Why Inequality Breeds Coups But Not Civil Wars

Christian Houle
2014 Social Science Research Network  
Does inequality increase the risk of violent leader removal? This paper argues that inequality affects coups and civil wars -which are the two main forms of irregular leadership turnovers -through two pathways. First, inequality fuels distributive conflicts; hence creating incentives for members of different social classes to seize power through either a coup or an insurgency. Second, greater inequality creates greater threat to rulers, which prevents them from coup-proofing and forces them to
more » ... and forces them to increase the capacity of the military to intervene domestically to quell unrest. This, in turn, increases the capacity of the military to fight insurgents but also to mount coups. Combining these two effects suggests that inequality breeds coups but has little effect on civil wars. Using a data set on 147 countries between 1960 and 2006, I find evidence that while inequality increases the likelihood of a coup, it has no discernible effect on that of a civil war outbreak. I also provide evidence consistent with three of the assumptions upon which my causal mechanisms rely: (1) inequality creates greater threat to the rulers by fueling political instability; (2) inequality reduces coupproofing; and (3) coup-proofing deters coups but increases the likelihood of civil war.
doi:10.2139/ssrn.2524506 fatcat:uka46dtyj5er5oeklevxwg6nbq