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Why Do Autocrats Decentralize?

Xiao, Yu (2019) Why Do Autocrats Decentralize? Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Economic decentralization has profound effects on a country's economic performance, but not all countries pursue decentralization. Why do some countries see decentralization as a better strategy for development than others? What political conditions facilitate or inhibit economic decentralization in autocracies? Studies that focus on democracies have largely reach a consensus that politically decentralized systems tend to pursue economic decentralization policies. This dissertation contends, however, that there is an opposite relationship in autocracies. Specifically, it is the politically centralized autocracies that are more likely to pursue economic decentralization policies. I argue that this difference is because in autocracies, economic decentralization policies often result from a top-down delegation process, as opposed to a bottom-up bargaining process that often prevails in democracies.

This dissertation develops a game-theoretical model to analyze the top-down economic decentralization process in autocracies. I demonstrate that political centralization can make the subnational government more willing to follow the national economic agenda and consequently make the national government more willing to decentralize economic resources. I test the theoretical model with a comparative case study of China from 1949 to 1962 and Mexico from 1917 to 1948. The Chinese case confirms that its centralized political system in the 1950s contributed to the economic decentralization policies during the Great Leap Forward. The Mexican case corroborates that its decentralized political system in the 1920s contributed to the Mexican federal government's consistent efforts to centralize economic resources at the federal level from the 1920s to the 1940s. A further test analyzes a sample of 59 countries from 1972 to 2016. The results support that political centralization reduces economic decentralization in democracies but facilitates economic decentralization in autocracies. The dissertation contributes to our understanding of the different patterns of economic decentralization and economic governance between democracies and autocracies.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Xiao, Yuyux10@pitt.edu0000-0003-3559-3208
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairPérez-Liñán, Aníbalaperezl1@nd.edu0000-0003-4109-2725
Committee CoChairMorgenstern, Scottsmorgens@pitt.edu0000-0001-7258-8657
Committee MemberLandry, Pierrepierrelandry@gmail.com0000-0003-4084-9503
Committee MemberDing, Izaizading@gmail.com0000-0003-4379-1853
Date: 27 September 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 March 2019
Approval Date: 27 September 2019
Submission Date: 6 June 2019
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 325
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Authoritarian Regimes, Political Economy, Political Centralization, Economic Decentralization, Fiscal Decentralization, Federalism, China, Mexico, Game Theory, Process-Tracing
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2019 17:40
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2019 17:40


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