The Punisher’s Dilemma

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, David P. Myatt, Alastair Smith, Scott A. Tyson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We develop a theory of resistance and repression in which citizens face a coordination problem and participation in collective resistance must be large enough for a government to concede rather than repress citizens who participate. Repression is costly for both citizens (the punished) and the government (the punisher). Harsher punishments can sometimes raise participation via a strategic-feedback channel that follows from the credibility of implementing repression: a higher cost to the punisher makes a government less willing to repress larger resistance, and this can encourage citizens’ coordinated participation. We identify three factors that determine whether this channel dominates: the shape of the response of the government’s costs to the intensity and scale of repression, the presence of selective incentives, and the presence or absence of focal optimism. We examine a government’s desired choice of repression technology and the response of the social cost of political instability to harsher punishments.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)395-411
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Politics
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 2024

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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