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Authors: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

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BOOK: The Dictator's Handbook
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Why do Democrats spend so much of that tax money on welfare and social programs? Or why on earth do we have earmarks? Rule 4: Reward your essentials at all costs.
Why do Republicans wish the top tax rate were lower, and have so many problems with the idea of national health care? Rule 5: Don't rob your supporters to give to your opposition.
Just like autocrats and tyrants, leaders of democratic nations follow these rules because they, like every other leader, want to get power and keep it. Even democrats almost never step down unless they're forced to.
5
The problem for democrats is that they face different constraints and have to be a little more creative than their autocratic counterparts. And they succeed less often. Even though they
generally provide a much higher standard of living for their citizens than do tyrants, democrats generally have shorter terms in office.
Political distinctions are truly continuous across the intersection of the three dimensions that govern how organizations work. Some “kings” in history have actually been elected. Some “democrats” rule their nations with the authority of a despot. In other words, the distinction between autocrats and democrats isn't cut and dried.
Having laid the foundation for our new theory of politics and having revealed the five rules of leadership, we'll turn to the big questions at the heart of the book, often using the terms
autocrats
and
democrats
throughout, to show how the games of leadership change as you slide from one extreme to the other on the spectrum of small and large coalitions. But just remember, there's always a little mix of both worlds regardless of the country or organization in question. The lessons from both extremes apply—whether you're talking about Saddam Hussein or George Washington. After all, the old saw still holds true—politicians are all the same.
2
Coming to Power
F
OR CENTURIES, “JOHN DOE” HAS SERVED AS THE placeholder name assigned to unidentified nobodies. And while his first name may have been Samuel, not John, in every other respect Liberia's Sergeant Doe was just such a nobody until April 12, 1980. Born in a remote part of Liberia's interior and virtually illiterate, he, like hundreds of thousands of others in his predicament, moved out of the West African jungle in search of work. He headed to the capital city, Monrovia, where he found that the army held great opportunities even for men, like him, who had no skills. One of these opportunities presented itself when Doe found himself in President William Tolbert's bedroom on April 12. As the president slept, he seized the day, bayoneted the president, threw his entrails to the dogs, and declared himself Liberia's new president.
1
Thus did he rise from obscurity to claim the highest office in his land.
Together with sixteen other noncommissioned officers, Doe had scaled the fence at the Executive Mansion, hoping to confront the president and find out why they had not been paid. Seeing the opportunity before him, he ended the dominance of Tolbert's True Whig Party, a political regime created by slaves repatriated from America in 1847. He immediately rounded up thirteen cabinet ministers, who were then publically executed on the beach in front of cheering crowds. Many more deaths would follow. Doe then headed
the People's Redemption Council that suspended the constitution and banned all political activity.
Doe had no idea what a president was supposed to do and even less idea of how to govern a country. What he
did
know was how to seize power and keep it: remove the previous ruler; find the money; form a small coalition; and pay them just enough to keep them loyal. In short order, he proceeded to replace virtually everyone who had been in the government or the army with members of his own small Krahn tribe, which made up only about 4 percent of the population. He increased the pay of army privates from $85 to $250 per month. He purged everyone he did not trust. Following secret trials, he had no fewer than fifty of his original collaborators executed.
Doe funded his government, as his predecessors had, with revenues from Firestone, which leased large tracts of land for rubber; from the Liberian Iron Mining Company, which exported iron ore; and by registering more than 2,500 ocean-going ships without requiring safety inspections. Further, he received direct financial backing from the United States government. The United States gave Doe's government $500 million over ten years. In exchange the United States received basing rights and made Liberia a center for US intelligence and propaganda. It is believed that Doe and his cronies personally amassed $300 million.
As for Doe's policies, they couldn't be called successful. Indeed he produced virtually no policies at all. He was lazy, and spent his days hanging out with the wives of his presidential guards. The economy collapsed, foreign debt soared, and criminal enterprises became virtually the only successful businesses in Liberia. Monrovian banks became money-laundering operations. Little wonder that the people of Liberia ended up hating Doe. And yet, provided he knew where the money was and who needed paying off, he managed to survive in power.
Damn the idea of good governance and don't elevate the concerns of the people over your own and those of your supporters: That's a good mantra for would-be dictators. In such a way any John Doe—even a Samuel Doe—can seize power, and even keep it.
Paths to Power with Few Essentials
To come to power a challenger need only do three things. First, he must remove the incumbent. Second, he needs to seize the apparatus of government. Third, he needs to form a coalition of supporters sufficient to sustain him as the new incumbent. Each of these actions involves its own unique challenges. The relative ease with which they can be accomplished differs between democracies and autocracies.
There are three ways to remove an incumbent leader. The first, and easiest, is for the leader to die. If that convenience does not offer itself, a challenger can make an offer to the essential members of the incumbent's coalition that is sufficiently attractive that they defect to the challenger's cause. Third, the current political system can be overwhelmed from the outside, whether by military defeat by a foreign power, or through revolution and rebellion, in which the masses rise up, depose the current leader, and destroy existing institutions.
While rebellion requires skill and coordination, its success ultimately depends heavily upon coalition loyalty, or more precisely, the absence of loyalty to the old regime. Hosni Mubarak's defeat by a mass uprising in Egypt is a case in point. The most critical factor behind Mubarak's defeat in February 2011 was the decision by Egypt's top generals to allow demonstrators to take to the streets without fear of military suppression. And why was that the case? As explained in a talk given on May 5, 2010, based on the logic set out here, cuts in US foreign aid to Egypt combined with serious economic constraints that produced high unemployment, meant that Mubarak's coalition was likely to be underpaid and the people were likely to believe the risks and costs of rebellion were smaller than normal.
2
That is, the general rule of thumb for rebellion is that revolutions occur when those who preserve the current system are sufficiently dissatisfied with their rewards that they are willing to look for someone new to take care of them. On the other hand, revolts are defeated through suppression of the people—always an unpleasant task—so coalition members need to receive enough benefits from their leader that they are willing to do horribly distasteful things to ensure that the existing system is maintained. If they do not
get enough goodies under the current system, then they will not stop the people from rising up against the regime.
Speed Is Essential
Once the old leader is gone, it is essential to seize the instruments of power, such as the treasury, as quickly as possible. This is particularly important in small coalition systems. Anyone who waits will be a loser in the competition for power.
Speed is of the essence. The coalition size in most political systems is much smaller than a majority of the selectorate. Furthermore, even though we tend to think that if one leader has enough votes or supporters, then the other potential candidate must be short, this is wrong. There can simultaneously be many different groups trying to organize to overthrow a regime and each might have sufficient numbers of lukewarm or double-dealing supporters who could aid them in securing power—or just as easily aid someone else, if the price is right. This is why it is absolutely essential to seize the reins of power quickly to make sure that your group gets to control the instruments of the state, and not someone else's.
Samuel Doe ruled because his group had the guns. He did not need half the nation to support him. He needed just enough confederates so that he could control the army and suppress the rest of the population. There were many other coalitions that could have formed, but Doe grabbed hold of power first and suppressed the rest. This is the essence of coming to power.
Consider a room filled with 100 people. Anyone could take complete control if only she had five supporters with automatic weapons pointed at the rest. She would remain in power so long as the five gunmen continue to back her. But there need be nothing special about her or about the gunmen beyond the fact that they grabbed the guns first. Had someone else secured the guns and given them to five supporters of their own, then it would be someone else telling everyone what to do.
Waiting is risky business. There is no prize for coming in second.
Pay to Play
Paying supporters, not good governance or representing the general will, is the essence of ruling. Buying loyalty is particularly difficult when a leader first comes to power. When deciding whether to support a new leader, prudent backers must not only think about how much their leader gives them today. They must also ponder what they can expect to receive in the future.
The supporting cast in any upstart's transitional coalition must recognize that they might not be kept on for long. After Doe took over the Liberian government, he greatly increased army salaries. This made it immediately attractive for his fellow army buddies to back him. But they were mindful that they might not be rewarded forever. Don't forget that fifty of his initial backers ended up executed.
Allaying supporters' fears of being abandoned is a key element of coming to power. Of course, supporters are not so naïve that they will be convinced by political promises that their position in the coalition is secure. But such political promises are much better than tipping your hand as to your true plans. Once word gets out that supporters are going to be replaced, they will turn on their patron. For instance, Ronald Reagan won the pro-choice vote in the 1980 US presidential election over the pro-life incumbent, Jimmy Carter. When Reagan's true abortion stance became apparent, the pro-choice voters abandoned him in droves. Walter Mondale won the pro-choice vote in the 1984 presidential election despite Reagan's reelection in a landslide.
Leaders understand the conditions that can cost them their heads. That is why they do their level best to pay essential cronies enough that these partners really want to stay loyal. This makes it tough for someone new to come to power. But sometimes circumstances conspire to open the door to a new ruler.
Mortality: The Best Opportunity for Power
Most unavoidably, and therefore first, on the list of risks of being deposed is the simple, inescapable fact of mortality. Dead leaders cannot
deliver rewards to their coalition. Dying leaders face almost as grave a problem. If essential backers know their leader is dying, then they also know that they need someone new to assure the flow of revenue into their pockets. That's a good reason to keep terminal illnesses secret since a terminal ailment is bound to provoke an uprising, either within the ranks of the essential coalition or among outsiders who see an opportunity to step in and take control of the palace.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran and Corazon Aquino in the Philippines both chose the right time to seize power. Take the case of Ayatollah Khomeini. He was one of the most senior Shia clerics in Iran and a vehement opponent of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's secular regime. During early 1960 he spoke out against the regime, and organized protests. His activities resulted in his being repeatedly arrested. In 1964, he went into exile, first to Turkey, then Iraq, and eventually to France, continuing to preach his opposition to the shah wherever he was. Tapes of his speeches were popular throughout Iran.
In 1977, with the death of the shah's rival, Ali Shariati, Khomeini became the most influential opposition leader. Although he urged others to oppose the shah, he refused to return to Iran until the shah was gone. Except for a privileged few, almost everyone in Iran hungered for change. The shah's regime and those associated with it were widely disliked. Seeing that there was a chance for real change, people threw their support behind the one clearly viable alternative: Khomeini. After the shah fled the country, an estimated 6 million people turned out to cheer Khomeini's return. Judging from what he did next, they may have cheered too soon.
Immediately after his return, Khomeini challenged the interim government, which was headed by the shah's former prime minister. Much of the army defected and joined Khomeini, and when he ordered a jihad against soldiers remaining loyal to the old regime resistance collapsed. Then he ordered a referendum to be held in which the people would choose between the old monarchy of the shah or an Islamic republic. With the endorsement of 98 percent for the latter, he rewrote the constitution basing it on rule by clerics. After some dubious electoral practices this constitution was approved and he became the Supreme Leader with a Council of Guardians to veto non-Islamic
laws and candidates. The many secular and moderate religious groups who had taken to the streets on his behalf, providing the critical support needed for his rise to power, found they were left out, excluded from running the new regime.
BOOK: The Dictator's Handbook
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