more likely to participate in the 1991 coup against the democratic Aristide government. We then find that the retail prices of the staple goods imported by coup participators differentially increase during subsequent periods of non-democracy. Finally, we find that urban children born during periods of non-democracy are more likely to experience adverse health outcomes.

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Published in American Political Science Review , Volume 115 , Issue 3 , August 2021