Exit During Crisis: How Economic Openness and Crisis Affect Democratization
Formal theories of democratization frequently model conflict between citizens and an authoritarian regime in which the citizens (or the poor, insurgents) have two options in response to the authoritarian regime's repression and negative economic shocks: fight or acquiesce. In this paper, I add a third option for citizens: exit. I argue that the availability of exit options for citizens conditions the relationship between economic crisis and democratization. In open economies where citizens have more viable exit alternatives, economic crisis causes citizens to exit rather than protest, making democratization less likely. I use time series, cross-section data on 122 authoritarian regimes in 114 countries from 1950-2002 to test this argument and find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that economic openness insulates dictators from the liberalizing effects of economic crisis. Further, I show that trade openness conditions the effect of economic crisis on domestic protests and net migration: in open economies, crisis leads to more net migration loss and fewer protests than in closed economies.