Autocrats and the Environment or It's Easy Being Green


It is generally assumed that autocrats set low environmental standards. The rationale for this is straightforward. High environmental standards raise the cost of production in society, lowering national income. Because the autocrat expropriates a large fraction of national income, he faces a disincentive to protect the environment. However, this argument misses an important consideration of the autocrat. He may be willing to sacrifice some income in order to extend his rule. High environmental standards represent one tool the autocrat could use to placate his people without providing them with any revolutionary resources. This paper presents a model in which the autocrat explicitly recognizes the endogeneity of his tenure length when he chooses an environmental standard, leading to high environmental standards relative to more democratic regimes. The paper presents empirical evidence in support of this implication.