Fear and Dreams: Understanding the Non-Institutional Sources of Leader Strategy


Political leaders make policy choices which are often hard to explain via institutions. We use the behavior of Colombian paramilitary groups as an environment to study non-institutional sources of variation in how public good provision and violence are combined to control populations. We hypothesize that a significant source of variation stems from the social preferences of the paramilitary commanders. Reciprocators adopt a strategy of offering public goods in exchange for support, but also use violence to punish non-compliers. Reciprocity, developed via childhood socialization, is a characteristic of rural “peasants”. We develop a model which generates these hypotheses and test them using a unique dataset compiled from transitional justice documents.