Famine mortality is preventable by government action and yet some famines kill. We develop a political theory of famine mortality based on the selectorate theory of Bueno de Mesquita et al. [Bueno de Mesquita, B. B., Morrow, J. M., Siverson, R. M., & Smith, A. (2002). Political institutions, policy choice and the survival of leaders. British Journal of Political Science, 32(4), 559–590, Bueno de Mesquita, B. B., Smith, A., Siverson, R. M., & Morrow J. M. (2003). The logic of political survival. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press]. We argue that it can be politically rational for a government, democratic or not, to remain inactive in the face of severe famine threat. We derive the testable hypotheses that famine mortality is possible in democracies, but likely to be lower than in autocracies. Moreover, a larger share of people being affected by famine relative to population size together with large quantities of international food aid being available will lower the mortality in both regime types, but more so in democracies.
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