Watching the State: Can New Technologies Promote (a Sense Of) Democracy?

Anastasiia Faikina (University of California San Diego)

Abstract : Why do autocrats implement new technologies aimed at increasing transparency - to improve accountability or to create a veneer of democracy? This paper studies the effects of the technology of video monitoring of elections in one prominent authoritarian regime, Russia. I exploit a discontinuity in the assignment of webcams to polling stations in the 2018 Presidential election to estimate causal effects. I find that video monitoring reduces voter turnout by 5% and results in 8.5% fewer votes cast for the incumbent, consistent with an improvement in electoral accountability. However, I also find evidence of geographical displacement of votes from monitored to unmonitored polling stations that compensate for around half of the direct effect. Using a survey experiment before the 2019 local elections, I further show that increasing awareness about video monitoring improves voters' perceptions of electoral integrity and increases their willingness to vote. Consistent with existing theories, autocrats might be willing to invest in sophisticated technologies to increase trust in public institutions and prevent revolt.

The Political Economics of Innovations

jeffry frieden (harvard)
arthur silve (laval)

Abstract : We propose a theory that explains variations in the willingness and ability of incumbent political and economic elites to adapt to powerful new ideas, policies, and technologies. Innovations often require substantial changes to existing patterns of social and economic activity and sometimes disrupt existing sources of income and political control. In our model, the elite use fiscal policy and regulation to manipulate prices and redistribute income. They may exploit the innovation themselves, block the innovation, allow it and share the rents with the innovators, or encourage entry to the point that rents are competed away. We focus on structural features of the innovation that determine the elite's optimal policy, driven by expected benefits. We establish the role of the following features of innovations: whether their impact is broad or narrow; whether they complement or compete with the elite's sources of income; whether they are mobile, concealable, and easily replicable; whether they exhibit economies of scale.

Economic Origins of Digital Dictatorship and Democracy

Nathan Lane (Oxford University)
Weijia Li (Monash University)

Abstract : Once seen as a weapon of freedom, informational technology has drastically transformed state capacity—often with unintended consequences. Our study analyzes the rise of the digital state. We do so by proposing a theory of how recent trends in monopoly power fuelled the demand for information technology, and how these technologies, in turn, spilled over to the state. In our model, we show information technologies that allow monopolists to extract surplus from consumers also enable states to more efficiently exercise a monopoly of violence. Since this technology transforms the costs and consequences of repression, we study how the digitization of the state impacts preferences for (digital) democracy and (digital) autocracy. A key insight is that information may reduce the costs of autocracies to deploy repression, which in turn makes autocracy more palatable to elites and citizens. We provide empirical insights into main components of our model, using newly collected data on state technological adoption.