Project B06 (2022-25)

Resource Boom and Social Policy in Authoritarian Regimes. A Means of Securing Regime Stability?

In the second stage of CRC 1342, project B06 analyses the influence of sharply rising state revenues caused by a natural resource boom on the inclusiveness and generosity of state social policy in authoritarian regimes of the post-Soviet region. Based on the results of the first stage, the region is characterised by (1) the populations' high expectations of an all-encompassing social policy as a socialist legacy, (2) national decision-makers who develop individual political strategies (referring to international advice only as they seem fit), and (3) grave implementation problems which in the academic literature and political debate are often attributed to a lack of financial resources.

A systematic analysis of the conditions under which abundant state revenues actually are used for social policy measures and how these measures affect the inclusiveness and generosity of social policy is conducted for a group of relatively similar countries, some of which have experienced a sudden resource boom resulting in a massive increase in state revenues without any strings attached (i.e., conditionalities), while others have not. We select Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan as resource-rich and (increasingly) authoritarian countries and compare them with post-Soviet countries with similar socio-economic conditions at the beginning of the 1990s, namely Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia.

As the post-Soviet region encompasses mostly regimes which can be considered (to varying extents) authoritarian, the project contributes to research on authoritarian regime legitimacy and the neglected role of social policy therein. To answer the question whether (and if so, how) an expansion of state social policy is used to legitimise authoritarian rule, we have developed three competing or complementary working hypotheses: First, if social policy is strategically utilised to secure authoritarian rule, it can be expected that target groups are not selected according to their neediness but according to their importance for political regime stability, and that social policy measures should pacify these groups in the short-term. This logic would suggest cash payment schemes, and that these payments would have to be maintained even in times of slumps in state revenues (in case of deteriorating prices on global natural resource markets) as such inclusiveness and generosity secures a regime's stability.

Second, examining cases in which such strategic utilisation of social policy is missing, but the regime nevertheless reacts in the short run to the demands and protests of the population, it can be expected that social policy measures follow the political mood of the populace and that controversial measures are retracted after public protests so as not to endanger the popularity of the regime.

Third, analysing under which conditions technocrats with a long-term perspective are able to implement sustainable and comprehensive reforms within an authoritarian regime, it can be expected that the active and explicit support of a ‘benevolent dictator’ is essential for a successful implementation of reform measures. Due to the authoritarian character of the regime, opposition to these reforms can be largely ignored.

The current research on the role of state social policy in authoritarian regimes does not provide a clear answer regarding in which situation what strategy is applied. This is partly due to the limited literature on that topic and because competing political camps in authoritarian regimes often propose different political solutions. Additionally, the lack of administrative capacities limits the implementation of even the most sophisticated strategies. Thus, a differentiated analysis of the decision-making and implementation of social policy measures in specific policy fields is necessary.

Project B06 analyses for every policy field studied four dimensions of social policy measures: the targeted group(s) of beneficiaries, the benefits provided, changes in inclusiveness and generosity over time, and the rhetorical presentation of these measures through framing. With a mixed methods approach, detailed case studies will be used to refine the aforementioned hypotheses.

These hypotheses will then be tested in a quantitative study for each resource-dependent, modern territorial state (since World War II). For this purpose, the existing global data sets on increased state revenues through the export of raw materials are combined with the CRC’s data collection on global development dynamics of social policy (WeSIS).