The old rulers of the Soviet Union were terrified of facing
contested elections. Those of us who studied political systems presumed
they must be right: Elections would empower citizens against the
arrogance of government. And with the fall of the Iron Curtain,
elections indeed swept the world. Yet democracy doesn't seem to have
delivered on its promise. Surprisingly often, the same old rulers are
still there, ruling in much the same old way. Something has gone wrong,
To answer this question, I put myself in the shoes of
an old autocrat--say, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak--now having to retain power
in a "democracy." What options do I face? Hard as it is to bear, I have
to be honest with myself: My people do not love me... I shake my
head in disbelief that it has come to this, seize my gold pen, and
start listing my options. I decide to be systematic, in each case
evaluating the pros and cons.
Option 3: Scapegoat a minority
This one works! I can blame either unpopular minorities within my
country or foreign governments for all my problems. The politics of
hatred has a long and, electorally speaking, pretty successful
pedigree. In the Ivory Coast it was the Burkinabe immigrants; in
Zimbabwe, the whites; in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the
Tutsi. Failing all else, I can always blame Israel America. I can also promise favoritism for my own group.
Some of my best friends are ethnic minorities. In fact, they have been
funding me for years in return for favors. I prefer doing business with
ethnic minorities because, however rich they become, they cannot
challenge me politically. It is the core ethnic groups I need to keep
out of business. Scare the minorities too badly, and they will move
their money out. So, though scapegoating works, beyond a certain point
it gets rather costly.
This is political economy the way it should be done: Realistic analysis of politicians' actual situation, not deductions from irrelevant rational voter models.