The Political Economy of Non-democracies

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Course Description: 

Elective course

Mandatory elective for MAIPA

Development specialization for DPP

Several waves of democratization taking place in the XXth century led to initial expectations that democracy will come to dominate as a political regime type. This turned out to be somewhat premature. Many polities in the developing world experienced either brief moments of democratic experiments followed by reversals to authoritarianism, or got stuck in partial equilibria characterized by seemingly democratic elections combined with autocratic tools of repression. The events of the Arab Spring are a recent cautionary tale with respect to overenthusiastic predictions.

Because the type of political regime is consequential for outcomes that matter ranging from public good production and poverty to human rights and conflict, understanding the political economy of non-democracies will help students make sense of the public policy contexts of most developing countries.

The sessions will deal with the following questions: how do non-democratic leaders survive in office? What are the political incentives at work in different types of autocracies with respect to public policy making? Are economic policies and outcomes independent from the political constraints of the regime? Are there certain social groups empowered by autocrats at the expense of other marginalized constituencies? What role does repression play in autocracies? Why do we observe democratic features such as elections and legislative institutions co-existing with it?

The course is structured around four themes: key actors in non-democratic politics, authoritarian political institutions, public policy-making in non-democracies, and regime vulnerabilities. The coverage of the topics will be both theoretical and geographical. The course format will alternate between lectures and concrete case studies co-designed by students and instructor. As a rule of thumb, every theme develops over two consecutive sessions. The first will expose course takers to general debates and empirics, whereas the second will apply the theoretical concepts to a specific case. Some sessions will feature interactive activities and documentary film selections. The final assignment for participants will be based on original research with primary documents from the Open Society Archives.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students are expected to be familiar with major theoretical debates and findings related to public policies in non-democracies, as well as to improve their primary research skills, including primary archival research. The class will provide the opportunity to work in teams (almost) each second session on an applied case.


The final course grade will evaluate the completion of the following assignments:

1) Reading notes (20%) You are expected to submit one reaction-to-readings paragraph 24 hours before the first session of each theme (11 entries in total). These submissions to Moodle should consist in one paragraph that covers three areas: a) the one most important point that you take away from the readings assigned that week; b) a one-sentence critique to an argument; c) one question to guide class discussion.

2) One individual diary entry (20%) and participation in the case study (10%): Throughout the course, for the second session of each theme, you will keep a diary on an autocratic regime or leader of your choice. Each entry is expected to link the relevant theme to what you discover during research.

3) Final paper (40%): students are expected to write a 15-20 page research paper on any feature of autocratic politics, based on primary documents from the Open Society Archives. This assignment receives 40%.

4) Participation and discussion (10%) To receive the maximum number of points for class participation, you must arrive on time, miss no more than one class, and contribute to the class discussion every week.

At the end of the semester, the final score is converted to a letter grade according to the CEU grading scale, as follows:

A 3.68 – 4.00
A- 3.34 – 3.67
B+ 3.01 – 3.33
B 2.68 – 3.00
B- 2.34 – 2.67
C+ 2.33 (minimum pass)

Additional information concerning grading procedures and specifications for turning in the assignments is also included in the CEU School of Public Policy Student Manual.