Incumbent policy, benefits provision, and the triggering and spread of revolutionary uprisings

Kjell Hausken, Mthuli Ncube


This article analyzes revolutionary uprisings, such as the Arab spring of 2011. Revolutions occur with an inherent probability dependent on a country’s characteristics. A country’s incumbent leader can decrease this probability by providing benefits to a population, e.g., public goods such as necessities of life, health care, safety, and education. We equate the probability of revolution with Granovetter’s equilibrium proportion of a population that joins a revolution. Decreased  benefits provision increases the share of revolutionaries which, in turn, decreases the cost of revolt which helps resolve the free-rider problem implicit in revolting. The article quantifies how the incumbent chooses whether or not to provide benefits, and how many benefits to provide. We account for the unit cost of providing benefits and for the effects of the benefits provided, adjusted for whether the inherent revolution probability is low or high. Combining the modeling approaches, i.e., how revolutions spread and how the incumbent provides benefits, enriches our understanding of which factors affect revolutions and of how populations and their incumbent leaders interact. The model helps to understand the logic of revolutionary uprisings and how they can be curtailed.


Revolution, incumbent, benefits provision, conflict, riot, collective behavior

Full Text:

 Subscribers Only


Acemoglu, D. and J.A. Robinson. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Acemoglu, D., A. Vindigni, and D. Ticchi. 2010. “Persistence of Civil Wars.” Journal of the European Economic Association. Vol. 8, Nos. 2–3, pp. 664–676.

Alesina, A.F. 1988. “Credibility and Policy Convergence in a 2-Party System with Rational Voters.” American Economic Review. Vol. 78, No. 4, pp. 796–805.

Alesina, A.F. and H. Rosenthal. 1995. Partisan Politics, Divided Government, and the Economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Angeletos, G.-M., C. Hellwig, and A. Pavan. 2007. “Dynamic Global Games of Regime Change: Learning, Multiplicity, and the Timing of Attacks.” Econometrica. Vol. 75, No. 3, pp. 711–756.

Bailyn, B. 1992. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Beissinger, M.R. 2007. “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions.” Perspectives on Politics. Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 259–276.

Besancon, M.L. 2005. “Relative Resources: Inequality in Ethnic Wars, Revolution, and Genocides.” Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 393–415.

Besley, T. and T. Persson. 2010. “State Capacity, Conflict, and Development.” Econometrica. Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 1–34.

Besley, T., and T. Persson. 2011. “The Logic of Political Violence.” Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 126, No. 3, pp. 1411–1445.

Blattman, C. and E. Miguel. 2010. “Civil War.” Journal of Economic Literature. Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 3–57.

Calvert, R.L. 1985. “Robustness of the Multidimensional Voting Model: Candidate Motivations, Uncertainty, and Convergence.” American Journal of Political Science. Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 69–95.

Casper, B.A. and S.A. Tyson. 2014. “Popular Protest and Elite Coordination in a Coup d’Etat.” Journal of Politics. Vol. 76, No. 2, pp. 548–564.

Collier, P. 2009. Wars, Guns and Votes. New York: Harper.

Davenport, C. 2007. “State Repression and Political Order.” Annual Review of Political Science. Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 1–23.

Edmond, C. 2013. “Information Manipulation, Coordination, and Regime Change.” Review of Economic Studies. Vol. 80, No. 4, pp. 1422–1458.

Ellman, M. and L. Wantchekon. 2000. “Electoral Competition under the Threat of Political Unrest.” Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 115, No. 2, pp. 499–531.

Foran, J. 1993. “Theories of Revolution Revisited: Toward a Fourth Generation?” Sociological Theory. Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 1–20.

Goodwin, J. 2001. No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945–1991. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Granovetter, M. 1978. “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior.” American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 83, No. 6, pp. 1420–1443.

Grossman, H.I. 1991. “A General Equilibrium-Model of Insurrections.” American Economic Review. Vol. 81, No. 4, pp. 912–921.

Grossman, H.I. 1999. “Kleptocracy and Revolutions.” Oxford Economic Papers. Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 267–283.

Hermet, G., R. Rose, and A. Rouquié. 1978. Elections Without Choice. London: Macmillan.

Kuran, T. 1989. “Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolution.” Public Choice. Vol. 61, No. 1, pp. 41–74.

Kuran, T. 2010. Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kuran, T. 2012. The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kurrild-Klitgaard, P. 2003. “The Paradox of Rebellion.” The Encyclopedia of Public Choice, pp. 728–731.

Lichbach, M.I. 1995. The Rebel’s Dilemma. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Lindberg, S.I. 2006. Democracy and Elections in Africa. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lysenko, V.V. and K.C. Desouza. 2012. “Moldova’s Internet Revolution: Analyzing the Role of Technologies in Various Phases of the Confrontation.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Vol. 79, No. 2, pp. 341–361.

McFaul, M. 2002. Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Migdal, J.S. 2015. Peasants, Politics and Revolution: Pressures Toward Political and Social Change in the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

O’Leary, D.E. 2016. “Modeling Retweeting Behavior as a Game: Comparison to Empirical Results.” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. Vol. 88, pp. 1–12.

Olson, M. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pena-Lopez, I., M. Congosto, and P. Aragon. 2014. “Spanish Indignados and the Evolution of the 15M Movement on Twitter: Towards Networked Para-Institutions.” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies. Vol. 15, Nos. 1–2, pp. 189–216.

Schedler, A. 2007. “The Mobilization of Distrust.” Journal of Democracy. Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 88–102.

Starbird, K. and L. Palen. 2012. “(How) Will the Revolution be Retweeted? Information Diffusion and the 2011 Egyptian Uprising.” Proceedings of the ACM 2012 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Seattle, WA.

Tullock, G. 1971. "The Paradox of Revolution.” Public Choice. Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 89–99.

Tullock, G. 1974. The Social Dilemma: The Economics of War and Revolution. Blacksburg, VA: University Publications.

Zimmermann, E. 2012. Political Violence, Crises, and Revolutions: Theories and Research. London: Routledge.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.