“Don’t be fooled: Democrats and dictators alike do what best secures their hold on power”
~ Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith
In a new book by the the two political scientists quoted above, the power and Realpolitik chicanery laid out in Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power” is distilled and updated for our times. The two gentlemen in their book “The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics.” argue that:
The logic of politics – in both democracies and dictatorships – is not nearly as complex as many think. Forget the intricacies of individual states, grand strategy, and the national interest. And for now, let’s forget about right and wrong. Indeed, the real, universal lessons of political life can be gleaned from how leaders survive and thrive when in power.
They then list five simple rules, that are both self-evident and difficult to argue against: (at least to anyone with a modicum of intelligence and an interest in getting and retaining power, which is not necessarily representative of our local politicians)
They write: Although methods may differ, just five rules shape how they (authoritarian and democratically elected leaders) govern. These rules identify the incentives driving survival-oriented leaders, whether of the Gaddafi or Obama variety.
Rule 1: Keep the winning coalition as small as possible.
Rule 2: Keep the selectorate [pool of supporters] as large as possible.
Rule 3: Control the flow of revenue.
Rule 4: Pay key supporters just enough to keep them loyal.
Rule 5: Never take money out of your supporter’s pockets to make the people’s lives better.
Strategists in the two camps bracing for 2012 elections would do well to thoroughly study this five rules since a cursory glance will tell you that both groups consist of loosely connected motley coalitions of tribes and regions; both are narrowing the scope of their appeal to a large apolitical voter block that has little time for cheap demagoguery, lies and ethnic cocooning; only one is in a position to control revenues but not in entirety; both parties cannot seem to pay enough to retain loyalty which is evident with the constant party hopping and shifting alliances by the tribal chiefs and stooges who pass for MPs here; and with the majority of the voters poor definitely high inflation coupled with rising cost of living and falling wages is surely taking money out of a core constituency of supporters, except that the people’s lives aren’t getting any better, however if the supporters are taken to be the wealthy kind that fund campaigns then of course no money is being taken out of their pockets to better the wretched masses’ lives (which is not exactly very astute they being so few in terms of votes)
They then summarise thus: All politicians are alike; how they are constrained differs. Just like autocrats and tyrants, leaders of democratic countries follow the Five Rules of politics as best as they can – they, too, want to get power and keep it. The conventional impression that democrats and autocrats are world’s apart stems only from the different constraints they face. Those who rely on a large coalition – democrats – have to be more creative than their autocratic counterparts.
Exactly, the choices before the two groups is that between a strict following of the five cardinal rules set out, or yet to be seen levels of creativity, and I cannot bet on much creativity out of the ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ bunch of usual suspects that we’ll inevitably have on our ballot papers in 2012.