Economic Elites, Democratization, and Redistribution: Evidence from Latin America in the 19th and 20th Century.
In my book project, I develop a theory to explain economic elites' preferences over democratization as well as their ability to restrain economic redistribution following regime transitions. I focus on a central preoccupation of economic elites: control over labor. Exercising control over workers is critical to elites' economic activities—which rely heavily on labor—and to the protection of elites' material assets from destruction at the hands of workers. Under authoritarianism, elites can employ repressive control, which relies on the use of military and police resources. Elites may also exercise labor control by providing workers with minimal benefits that simultaneously constrain the ability to act in ways that run counter to elites' economic interests, which I label co-optive control. Individual elites often vary in their relative dependence on these two forms of control, even when pursuing otherwise similar economic activities.
I argue that the distinct forms of labor control elites pursue under authoritarianism give rise to variation in their support for democratization. The ability to use repressive control is highly constrained under democracy due to democratic institutions that curb state-perpetrated violence. Conversely, elites who rely on co-optive control can continue exercising this form of control following a democratic transition, as the provision of private benefits to workers is not impeded—and may even be rewarded—by democratic institutions. Co-optation thus allows elites to continue to control their workers under democracy, reducing the risks associated with a regime transition. Elites who rely more heavily on co-optive control are thus more likely to support the adoption of democracy. In contrast, elites who depend more on repressive resources—which governments in democratic regimes cannot be relied upon to supply—are more likely to oppose democratization.
Not only does co-optive control make elites more likely to support democratization, but it also shapes workers' ability to demand redistribution—e.g. wage increases, redistributive taxation—in democratic settings. Where co-optive control is exercised, elites can detect and suppress redistributive demands among their workers. They can also threaten to rescind the benefits associated with co-optive control if workers mobilize in favor of redistribution. Mobilizing to demand redistribution is thus both more difficult and more costly for workers. Comparatively, those elites who rely on repression under authoritarianism are ill equipped to prevent redistributive mobilization among their workers.
To test these theoretical predictions, I employ a multi-method strategy that leverages natural experimental data, as well as both quantitative and qualitative archival material. I draw primarily on evidence from Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.
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