Bryan Caplan  

The Dictator's Handbook: Read It

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Paul Collier's "The Dictator's Handbook," is truly excellent.  The lead-in:

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, but what?

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.

Highlight:

Option 3: Scapegoat a minority

Pros: 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.

Cons: 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.

HT: John Welborn


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
david writes:

The accompanying diagrams are truly awesome, too.

Prakhar Goel writes:

Who says dictators are the only ones who can use these tactics?

Particularly egregious examples:

Option 3: Blame a minority. This worked in the US for a long time (arguably, still does though which group to blame is contested.) In particular, this was very helpful for the National Socialist party in Germany.

Option 4: Bribing voters. Welfare and lax criminal laws. Need I say more?

Option 7: Miscounting the votes. ACORN (this one is a bit iffy.)

Dave writes:

Prakhar Goel said it well. Starting to see a lot more of this in America esp with our de facto one party rule.

(Does this observation put my on a Dept of Homeland Security watchlist?)

Garrett Schmitt writes:

I learned everything I need to know about running a durable, effective dictatorship in a democratic environment by playing PopTop Software's Tropico.

Methinks writes:

The U.S. is not a dictatorship? I would never have guessed.

Dave, I'd be very careful. You might be rounded up in the same purges as Asness. Obama is not only keeping the suspension of Habeas Corpus but he's also asking to have the presumption of innocence removed in tax cases (particularly investments abroad). We don't hear too much about that in the media, of course, because the media is busy harassing hedge funds on Obama's behalf for not sacrificing their shareholders to his five year plan.

Greg writes:

The rational politician / ruler model seems a lot more promising than the rational voter model.

johnleemk writes:
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 frighteningly dead-on in describing the equilibrium in Malaysian politics, at least until about a year ago. The country was literally founded on this principle -- the oligarchs (from different ethnic backgrounds) who negotiated independence from the British agreed to give the Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities token positions in the government, on the understanding that their communities' primary function would be to do business, not interfere in the political status quo. This arrangement was supposedly disrupted after racial rioting in 1969, but the reality since then has been exactly the same, except for some token efforts to include the Malays in the commercial world (primarily through hamhanded, dumb central planning -- Malaysia still has five-year plans in spite of being a nominally capitalist economy).

Funnily enough, last year Malaysians actually voted for the first time against this arrangement. (The only other time they voted down the ruling coalition this badly was when different ethnic groups thought the arrangement wasn't being taken far enough in their favour.) The opposition coalition comprises a nominally socialist party that favours Singaporean-style capitalism, a party with not much of a coherent economic ideology (led by a man who literally praised Galbraith and Hayek in the same sentence), and a Muslim party promising more social democratic policies. However, these parties are actually overwhelmingly supported by the middle class -- it is the ruling party that is seen as the enemy of democracy and property rights. It's a very interesting situation, and it's only superficially similar to the problems of Thailand in the north.

Steve Sailer writes:

Amy Chua, who is from the Chinese 1 or 2% percent that own a majority of the commercial enterprises in the Philippines, has written about this incisively in her book "World on Fire" on Market Dominant Minorities.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

Good article, although for people with a longer attention span, The Prince by Machiavelli offers a much more complete handbook.

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