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Poverty, the Coup Trap, and the Seizure of Executive Power

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

John B. Londregan
Carnegie Mellon University
Keith T. Poole
Carnegie Mellon University
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The transfer of power through the use of military force is a commonplace event in world affairs. Although no two coups d'etat are alike, they all have a common denominator: poverty. We analyze political and economic data from 121 countries during the period 1950–1982 and find that the probability of a government's being overthrown by a coup is significantly influenced by the level of economic well-being. Thus, even authoritarian governments have powerful incentives to promote economic growth, not out of concern for the welfare of their citizens, but because poor economic performance may lead to their removal by force. When the simultaneity of low income and coups is accounted for, we find that the aftereffects of a coup include a heritage of political instability in the form of an increased likelihood of further coups. Although the effect of income on coups is pronounced, we find little evidence of feedback from coups to income growth.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1990

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