When a book is endorsed by the WSJ reviewers AND the Public Radio reviewers, it likely has something of merit to offer.
While doing daily errands ( when I often listen to the Very Liberal National Public Radio and local affiliates ) the local Public Radio station was reviewing a book.
“The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics”
The authors are Political Science professors and the basic thesis is just that it is a very rational thing to do, to lie, cheat, and deceive; when in political power.
What it comes down to is that those who are bound by a strong moral compass are almost certainly going to lose. Those who identify the few (and it is a VERY few) folks who must be placated for the supplicant to win power and does what it takes to buy them wins. For some it takes the form of customized laws. For others it will ‘Sweet Lies’. For others, positions of power or authority. All the stuff of graft, insider and self dealing, bribery (some of it legal bribery via ‘contributions’ to campaigns).
For example, we like to think ‘our vote counts’; but in reality, only a very few votes actually matter. Most “blue states” vote blue and most “red states” vote red. Much like the Democrats lock on the Black Vote (despite Republicans having lead the North in the Civil War and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation); so they don’t do much to ‘court the black vote’. Why waste your favors on buying a vote you already have? Better to spend the money smearing your opponent with ‘issues’ that matter to the ‘swing voter’. (The smear need not have any truth in it; only be believable on causal observation).
The point was stressed that this is a fundamental property of all political organizations (and even private enterprise can have ‘office politics’…) so seen inside NGOs, Governments, etc.
The essentially rational decision is to pander, lie, bribe, payoff, smear and generally be an Evil Bastard about things.
IMHO, it explains a lot. Not the least of which is why “Limited Government” ought to be our #1 goal. As Government will always end up being run by Evil Bastards lacking in a moral compass and it is a structural aspect that can not be ‘fixed’; the best you can do is make the ‘turf’ it covers as absolutely small as possible. ( Unfortunately, the same pressures will push government to expand forever and grow without bound to suck up all available opportunities to gain more power, control, opportunities to reward friends, punish competitors, and pander, lie, bribe, etc.)
I’ve not read the book yet, but the reviews make it look interesting:
September 24, 2011
It’s Good to Be Boss
By MICHAEL MOYNIHAN
During the recent debt-ceiling debate, a passel of politicians and pundits offered variations on the same sound bite: While their side’s plan was necessary to stop America’s slide toward financial Götterdämmerung, their opponents were recklessly placing electoral politics above the good of the country. President Obama finger-wagged at Republicans for creating a “partisan three-ring circus.” Doing his best impression of Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner expressed shock that “the president’s worried about his next election. But my God, shouldn’t we be worried about the country?”
Not exactly. To political scientists Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, the authors of “The Dictator’s Handbook”—a lucidly written, shrewdly argued meditation on how democrats and dictators preserve political authority—it’s not only unsurprising that politicians craft legislation with an eye toward re-election but also deeply rational. All leaders, whether of democracies or autocracies, dictatorships or monarchies, desire the same goals. “Why do leaders do what they do? To come to power, to stay in power and, to the extent that they can, to keep control over money.”
So how is it that undemocratic leaders—who exploit, imprison and brutalize their subjects—frequently maintain power for far longer periods than their democratic counterparts? Autocrats, the authors argue, need only reward only a small class of loyalists—the army, judiciary, an inner circle of advisers—who will reliably suppress opposition. While democrats likewise dispense rewards—sweetheart contracts, farm subsidies, welfare payments—they are constrained by a system of government that requires the loyalty of fickle voters. This ensures that if a leader accumulates wealth and power in a few hands, his job security weakens.
The most fascinating chapter in “The Dictator’s Handbook” concerns the rewards that governments provide other governments. The authors make the obvious, but nevertheless controversial, argument that almost all aid money is dispersed not to alleviate poverty but to purchase loyalty and influence. There also exists an important political calculus for autocratic aid recipients, who are often willing to make unpopular domestic political decisions provided that the benefits are ample enough to satiate those loyalists who sustain their power.
Which all seems “just about right” to me.
“Foreign Aid” has always looked like massive bribery to me. It looks like that is well understood and that the desire to eliminate it would run headlong into a fundamental power politics reality.
In other words, the reader will be hard-pressed to find a single government that doesn’t largely operate according to Messrs. Bueno de Mesquita and Smith’s model. So the next time a hand-wringing politician, Democrat or Republican, claims to be taking a position for the “good of his country,” remember to replace the word “country” with “career.”
—Mr. Moynihan is the managing editor of Vice magazine.
There’s more in the article, along with a couple of nice pictures.
Looks like about $16 to $18 new (paperback / hardcover) $10 Kindle and some other suppliers at $8 to $5 (used).
The Amazon book description:
For eighteen years, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith have been part of a team revolutionizing the study of politics by turning conventional wisdom on its head. They start from a single assertion: Leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don’t care about the “national interest”—or even their subjects—unless they have to.
This clever and accessible book shows that the difference between tyrants and democrats is just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind but only in the number of essential supporters, or backs that need scratching. The size of this group determines almost everything about politics: what leaders can get away with, and the quality of life or misery under them. The picture the authors paint is not pretty. But it just may be the truth, which is a good starting point for anyone seeking to improve human governance.
So on my “someday” list. I’m “booked up” for the next few months with other things that need doing, but “someday” it looks like ‘worth the time’. If anyone else reads it first, let us know what you think of it.