The Review of Austrian Economics

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 45-59

First online:

Mises’ democracy–dictatorship equivalence theorem: A critique

  • Bryan CaplanAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Center for Study of Public Choice, and Mercatus Center, George Mason University Email author 

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Ludwig von Mises argues that public opinion, not the form of government, is the ultimate determinant of policy. The implication is that, holding public opinion constant, democracies and dictatorships will have the same policies—a result I call Mises’ Democracy–Dictatorship Equivalence Theorem. According to Mises, dictators have to comply with public opinion or else they will be overthrown. I argue that he seriously overestimates the power of revolution to discipline dictators. Mises was perceptive to note that, in practice, “dictatorially imposed” policies are often democratically sustainable, but he neglected several mechanisms—all more plausible than the threat of revolution—capable of explaining this fact.


Democracy Dictatorship Public opinion Revolution

JEL codes

D72 D74 D70