Authoritarianism and the Media
Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM
- Chair: Robert S. Gibbons, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Impact of Media Censorship: 1984 or Brave New World?
AbstractDirect evidence on whether and why censorship works is limited. We conduct a field experiment in China to examine whether providing access to uncensored internet leads citizens to acquire politically sensitive information, and become affected by it. We track subjects’ media consumption, beliefs regarding media, economic beliefs, political attitudes, and behaviors. We find 4 main results: (i) free access alone does not induce subjects to acquire politically sensitive information; (ii) temporary encouragement leads to a persistent increase in acquisition, indicating that demand is not low due to fixed factors; (iii) acquisition brings broad, substantial, and persistent changes to knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and intended behaviors; and (iv) social transmission of information is statistically significant but small in magnitude. We calibrate a simple model to show that China’s censorship apparatus may remain robust to a large number of citizens receiving access to uncensored internet, given the low demand for and moderate social transmission of uncensored information.
How Modern Dictators Survive: An Informational Theory of the New Authoritarianism
AbstractWe develop an informational theory of dictatorship. Dictators survive not because of their use of force or ideology but because they convince the public—rightly or wrongly—that they are competent. Citizens do not observe the dictator's type but infer it from signals inherent in their living standards, state propaganda, and messages sent by an informed elite via independent media. If citizens conclude that the dictator is incompetent, they overthrow him in a revolution. The dictator can invest in making convincing state propaganda, censoring independent media, co-opting the elite, or equipping police to repress attempted uprisings—but he must finance such spending at the expense of the public's living standards. We show that incompetent dictators can survive as long as economic shocks are not too large. Moreover, their reputations for competence may grow over time—even if living standards fall. Censorship and co-optation of the elite are substitutes, but both are complements of propaganda. Due to coordination failure among members of the elite, multiple equilibria emerge. In some equilibria the ruler uses propaganda and co-opts the elite; in others, propaganda is combined with censorship. In the equilibrium with censorship, difficult economic times prompt higher relative spending on censorship and propaganda. The results illuminate tradeoffs faced by various recent dictatorships.
Media Capture Through Favor Exchange
AbstractWe establish three results about favoritism in the Hungarian media. (1) We document distortionary two-way favors between politicians and the media, in the form of government advertising and media coverage. For both directions of favors, our empirical strategy is to compare the allocations of actors with changing versus unchanging connection status. We interpret our findings as media capture. (2) We document an organizational change in favoritism: a first phase when favored media was controlled by a single connected investor; a second phase when this relation- ship broke down and two-way favors were terminated; and a third phase when control of newly favored media was divided between multiple connected investors. (3) We develop and implement a portable structural approach to measure the economic cost of misallocative favoritism.
- P5 - Comparative Economic Systems
- H0 - General