Bruce Bueno de Mesquita describes why dictators do little to lift their people out of poverty. Cynically, dictators stay in power longer if they make their people poorer.

Democratic leaders and Autocrats both seek to stay in power. Democrats manage a large and inclusive coalition. This reduces their ability to bribe allies for support. Democrats must enact good economic policies instead. Dictators can just bribe their allied generals and party leaders to stay in power.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita explains why foreign aid to Africa produced nothing of value. If the aid was used for economically rational policies, the African economies would be much better than they are today. Instead the aid was wasted through corruption and deliberate mismanagement.

Democrats in the West suffer from a cognitive bias. They assume Dictators will behave the same way as Democrats despite a different governing mechanism.

OUR STANDARD approach to economic policy reform typically assumes that leaders are rewarded politically if they help their nation improve its economic performance. In reality, politicians succeed by helping their constituents and, in the vast majority of poor countries, politically significant constituencies are not representative of the whole population. It makes perfect political sense for autocrats in poor countries to enrich the clique of supporters around them, even if it means keeping the majority of the population poor. In short, in such situations, political rationality and economic rationality are not in alignment. Under such conditions, external aid money will not help to alleviate poverty; it is more likely to buttress further what is already an economically dysfunctional arrangement.

Say there are two leaders of two identical countries with populations of 10 million. One is a dictator and another is democratically elected. They have a choice on how to spend the money – bribes or good public policy. If you give them 10 million dollars, how will they spend it to stay in power?

The dictator will bribe his 10 most important supports in the military, corporations, and bureaucracy with $1 million each. These 10 allies will keep him in power.

The dictator does not prefer good public policies. A growing economy lifts all boats, including his enemies. People will be less dependent on him for success and will be emboldened to overthrow him.

The democratic leader will choice public policy. Democrats cannot bribe voters directly. If he gives each voter $1, this does not secure their support. If he spends $10million on education and police improvements, then the population will have greater respect for him.

Dictators try to stay in power as long as possible. So long as they have their cronies’ support, they may do so, even at the expense of the population.

Just as we naturally consider successful those leaders who foster economic growth and prosperity for their citizens, we expect that leaders who produce famine, poverty and misery will earn a rapid retirement. But the data show that leaders who produce poverty and misery through the systematic corruption that is characteristic of autocracy keep their jobs much longer than do those who enrich their countries. Indeed, the eight countries consistently rated the most corrupt in the world–Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan, Indonesia, Syria, Pakistan and Burundi– are those in which political leadership has been most secure, measured by the longevity of its tenure.

With rare exception, only autocrats– leaders who are unresponsive to the popular will and who exercise power unchecked either by law or other institutions–hold on to power for a long time. Over the past century, the only leaders who have remained in office for forty years or more have been autocrats. By contrast, nearly half of all democratic leaders–leaders who hold power at the pleasure of the voters or an elected legislature–are out of office within about one year of coming to power. Such a short tenure is true of only about one-third of autocrats, a remarkable difference in survivability. Virtually no democrats–but one-quarter of autocrats–stay in office for more than eight years, even though few democratic leaders are subject to term limits.

A different governing mechanism can greatly change the economic results. Autocrats are encouraged to destroy their economy. They are more likely to create hyperinflation, expand black markets, work with criminal organizations, and abuse the general population at the first sign of popular discontent.

If autocrats try to improve the economy, they face a number of difficulties. Rising Middle Classes are disgruntled with the corruption and cronyism of the government. Autocrats eventually lose the support of their allies and the Middle Class and fall from power. This appears to be the root of revolutionary conditions as well.

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