Daniel Treisman discovers that “economic development does lead to greater democracy but not in a smooth, incremental way.” Instead, big changes happen when a dictatorship changes hands:
If economic development makes it harder for a dictator to pass on his regime intact to a son or associate, why do dictators allow their countries to develop economically? (Of course, some don’t—but many do.) They might consider an advanced economy necessary for military defense, but that is probably not the only reason.
I provide evidence for another. Paradoxically, high economic growth and the high national income it—ultimately—causes have counterposed effects: the first entrenches the dictator, while the second undermines the dictatorship. Vigorous growth—which boosts household incomes and government revenues—enhances the incumbent’s survival odds. Thus, dictators have a personal interest in growth. But over time that same growth changes society and the ruling elite in ways that make it more likely the regime will collapse after the dictator is gone. What’s good for the dictator is not so good for his dynasty.