Can Behavioural Economics Predict Coups?

Coups or change in regimes happen due to a broad range of factors. This week, we examine if it is possible to understand and predict them.

Can Behavioural Economics Predict Coups?


Coups or change in regimes happen due to a broad range of factors. This week we examine if it is possible to understand and predict them.

More than 400 coup d’état attempts have been made globally over the past 50 years, with varying degrees of success.A coup, according to Powell and Thyne (2011), is an unlawful and overt attempt by elites inside the state machinery to depose the standing executive. The reason for a coup d'état can often be traced back to widespread discontent and dissatisfaction with their ruling government. The ramifications that follow in the wake of such attempts can be nothing short of catastrophic for a nation and its people.In recent years, there has been an increase in efforts to detect impending coup attempts using historical data, economic uncertainty, and other sources to identify patterns and indicators of political unrest. Several studies have been undertaken in order to better understand the reasons of coups. Despite that, no agreement has been achieved. This is due to the complex nature of coups, it is difficult to predict their occurrence, even with the use of machine learning models.An empirical study on the determinants of coups in countries found that factors such as democracy and income do not affect a country's vulnerability to coups. However, political instability, economic weakness, small population, and slow population growth were identified as key indicators of a country's susceptibility to coups. Institutions such as property rights protection and the presence of democratic countries in the same region can help to lower the risk of coups.  Therefore, while there is ongoing research and analysis being conducted to identify indicators of political instability and potential coup attempts, accurately predicting a coup remains elusive.However, if we want to try and understand the factors that lead to coup attempts and possibly even predict them in advance, could studying human behaviour help?A behavioural perspective on coup prediction:Recognising the signs of political unrest may be made easier by understanding the psychological and cultural factors that influence citizens who attempt coups. We might be able to spot patterns and signs that imply a coup is imminent by looking at the motivations of elites and the people who support them when they attempt coups.

The distribution of power in a country is a crucial factor in predicting coups. Those in authority are more prone to participate in destabilising actions, and military commanders, in particular, could pose a bigger threat if they wield sufficient influence and have grown dissatisfied with the existing leadership. However, the relationship between power and risky behaviour is complicated. Having power can make people more likely to take risks, but it depends on various factors, such as how much they care about power, how much testosterone they have, and what they think the power structure should look like.

While the studies do not explicitly focus on coups, their findings may have implications for understanding the individual and situational factors that contribute to coups.To gain further insight into the predictors of coups, we can turn to Easton's model of the political system. According to Easton's thesis, a political system is divided into two parts: inputs and outputs. Inputs refer to the demands and supports that people and groups in society provide to the political system. Outputs refer to the decisions and policies that the political system produces in response to these demands and supports. This model of the political system emphasizes the importance of maintaining a stable balance of power between different groups in society.

When this balance is upset, it can create conditions that are ripe for a coup. Additionally, we must consider the potential role of emotions in motivating people to take action against a government they perceive as oppressive. Emotions like anger, fear, and resentment can influence decision-making more than rational analysis during times of political crisis. For instance, in 2006, a coup took place in Fiji due to the military's anger and resentment towards the government's breach of faith, controversial bills, and failure to take military threats seriously.Another critical factor to consider is the role of a charismatic leader and group dynamics. Although there isn't enough proof to substantiate this assertion, we can obtain information from existing evidence about the significance of charismatic leaders in social movements and demonstrations, which could be pertinent for understanding coups too.

Charismatic leaders can inspire a sense of purpose and loyalty in others and often rely on their ability to sway the emotions and opinions of those around them to achieve their goals. This makes them particularly effective at mobilizing groups of people who might not otherwise be willing to take risks and engage in unethical behaviour. As a result, in current models, riots and protests are one of the factors that determine the probability of coups.

By tapping into existing feelings of anger, resentment, or dissatisfaction, they can channel those emotions towards a specific goal, such as a coup.Consider the example of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In 1998, Chavez, a former military officer, led a failed coup attempt against President Carlos Andres Perez. However, despite his failure, Chavez's charisma and message resonated with many Venezuelans who were disillusioned with the government's corruption and economic troubles. Chavez went on to win the presidential election in 1998 and remained in power until his death in 2013.However, predicting coups isn't just a matter of identifying these factors in isolation. It's essential to consider the complex interplay between various internal and external factors, including political, economic, and social dynamics.

By gaining a nuanced understanding of the situation, researchers can develop effective strategies for prevention and mitigation. Therefore, by studying how power is gained and maintained, how power is wielded, and how power affects the behaviour of those who hold it. Understanding these factors can help us better understand the behaviour of politicians and other individuals who hold power in political settings. By taking a holistic approach to understanding political unrest and coups, we can begin to identify patterns and signals of instability before they lead to outright violence or destabilising.