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Why Resource-poor Dictators Allow Freer Media: A Theory and Evidence from Panel Data

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 November 2009

Northwestern University
New Economic School
New Economic School
Georgy Egorov is Assistant Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, 2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 (
Sergei Guriev is Morgan Stanley Professor of Economics, New Economic School and Centre for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR), Moscow; also, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), London; c/o 47 Nakhimovsky pr., Moscow 117418, Russia (
Konstantin Sonin is SUEK Professor of Economics, New Economic School and Centre for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR), Moscow; also, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), London; Visiting Professor, Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, 2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 (


Every dictator dislikes free media. Yet, many nondemocratic countries have partially free or almost free media. In this article, we develop a theory of media freedom in dictatorships and provide systematic statistical evidence in support of this theory. In our model, free media allow a dictator to provide incentives to bureaucrats and therefore to improve the quality of government. The importance of this benefit varies with the natural resource endowment. In resource-rich countries, bureaucratic incentives are less important for the dictator; hence, media freedom is less likely to emerge. Using panel data, we show that controlling for country fixed effects, media are less free in oil-rich economies, with the effect especially pronounced in nondemocratic regimes. These results are robust to model specification and the inclusion of various controls, including the level of economic development, democracy, country size, size of government, and others.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2009

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