FSI09: Economic Context of Nonviolent Resistance

The seventh presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the economic vulnerabilities of different authoritarian states.

There are different types of repressive states:

  • Development state
    • Developmental ideology
    • Mixed economy with interventionist state
    • Constrained but partially autonomous civil society
  • Totalitarian state
    • Development ideology
    • State ownership of means of production
    • Mobilized but non-autonomous civil society
  • Rentier state
    • Lack of development ideology
    • State as arena for private gain
    • Disorganized civil society

The pillars of regime survival include legitimacy, political support and coercion. Each of these exist at different levels in the three types of state described above. For example, in rentier states have low legitimacy, narrow political support and high coercion.

How do states generate economic revenues?

  • Direct sources
    • Taxes
    • State ownership of production
    • Rents (natural resources, foreign aid, corruption, etc)
  • Indirect sources
    • Domestic and/or foreign private investment
    • Migrant remittances

One participant noted the important role of organized crime, which is missing from the framework presented. I completely agree with this comment. We’ve seen the rise in organized crime in Mexico, Colombia, Guinea Bissau and Liberia, among other countries.

What are the implications for the social contract? What sources of income require broad, narrow and little/no domestic collaboration?

  • Broad domestic collaboration
    • Taxes
    • Competitive private investment
  • Narrow domestic collaboration
    • Political corruption
    • State owned enterprises
    • Monopolistic private investment
  • No domestic collaboration
    • Natural resource rents
    • Foreign aid
    • Migrant remittances

States rely on these types of revenues to various degrees. For example, development states are highly dependent on private investment; totalitarian states rely most heavily on state ownership; and rentier states have relatively high dependence on rents. States use these revenues to create legitimacy, build political coalitions and bolster the military, for example.

Economic factors can affect thresholds at which citizens join democratic opposition. To be sure, minor changes in individual thresholds can unleash explosive growth in public opposition. I was surprised that the notion of “information cascades” was not included in the presentation. Nor was the idea of the “dictator’s dilemma,” which I addressed in this previous post.

In any case, here’s an excerpt from a paper by Professor Dan Drezner that explains information cascades:

“An informational cascade takes place when individuals acting in conditions of uncertainty strongly condition their choices on what others have done previously.  More formally, an information cascade is a situation in which every actor, based on the observations of others, makes the same choice independent of his/her private information signal.

In repressive societies, information cascades often lead citizens to acquiesce to government coercion, even if a broad swath of the public would prefer coordinated action.  Citizen coordination and mobilization  is highly unlikely among risk-averse actors unless there is some assurance that others will behave similarly.  At the same time, however, an exogenous shock that triggers spontaneous acts of protest can also trigger a reverse in the cascade.  This explains why repressive societies often appear stable and yet without warning can face a massive scaling up of protests and civic action.

A little bit of public information can reverse a long-standing informational cascade that contributed to citizen quiescence.  Even if people may have previously chosen one action, seemingly little information can induce the same people to choose the exact opposite action in response to a slight increase in information. The spread information technology increases the fragility of information cascades that sustain the appearance of authoritarian control.”

In terms of strategies for activists:

  • Identify the regime’s points of economic vulnerability on the revenue and expenditure side;
  • Seek to lower individual thresholds by raising the costs of coercion for the regime while de-legitimizing the regime;
  • Construct appropriate strategic alliances.

How does one engage in nonviolent conflict in rentier states? How does expand the nonviolent battlefield? There are two levels of analysis here: local/national and international. However, the international component is not a replacement for activities going on at the grassroots level.

In the case of Timor-Leste‘s nonviolent action, international actors were able to help support the cause. But if the political transition turned violent, then the international community would not be able to publicly support their cause.

Another strategy is to go after multinational companies operating in repressive regimes. Exposing the complicity of their business in these countries, which regimes depend on, is one way exploit some of their existing vulnerabilities.

An interesting example, along these lines, is the Genocide Intervention Network ‘s (GIN) ranking system DarfurScores.org that grades Members of Congress on how well they’ve been addressing the genocide via legislation. This was presented last month by the head of GIN. Many congress persons got in touch with GIN to ask how they could increase their Darfur scores.

Another interesting example is Karma Bank.

Patrick Philippe Meier

One response to “FSI09: Economic Context of Nonviolent Resistance

  1. Pingback: Brokekid.net » Monkey Vs Robot – My Weekly Idealist post

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