The Autocratic Welfare State: Old-Age Pensions, Credible Commitments, and Regime Survival

By Carl Henrik Knutsen and Magnus B. Rasmussen

Published in Comparative Political Studies, online on June 20, 2017


In this article, the authors argue that autocratic regimes are no less likely than democracies to adopt old-age pensions, although autocratic programs are less universal in their coverage. The theoretical argument focuses on the strong incentives that autocratic regimes have for enacting and maintaining such programs to ensure regime survival. Autocratic pension programs can be considered club goods that (a) are targeted to critical supporting groups and (b) solve credible commitment problems on promises of future distribution, thereby mitigating probability of regime breakdown. The authors test three implications from the argument, drawing on a novel dataset on welfare state programs and including 140 countries with time series from the 1880s. First, they find that autocracies are no less likely than democracies to have old-age pension programs. But, second, autocracies have less universal pension programs than democracies. Third, pension programs effectively reduce the probability of autocratic breakdown.

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Published Aug. 10, 2017 2:23 PM - Last modified Aug. 10, 2017 2:23 PM