DEM Lunch Seminar in Economics: Authoritarian Social Control

  • Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance (FDEF)
    30 August 2023

Authoritarian Social Control

Speaker: Roger Lagunoff
Georgetown University, USA

DATE: Wednesday, 20 September 2023

TIME: 13:00 – 14:00


Campus Kirchberg
6, Rue Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi
L-1359 Luxembourg

– Free seminar
Invitation link

Tel: +352 46 66 44 6283


Authoritarian regimes often rely on targeting – unequal application of the law to isolate out-groups or internal “enemies.” At the same time, modern autocrats’ methods of social control appear less draconian than those in the past. This study analyzes a dynamic model of authoritarian control. In the model, a regime uses the threat of asset confiscation to limit “deviant” behavior. Confiscation is targeted: it varies across citizens’ types and wealth holdings. The regime’s commitment to a confiscation scheme is time-limited and depends on imperfectly informative signals of citizen behavior. In equilibrium, wealthier citizens are more compliant and face lower confiscation rates.

When discount factors are low, the wealth distribution bifurcates. In the long run, a citizen either becomes a wealthy, fully compliant “lackey” or a destitute, noncompliant “prole.” This results in extreme wealth inequality and a polarized society. In a growing economy when discount factors are high, the regime sacrifices short run compliance to obtain greater control in the long run. Less punitive confiscation allows citizens to accumulate enough wealth for the regime to achieve full compliance.  In a stagnant economy, however, authoritarian control results in destitution and non-compliance in the long run. The results suggest an explanation for why authoritarian regimes often produce polarized, sclerotic societies, and why conditions needed for a prosperous, cohesive society under authoritarian rule are fragile.

About Roger Lagunoff:

Roger Lagunoff is Professor of Economics and founding Co-Director of the Georgetown Center for Economic Research (GCER). He earned his Phd in Economics from the University of Minnesota in 1989 and came to Georgetown in 1996 after holding tenure-track positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech and a research position at AT&T Bell Laboratories. His fields of specialty include game theory, political economy, and microeconomic theory. Recent work focuses on dynamic game-theoretic models of political institutions. He has published in leading economics journals including Econometrica, Games and Economic Behavior, the Review of Economic Studies, the American Economic Journal, and the International Economic Review. He has served on a number of editorial boards and was for many years a Co-Editor of the B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics.

Supported by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) 17931929