BRETT CARTER

Brett Carter - 2015
  • Biography [CV]





    Brett Carter is Assistant Professor in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California and co-PI of the Lab on Non-Democratic Politics. He received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University, where he was a Graduate Fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. He was previously a fellow at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, as well as the Hoover Institution.

    Brett's research focuses on politics in the world's autocracies. He is currently working on three book projects: one on autocratic survival in post-Cold War Africa, one that employs computational techniques to understand the political foundations of autocratic propaganda, and one that exploits the Foreign Agents Registration Act to explore the role of autocratic money in American politics.

    His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, United States Institute of Peace, Social Science Research Council, Guggenheim Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.

    Brett is a regular contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy's Power 3.0, African Arguments, and Africa is a Country, and has been been interviewed by France 24, RFI, Reuters, and Voice of America, among others. He tweets about Central African affairs, autocratic politics, and more at @brett_l_carter. He can be reached via email at blcarter@usc.edu.

  • Fighting for Citizens' Minds [PDF]


    In 1918, fresh from the experience of World War 1, the United States Army articulated its views of propaganda in a 210-page book. "Thoughts," it observed, "are bullets," and the United States' rivals in World War 1 had invested as much into honing their propaganda apparatuses as they had their secret police. As bullets, the thoughts of their citizens are profoundly threatening to the world's autocrats. "As long as people think that the dictator's power is secure," Gordon Tullock, wrote, "it is secure." When citizens think otherwise, all at once, then a dictator's power is anything but. The 20th century's great totalitarian dictatorship, after all, was brought down by little more than a sudden shift in its citizens' beliefs.

    This conviction - that their power rests ultimately on their citizens believing in it - has long compelled the world's autocrats to invest in sophisticated propaganda apparatuses. Chinese Paramount Leader Mao Zedong routinely edited editorials in the People's Daily, and even referred to propaganda as "the most important job of the Red Army." After the Russian Duma reduced RT's annual budget from $380 million in 2011 to $300 million in 2012, President Vladimir Putin prohibited further reductions. In the Republic of Congo, President Denis Sassou Nguesso even hired a a Frenchman, Jean-Paul Pigasse, to oversee Les Depeches de Brazzaville, the regime's propaganda newspaper. Pigasse was previously a senior figure at several widely respected French publications and is reportedly very well compensated, a central figure in Sassou Nguesso's money laundering operation.

    In this book, we present the largest dataset of cross-national propaganda yet assembled. Our dataset of state-run newspapers contains over five million unique articles drawn from nearly 70 countries in six of the world's major languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Using a range of novel computational methods, we show that the world's autocrats employ dramatically different propaganda strategies: in their coverage of the regime and the political opposition, in their narratives about domestic and international conditions, and in the threats they issue to citizens.

    Why do the world's autocrats employ such strikingly different propaganda strategies? The answer, we show, is that different autocrats employ propaganda to achieve different ends. Levitsky & Way (2010) famously observed that some autocrats are more bound by electoral constraints than others. Some autocrats, in short, are more constrained in their ability to tilt the electoral playing field in their favor, either because their recourse to repression is limited by international pressure or because they confront domestic institutions or pressure groups that bind them. When autocrats are electorally constrained, they must seek some amount of popular support, and so employ propaganda to persuade citizens of regime merits. To be persuasive, however, propaganda apparatuses must have some amount of credibility in the eyes of citizens. To build credibility, in turn, propaganda apparatuses must concede their own failures. They must cover economic crises and persistently high infant mortality rates. By contrast, where autocrats confront no electoral constraints -- where autocrats can fully secure themselves with repression -- propaganda serves not to persuade citizens, but to intimidate them into submission. Propaganda derives its power from its absurdity. By forcing citizens to consume content that everyone knows to be false -- indeed, to be seen consuming it by their numbers -- autocrats employ propaganda to ensure their capacity for repression is common knowledge among citizens.

    The table of contents appears above. A summary of the book will appear in the Fall 2018 edition of the APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter.

    Autocracy 2.0:
    Subverting Democracy in Modern Africa [PDF]


    The Third Wave of Democracy reached Africa in January 1989. Five years later, with the Cold War over and food prices soaring, Africa's autocrats bowed to popular demands for reform. Some fell, others survived. But virtually all were subjected to nominally democratic institutions: term limits, parliaments, and regular multiparty elections. African politics in the decades since has been a contest between autocrats and these institutions. In some countries, democratic institutions won. Elections grew more competitive, losers respected the will of voters, and equitable economic growth produced a middle class. But elsewhere -- places like Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon -- elections remain a sham, and ruling families grow wealthy while their citizens remain the world's poorest. There are, increasingly, two Africas: one democratic, the other autocratic.

    Africa's autocrats have little choice but to govern with nominally democratic institutions. Since the end of the Cold War, Western creditors have required these institutions in exchange for economic aid, investment, and debt relief. In so doing, they pose new challenges to the continent's autocrats, which the opening chapters of my book manuscript identify. Most obviously, Africa's modern autocrats lack the single party regimes that sustained their predecessors. More, the regular elections occasioned by nominally democratic institutions create "focal moments" for popular protest, when citizens are engaged, discontent is palpable, and opposition leaders coalesce frustration into mass protest. Autocrats confront these new challenges with new constraints. As Western creditors grow more willing to sanction human rights violations, Western aid dependence increasingly constrains recourse to repression among Africa's autocrats. Life as an autocrat has thus grown more perilous. Since 1989, autocrats forced to govern with nominally democratic institutions have been 80% more likely to lose power each year than their counterparts. Between 1986 and 2000, the number of autocracies in Africa fell from 45 to 30.

    Yet Africa's autocrats are learning to survive, and the rate of democratization has slowed to a trickle. To understand this resilience, my book manuscript -- entitled "Autocracy 2.0: Subverting Democracy in Modern Africa" -- explores how Africa's autocrats employ non-institutional strategies to survive.

    For an annotated table of contents, please consult the link above.

    Autocrats and their Lobbyists:
    The Politics of Foreign Influence

    Governments around the world invest billions of dollars each year to shape American policy. Under contract to foreign governments – and, accordingly, acting on their behalf – Washington lobbyists meet with American lawmakers, fund their congressional campaigns, draft the legislative bills they sponsor, pressure the executive branch and agencies, disseminate media kits to leading newspapers, and build policy alliances among stakeholders.

    Which of the word’s governments invest most heavily in Washington lobbyists? Why? When? What do they get in return? Drawing on fieldwork in Central Africa and East Asia, our central argument is that Washington lobbying is a critical tool for the world’s worst governments to advance their domestic political interests. Moreover, we suspect that lobbying works: that the world’s autocrats routinely purchase a measure of international immunity from domestic human rights violations.

    To explore its hypotheses more systematically, this book draws on an original dataset of all lobbying activities ever undertaken by foreign governments in the United States since 1945. The database exploits the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires all agents who represent foreign principals to file detailed activity reports every six months. These activity reports, referred to as Supplemental Statements, are then made available on a website, which FARA requires the US Department of Justice to maintain. These Supplemental Statements include wealth of information: every penny foreign governments transfer to Washington lobbyists, every contact that Washington lobbyists undertake with American government officials and media outlets on the foreign government’s behalf, every campaign contribution Washington lobbyists make while under contract, and much more. Once completed, this dataset will offer the first complete, fully searchable history of foreign lobbying in the United States. We intend to maintain the dataset in real time, long after the book is completed.

  • In Print

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “The Politics of Propaganda in Autocracies.“ APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter Fall 2018.

    Carter, Brett L. “Autocrats Versus Activists in Africa.“ Journal of Democracy 29:1 (2018), 54-68. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. “The Struggle Over Term Limits in Africa: How the West Can Help.“ Journal of Democracy 27:3 (2016), 36-50. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. “Repression and Foreign Aid in Autocracies: Exploiting Debt Relief Negotiations in Post-Cold War Africa.“ AidData Working Paper 29. PDF.

    Under Review

    Carter, Brett L. and Mai O. Hassan. “The Political Geography of the Local Security Apparatus." PDF. Revise & resubmit at the Journal of Politics.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “Propaganda and Protest: Evidence from Post-Cold War Africa.“ PDF. Revise & resubmit at the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. Autocratic Propaganda in Comparative Perspective.“ PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “When Autocrats Threaten Citizens With Violence." PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “Focal Moments and Popular Protests in Autocracies: Evidence from China.“ PDF.

    Carter, Brett L., Erin Baggott Carter, and Megan Angulo. “Questioning More: RT, America, and the Post-West World Order.“

    Working

    Carter, Brett L., Erin Baggott Carter, and James D. Fearon. “Foreign Coverage in The New York Times: Evolution and Explanation.“

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “Autocrats and Their Lobbyists: The Politics of Foreign Influence.“

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. "Explaining Variation in Television and Newspaper Propaganda.“

    Carter, Brett L. “Elections, Protests, and Focal Moments: Day-Level Evidence from Post-Cold War Africa.“ PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. “Guarding the Guardians: A Theory of Parallel Governments in Autocracies.“

  • Policy and General Interest

    Carter, Brett L. 2018. “Central African Activists Strike Back Against Authoritarian Kleptocrats.” The National Endowment for Democracy, Power 3.0. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2017. “Something is happening in Congo-Brazzaville.” African Arguments. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2017. “Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s embarrassing attempt to ingratiate himself to Donald Trump.” Africa is a Country. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “Republic of Congo government blames non-existent militia for attack, wages war on citizens.” African Arguments. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “President Sassou Nguesso prepares for final stage of his constitutional coup: elections in the Republic of Congo.” African Arguments. Link.

    Clark, John F. and Brett L. Carter. 2015. “Peacemaking or Pacification for the Pool: The Restoration of State Authority in a Rebellious Region of Congo-Brazzaville.” Journal of African Policy Studies.

    Carter, Brett L. 2014. “Political Survival and the Modern African Prince.” Centerpiece: Newsletter of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University 28(2). Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2012. ``The Political Economy of Market Integration in the Republic of Congo." The World Bank.

    Reference Contributions

    Carter, Brett L. Forthcoming. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2017, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2017. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2016, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. ``The Economy of the Republic of Congo." In Africa South of the Sahara, 2014, ed. Iain Frame. London: Routledge.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2015, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2015. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2014, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2014. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2013, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill.

    Carter, Brett L. 2013. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2012, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill.

    Carter, Brett L. and John F. Clark. 2013. “Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville).” In Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, ed. Thomas Spear. New York: Oxford University Press. PDF.

    Legal Testimony

    I routinely provide legal testimony for asylum seekers in American and British courts. I have worked with private law firms, nonprofit organizations, and university legal clinics. For more see the Fahamu Refugee Programme (here).
  • Teaching

    The Political Economy of Africa

    Living standards around the world have increased, in many cases exponentially, throughout the previous century. Yet Sub-Saharan Africa remains, by a considerable margin, the poorest region on Earth. This course asks three questions: Why is Africa poor? When did it become so? And will it remain so for the foreseeable future? The course draws on a range of social science disciplines -- anthropology, economics, history, political science, and sociology -- to offer tentative answers.


    Offered Spring 2018

    Course evaluation, Fall 2016: 4.75/5

    Course evaluation, Spring 2017: 4.75/5

    Syllabus

    Managing Global Problems


    The modern world is unprecedented in human history. Living standards have never been higher. Rates of violence have never been lower. More people live under democratic governments than ever before. The first part of this course documents these trends and, drawing from disciplines across the social science, attempts to explain them. The second part of the course surveys the challenges to this historical moment. We focus on the global implications of climate change, the resurgence of autocratic governments, the dynamics of civil resistance, the causes and consequences of income inequality in Western democracies, and the future of the post-World War II international order, among other topics.


    Offered Spring 2018

    Syllabus

    The Political Economy of Autocracy

    Despite the global expansion of democracy since the 1990s, the most common form of political organization remains some variety of autocracy. This undergraduate seminar surveys major topics in the political economy of autocracy. It focuses, in particular, on a central question: How do autocratic governments retain power while denying basic political rights to a broad segment of the population? In so doing, the course probes the social and economic origins of autocracy, its implications for economic and international policy, the effects of natural resources thereon, the prevalence of elections and legislatures, and other topics. The course draws from a range of disciplines: primarily political science, economics, and history, but others too.


    Offered Fall 2018

    Course evaluation, Spring 2017: 4.5/5

    Course evaluation, Fall 2017: 4.44/5

    Syllabus

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