Whether in a company, an institution, a political party or even in a criminal organisation, appointing a successor (the “prince”) can be advantageous for the ruler (“the king”) but can also entail threats and disadvantages. In a recent publication Kai A. Konrad and Vai-Lam Mui analyse if and when the appointment of a prince is in the interest of the incumbent and stabilises his regime.
They show that the existence of a designated successor alters the structures of conflicts that take place between the ruler and his potential challengers as well as the structures of conflicts that take place among his potential challengers. The appointment of a prince has two main effects: First, the prince constitutes an additional hurdle for contenders who aim at taking over the power and may therefore stabilise the regime of the incumbent. Second, the appointment of an heir places the prince in an elevated position that makes a coup easier for him than for one of the many contenders.
Hence, a prince offers increased protection against the rest of the elite (the barrier effect), but the prince himself becomes a powerful and potentially dangerous contender (the elevated threat effect). In turn, this changes the distribution of rents. Konrad and Mui study the trade-off between these two effects and identify conditions when the overall effect of appointing a successor benefits the incumbent ruler and enables him to acquire a larger share of the governance rent in equilibrium.
Their article is the first contribution that formally analyses how the incumbent can strategically choose succession arrangements to maximise his lifetime rents in a dynamic model of mutual collaboration and competition between the incumbent and his powerful subordinates.
Published: Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2017, 61(10), 2158-2182.