Master Seminar Public Choice: Economic Theory of Autocracy and Revolution (SS 2017)








General Information:
Seminar for Master students in Economics (module VWL WMP 25) and Public Policy (module PP-WP 7)

Each seminar participant has to prepare and submit a term paper comprising no more than 15 pages. Credits points are granted for preparing a term paper, presenting the results in front of the class as well as for actively participating during the seminar. There will be one or two theoretical or empirical baseline paper(s) for each topic. Students are expected to critically present and analyze the central theoretical aspects and empirical methods of their baseline papers and discuss the relevance of their contribution in the context of a somewhat broader academic literature.

The term paper is supposed to contain a cover page, a table of contents, a reference list (bibliography) and – where applicable – an appendix. The paper can be written in Word or LaTeX. There are no particular style requirements. However, margins, font size, spacing and so forth should be chosen according to the guidelines for academic texts to be found here: (in German).

Registration and assignment of topics:
To register for the seminar, students need to send an email to by April 11, 2017 at the latest, including two preferences for a seminar topic. Topics will be assigned based on a first-come, first-served basis. The final decision on the assignment of the topics to the participating students will be done at the introductory meeting in class on April 18, 2017. Participation in the first meeting is mandatory to enroll for the class.
Additional registration for the seminar is required at the examination office (Prüfungsamt) for the early deadline of the summer term 2017. Topics will be supervised by Prof. Dr. Thomas Apolte ( and Lena Gerling ( Students should arrange at least one meeting to discuss the structure of the paper. The outline and structure of the paper should be send beforehand via email to the supervisors.

The course language is English.

Important Dates:
Note: Rooms and dates might be subject to change.
Introductory meeting: April 25, 2017, 9 – 10 a.m. in room 100.101 Scharnhorststraße 100 (Graduate School) (geändert)
Dates of seminar: June 22, 2017, 8a.m. – 6p.m. in room 100.101 (tbc)
June 23, 2017, 8a.m. – 6p.m. in room 100.101 (tbc)
Submission date for papers: June 19, 2017 (no later than 12 a.m.) (geändert)

Course Focus:
Public Choice Theory has spent a great deal of effort in analyzing voting rules as the central mechanism for preference revelation and government control in democratic regimes. Apart from some early contributions, however, Public Choice Theory has long ignored control mechanisms in autocracies, the counterparts of democracies. Only recently have a number of authors taken a broader range of political regimes into consideration. One of the central questions has been as to how, if any, public control of governments is conducted in comparative political regimes and what the resulting effects on economic development and prosperity are to be expected. Since public control of governments via voting is not effective in autocracies, coups d’états or revolutions and hence political violence, or the threat thereof, are the only available mechanisms for keeping dictators in check. In our seminar, we will discuss a selection of seminal publications around the relation of political violence and autocracy, particularly the effects of potential or manifest political violence on the control or overthrow of autocratic regimes with respect to a country’s prosperity.



Note: Literature requirements might be subject to change.

Topics with a theoretical focus:
I. Revolts, Revolutions, and Autocracy
Tullock, Gordon (2005), The Social Dilemma. Of Autocracy, Coup D’Etat, and War, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

II. Bandits, Kings and Democratic Regimes
McGuire, Martin; Mancur Olson (1996), The Economics of Autocracy and Majority Rule: The Invisible Hand and the Use of Force, Journal of Economic Literature 34: 72-96.

III. Rationalist Theories of Mass Revolts
Kuran, Timur (1989), Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolution, Public Choice 61: 41 – 74.

IV. Does Autocracy Work? Public Control of Dictators
Besley, Timothy; Masayuki Kudamatsu (2008), ”Making Autocracy Work”. In: E. Helpman, ed., Institutions and Economic Performance, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press: 452 – 510.

Topics with an empirical focus:
V. Authoritarian Institutions and Regime Survival
Boix, C. & Svolik, M. (2013), ”The foundations of limited authoritarian government: institutions, commitment, and power-sharing in dictatorships”, The Journal of Politics 75(2): 300 – 316.

VI. Determinants of Civil Conflicts
Fearon, J. D. & Laitin, D. D. (2003), ”Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war”, American Political Science Review 97 (1), 75 – 90.
Miguel, E., Satyanath, S. & Sergenti, E. (2004), ”Economic shocks and civil conflict: An instrumental variable approach”, Journal of Political Economy 112 (4), 725 – 753.

Economic Crisis and the Vulnerability of Autocracies
Burke, Paul J. and Leigh, Andrew (2010), ”Do output contractions trigger democratic change?” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 2 (4): 124-157.

VIII. The Threat of Revolution and Regime Change
Aidt, T. S. & Franck, R. (2015), ”Democratization under the threat of revolution: evidence from the great reform act of 1832”, Econometrica 83(2): 505 – 547.


  • Professor Dr. Thomas Apolte (verantwortlich)
  • Dr. Lena Gerling (verantwortlich)