Autocratic regimes and education


Dr. Bueno de Mesquita ilustrates in his book “the Dictators Handbook” some unintended consequences of policy interventions. In his book, he characterizes incumbents as rational beings who just want to become rich and maintain power for as long as posible. One of the topics he writes about is the dilema between educating the population and staying in power. Dr. Bueno de Mesquita observes that autocratic incumbents want their population educated only with the minimum skills for them to be productive. Following this train of thought, even though education is desirable because higher human capital can potentially generate higher output, it might generate undesirable consequences. If an educated population lives under an autocratic regime, the country becomes more likely to face a revolution (and as a result, the destruction of means of production). Such examples are visible in France, and more recently, in the arab peninsula. Therefore, a desirable policy, given the circumstances, has undesirable consequences.


Hi José,

I agree that this could have the outcome you talk about. Let me expand your example into what we have been talking about in previous forum chapter discussions. In a non-autocratic society (democratic maybe) like ours, the low level of education people receive (along with it being highly deficient) may produce a positive outcome for some parties involved.

Let me explain a bit more what I’m talking about. Take for example our recent election’s outcome, a high and vast number of not very well educated people produced a populist leader to win the presidency. I’m not saying that being badly educated is on their side, the system is very deficient. But in this case, a poor and badly education policy (public education system) led to a very positive outcome for (what may appear to some) as an autocratic leader due to his lack of counterwights in the other powers (congress and judicial power).

I think the example can go both ways, but still I agree with you point. I think it depends on the economic, political, and social environment that we set the example in. Both sides of the coin can be found when it comes to social policy.

Let me know if you have any comments or thought. Regards,

Armando Carrillo


Hello José and Armando.

I would like to add something about the unintended consequences of public education in Mexico independently of the regime. Like Armando said, the educational system in Mexico is of very low quality. Another problem with this is that all the social programs that seek to provide education to uneducated children in rural areas do not work out well for these children in the long term. The children who are now educated because of the program have received a very low quality education, and therefore, are not qualified for many of the jobs available in cities. However, they might now know it, and might migrate to the city in search of a job or university studies. What happens next is that there is a mismatch between their supply of productivities and the demand for productivities in the city and therefore, they will end up being unemployed. This is not a desirable outcome, which is why the government should think about the long-term effects of public policy as well as the short-term effects.

Maria Fernanda


Hi José,

I would like to expand on another education policy that might have unintended consequences, which is the introduction of a standarized knowledge base and standarized tests. It is argued that their purpose is to have everyone above a minimum standard and be able to have a measure that allows for comparison among students.

In reality, this induces a reduced curriculum because schools focus on teaching programs that have more weight on the standarized tests and abandon those that are not, for example, art and language programs are getting less participation.

It also creates bad incentives for students to only study for achieving good scores on that specific test, and thus are incapable of demonstrating it outside of that format. On top of that, if the test scores matter as an entry condition for othere institutions, these problems are magnified. Putting too much weight on a single test might even cause stress, anxiety and loss of interest in students.

In terms of the political side of it, the assumption of a standard knowledge base means that it is tied to a particular social system. This in essence is antichange and antidemocratic.