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

13 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

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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


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