Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Political Science


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

John Hsieh


Personal ambition and the distribution of economic goods often determine the character of politics. This dynamic plays out dramatically in authoritarian states where there are few independent arbiters outside of political violence. All dictatorships face two paramount problems in maintaining their tenure. First, to maintain power and distribute goods dictators must devise ways in which to manage a ruling coalition in the absence of explicit power-sharing institutions. Second, authoritarian regimes must devise ways to manage the desires of a population ruled with only implicit consent. This dissertation empirically treats the management style of authoritarian leaders as exogenous to the institutional composition of his regime, thus breaking from traditional authoritarian typologies. It utilizes original data and finds evidence that dictatorships can strengthen and survive longer, and in a nonviolent manner, with creative elite and popular economic management tools such as special economic zones (SEZs) and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). More specifically, it finds that violent and corrupt leaders that develop these economic tools can possibly be removed from power or eventually become constrained by the policies because the policies attach the leader and the regime to independent arbiters. At the regime level, SEZs and SWFs extend the survival of all types of regimes, despite institutional setting, through the mechanisms of labor fragmentation and sunk investments. Seemingly democratic institutions in dictatorships – parties, elections, legislatures – may be the foundation of democratic rule, but they are not the foundation of authoritarian rule – economic policy is.