Why Do Autocrats Disclose? Economic Transparency and Inter-elite Politics in the Shadow of Mass Unrest

James R. Hollyer, B. Peter Rosendorff, James Raymond Vreeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Autocratic governments hold a preference for opacity. Autocracies are less transparent than democracies and a closed informational environment preserves autocratic regimes from mass unrest. Yet, autocracies vary widely in the extent to which they disclose economic information. In this article, we offer an explanation for why some autocrats choose to disclose. We contend that, paradoxically, some autocratic leaders may benefit from increasing the capacity of the populace to mobilize. In so doing, autocratic leaders threaten rival members of the elite, reducing the risk of elite challenges and increasing their freedom of maneuver. We contend that transparency acts as one mechanism toward these ends. We formalize these intuitions and demonstrate empirically that leaders in transparent autocracies enjoy a reduced hazard of removal via coup relative to their opaque counterparts. Personalistic dictators and entrenched autocrats—who suffer the smallest risk of sanctioning by their elites—are particularly unlikely to disclose information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1488-1516
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Authors would like to thank Pamela Blackmon, Allan Defoe, Scott Gehlbach, Anita Gohdes, Charles Hankla, Andy Harris, Jacqueline Sievert, Milan Svolik as well as participants in the 2014 Annual EPSA Conference, Panel on the Elements of a General Theory of Peace; the 2014 APSA Conference, Panel on Accountability and Development; the 2015 MPSA Conference, Panel on Decision-making in Autocracies; the 2015 EPSA Conference, Panel on Dictators and the Media; the 2015 Annual APSA Conference, Panel on Transparency in Democracies and Dictatorships: Challenges and Enduring Questions; the 2016 Annual ISA Conference, Panel on Political Business Cycles, Policy Credibility, and Transparency; the 2017 Annual APSA Conference, Panel on Formal Models of Autocratic Politics, the Faculty International Relations Colloquium at Princeton University, and the International Political Economy Reading Group at New York University for helpful comments and suggestions. Special thanks go to Vanessa Hofman for valuable research assistance. James Hollyer would also like to thank the Benjamin Evans Lippincott Foundation and the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance for Research Support.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • autocracy
  • coup
  • political economy
  • political survival
  • protest
  • transparency

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Why Do Autocrats Disclose? Economic Transparency and Inter-elite Politics in the Shadow of Mass Unrest'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this