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The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Maru Kun

    Politicians care only about their own power; politicians care about their electorate only to the extent that the electorate keeps them in power. The underlying thesis of this book - let’s call it ‘Political Truth’ – is a statement of such obviousness that one would think it could be said in a sentence or two rather than needing to be padded out over three hundred odd pages: Is this a new idea? Of course not. But where this book succeeds is in giving Political Truth the support of a credible conce Politicians care only about their own power; politicians care about their electorate only to the extent that the electorate keeps them in power. The underlying thesis of this book - let’s call it ‘Political Truth’ – is a statement of such obviousness that one would think it could be said in a sentence or two rather than needing to be padded out over three hundred odd pages: Is this a new idea? Of course not. But where this book succeeds is in giving Political Truth the support of a credible conceptual framework and then exploring the logic of Political Truth through to a set of well-argued conclusions backed by convincing evidence (or at least evidence as convincing as any you can find in the social sciences). No doubt to spare the blushes of whoever awards research grants in political theory, Political Truth is given a properly academic sounding name: ‘Selectorate Theory’. Selectorate Theory says as follows: leaders do not lead unilaterally but as part of a coalition that wields sufficient power to impose its will on those ruled. The make-up of this ruling coalition may vary over time, but will usually include the army and other ‘organs of state security’. The leader - whether by control of natural resources, taxation, foreign aid or otherwise - must have access to sufficient financial resources to keep the coalition’s members happy. Who decides the make-up of the ruling coalition? We need to consider three groups: the ‘nominal electorate’, the ‘real selectorate’ and the ‘winning coalition’. The nominal electorate is every person who, in theory at least, has a say in choosing their leader. The ‘real selectorate’ is the group that actually chooses the leader. The final group – ‘the winning coalition’ - is the subset of the real selectorate whose support is actually required to keep the leader in power. To illustrate, in an advanced democracy the nominal electorate would comprise everyone of voting age. The real selectorate, however, may be smaller. In the UK this group may be as few as twenty five percent of those entitled to vote as under the UK parliamentary system a political party needs fifty percent of parliamentary seats to stay in power and each of those seats could be won with a fifty percent majority. The Tory party came to power in 2015 with thirty seven percent of those eligible to vote. In contrast, North Korea has just as broad a nominal electorate as the UK but in practice the real selectorate able to participate in chosing a leader may be only a few hundred people. The willing coalition, chosen from the real selectorate and needed by Kim Jong Un to keep him in fois gras while the ICBMs keep flying, may be even fewer in number. An Englishman will instantly understand that a member of the ‘winning coalition’ is referred to as a ‘toff’. English toffs, meanwhile, refer to members of the nominal electorate as ‘plebs’ from the Latin for ‘plebian’, being people who couldn’t vote in Roman times and whom the toffs think shouldn’t be allowed to vote now. Back in 2012 a toff (a Tory Minister) called a policeman, who told him to follow the rules and wheel his bike through the side entrance to ten Downing Street rather than riding it straight through, a pleb. Given that in a class conscious UK the use of the pleb-word is as offensive as the use of the n-word in the US this caused a scandal big enough to force the resignation of the Minister, provoke endless police investigations and commence a couple of High Court trials. The political fallout from this affair was of a similar scale to that of Watergate, so it was named in its honor: Plebgate. So to understand the Political Truth you simply need to focus on the size of the winning coalition and the level of pay-off this group needs to keep it happy. If you have a small ‘winning coalition’ the chances are that you’re a dictator (one estimate put the total number of individuals in Mubarak's winning coalition to be as few as eight). A large winning coalition? Chances are you are in a democracy or at least heading in a democratic direction. If you are lucky enough to be a resource rich dictator (like Mobuto) then things are pretty sweet. You don’t have to go to the trouble of having a working economy that pays taxes. Instead use your resource wealth to pay off the army and have them build a runway next to your home village to serve the dual purpose of providing you with a quick route out in the event of a coup while also allowing for convenient weekend shopping trips to Paris on Concorde. Don’t spend money on roads though, they just make it easier for rivals to drive up to the palace and stage a coup. Citizens are the people your motorcade runs over on the way to the airport. If you are resource poor dictator then things can become tricky. You have to give your people a minimum level of education and personal freedom in order to encourage them enough to actually do some work worth taxing. But take care, as too much freedom or too much education and they might start demanding more of the same. They might even force you to democratize. J J Rawlings is cited as a rare example of a leader that stayed one step ahead of his people, starting off as a dictator but lasting out to the beginnings of a Ghanaian democracy If you have a very large winning coalition then you are probably a democrat and things kind of suck. Instead of shopping trips on Concorde you have to work on keeping a large number of complaining people happy using complicated, headache inducing stuff known as “government policy”. You can’t just hand out bundles of cash in brown envelopes, although you can play obscure games with the tax code to the benefit of selected members of your winning coalition, which comes to pretty much the same thing. Well, this is all good fun, especially given that you can apply it to a range of political situations outside of national or international politics. In fact the thesis is so convincing I've already started plotting how to join the winning coalition in my office. I'm just waiting for the HR department to carry out our CEOs next purge (assuming I survive it).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrej Karpathy

    This book examines positions of power (e.g. country leadership, mayors, CEOs, deans, etc.) by assuming entirely self-interested actors who seek to gain and retain power, and argues through examples that this relatively simple model gives the first order explanation of many world events. If you really grasp the message you'll adopt a much more cynical world view, but you'll also stop torturing yourself over stupid questions like what a country "ought" to do, what is "right", or why the people in This book examines positions of power (e.g. country leadership, mayors, CEOs, deans, etc.) by assuming entirely self-interested actors who seek to gain and retain power, and argues through examples that this relatively simple model gives the first order explanation of many world events. If you really grasp the message you'll adopt a much more cynical world view, but you'll also stop torturing yourself over stupid questions like what a country "ought" to do, what is "right", or why the people in power just can't see it. At the same time, spending some time in reality will reveal ways of remedying various suboptimal situations (e.g. the inefficacy of foreign aid) with solutions that recognize the root cause and manipulate incentive structures of those in power. The book supplements its thesis with various examples. For instance, resource-rich autocracies with small winning coalitions tend to oppress the population, which is irrelevant to the revenue needed to retain power. Conversely, there exists a curious tension in countries that cannot extract riches from the ground and instead rely on a productive population to generate wealth. This leads to the development of technologies that empower people, such as better communication networks, transportation infrastructure, education, etc., but these in turn pose a threat to those in power. There is also an element of "survival of the fittest" to systems with small winning coalitions, where even if a benevolent leader rises to power who wants to raise the standard of living for the masses, they are likely to become replaced by those who promise to redirect that wealth to the key supporters (e.g. those in charge of the police, military, treasury, etc.). A coup is significantly easier if these institutions turn a blind eye. The outlooks are somewhat better for an average person living in a democracy, because the incentives of the ruler are aligned with making the average person better off to win a re-election. In short, to understand the dynamics of a system of power the first order features to consider are 1) the nominal electorate (people who theoretically have influence), or the "interchangeables", 2) the real selectorate (the people who actually have the influence), or the "influentials" and 3) the winning coalition (the number of people required to keep power), or the "essentials". You can then solve for the dynamics. My main critique of the book is that it is simply too damn long, too repetitive, and badly in need of an experienced editor. You'll hear the same statements re-iterated ad nauseam, and in many cases you'll wish the author was more concrete instead of arguing in generalities, at a level where the abstraction washes out the complexity and makes the conclusions self-evident under the simple model. Therefore, I'd recommend that the reader selectively skips through the book, or watch CGPGrey's summary video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7...), or the EconTalk podcasts featuring the author (e.g. http://www.econtalk.org/archives/_fea...).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This was a very enjoyable book, full of what essentially amount to worked examples in the logic of political survival - going into detail about what behaviors occur under what political conditions, often furnishing multiple examples for each concept. I will say that you can easily understand Bueno De Mesquita's basic thesis just by listening to the EconTalk podcasts on which he was a guest, particularly his 2006 and 2007 appearances, and in fact you may want to consider listening to these before This was a very enjoyable book, full of what essentially amount to worked examples in the logic of political survival - going into detail about what behaviors occur under what political conditions, often furnishing multiple examples for each concept. I will say that you can easily understand Bueno De Mesquita's basic thesis just by listening to the EconTalk podcasts on which he was a guest, particularly his 2006 and 2007 appearances, and in fact you may want to consider listening to these before reading the book, as it will give you a very strong intro to the concepts discussed therein. Both the podcasts and the book are highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Basically, this author tells us over and over that powerful people abuse their power if no one checks them. This is not news. Also, there's a certain incoherence to the thesis even in the examples he uses: Bell, California was inevitably corrupt, but he can tell the story because everyone involved went to jail; foreign aid never works but the Marshall Plan was very successful, etc. Something is missing from the model. He needs to explain how the checks on corruption change in strength over time Basically, this author tells us over and over that powerful people abuse their power if no one checks them. This is not news. Also, there's a certain incoherence to the thesis even in the examples he uses: Bell, California was inevitably corrupt, but he can tell the story because everyone involved went to jail; foreign aid never works but the Marshall Plan was very successful, etc. Something is missing from the model. He needs to explain how the checks on corruption change in strength over time and location within a country when the factors he is talking about are held constant. This would be much more useful information. For better books apologizing for cynicism and sociopathy, read Robert Greene.

  5. 5 out of 5

    May 舞

    When I was younger I'd believed that politics was a dirty game in which money and power were the sole motivators for anyone who played it. Then I grew up a bit, and I started thinking that perhaps it was truly about ideology: conservatism vs. liberalism, communism vs. capitalism, social justice vs. hierarchy. Well, the naive opinion of my younger self turns out to be right on the money! (That was sheer luck, no doubt) However, more remains to be said, for things are seldom as simple as they may s When I was younger I'd believed that politics was a dirty game in which money and power were the sole motivators for anyone who played it. Then I grew up a bit, and I started thinking that perhaps it was truly about ideology: conservatism vs. liberalism, communism vs. capitalism, social justice vs. hierarchy. Well, the naive opinion of my younger self turns out to be right on the money! (That was sheer luck, no doubt) However, more remains to be said, for things are seldom as simple as they may seem. The Dictator's Handbook dispenses with all facades and propaganda. A leader can come to and then remain in power only if he or she can pay off the essentials whose support is crucial to achieve that goal. The only difference is the method of payment. In small coalition regimes (autocracies, monarchies, etc...) the payment consists of private rewards, i.e. making the rich richer and the poor poorer. In large coalition regimes (democracies) it consists of desirable policies, public goods, and infrastructure, since there are too many essentials to be bought off privately. My introduction to this book comes from CGP Gray's 'The Rules for Rulers' video (currently with 10 million views). I'd feared, after the first couple of chapters, that this was going to be an expanded version of the twenty-minute video, with much repetition and reiteration of the same ideas. Fortunately, my fears were soon proved to be mistaken. Armed with countless real life examples, the authors embark on a difficult project with the aim of illustrating one curious fact: "what, for a leader, is the “best” way to govern? The answer to how best to govern: however is necessary first to come to power, then to stay in power, and to control as much national (or corporate) revenue as possible all along the way." It is not a lovely, comforting picture they portray. There are five rules that any ruler worth his salt would live by: Rule 1: Keep your winning coalition as small as possible. Rule 2: Keep your nominal selectorate as large as possible. Rule 3: Control the flow of revenue. Rule 4: Pay your key supporters just enough to keep them loyal. Rule 5: Don’t take money out of your supporter’s pockets to make the people’s lives better. Each of these rules is expanded upon and explained in full detail, from the moment the leader comes into power, then through the process of consolidating her regime and how she divides the revenue and what factors affect her decisions, to how she may be deposed if she fails to follow through with one or more of the aforementioned iron-clad laws. I'd always believed that I would never behave like those greedy, cruel, and horrible people who, when powerful and wealthy, abandon their ideals and focus on enriching themselves and their cronies, but even I, in my optimism, cannot see a way in which one decent person can do much good without the help of those around her. The truth of the matter is thus, "the choice between enhancing social welfare or enriching a privileged few is not a question of how benevolent a leader is. Honorable motives might seem important, but they are overwhelmed by the need to keep supporters happy, and the means of keeping them happy depends on how many need rewarding." The Dictator's Handbook explores the numerous factors that affect governance (none related to ideology or morality), such as coalition size, natural disasters, natural resources, illness, financial crises, foreign aid, revolts, and wars. In addition, we view some of the tools and methods used by both autocrats and democrats -albeit in different ways. These incluse elections, taxation, borrowing, extraction, private rewards, and public goods (education, healthcare, drinking water, infrastructure, and freedom). Finally, the authors offer what they view to be a potential antidote: increase coalition size; make leaders dependent on too many people so as to spur expenditure on public goods that benefit all citizens. Don't forgive debts, as relieving finanical strain in dictatorships only encourages further looting and oppression. This seems to be self-evident when one understands that a despot who cannot pay his or her cronies cannot stay in power. "Because the acceptable uses of taxation in a regime that depends on a large coalition are few—just those expenditures thought to buy more welfare than people can buy on their own—taxes tend to be low when coalitions are large. But when the coalition of essential backers is small and private goods are an efficient way to stay in power, then the well-being of the broader population falls by the waysides... In this setting leaders want to tax heavily, redistributing wealth by taking as much as they can from the poor interchangeables and the disenfranchised, giving that wealth in turn to the members of the winning coalition, making them fat, rich, and loyal." Cases from the Middle East, China, America, Mexico, Ghana, Kenya, Russia, Britain, and many others (even private companies like HP!) serve to elucidate and clarify these seemingly abstract notions. I found the analysis regarding my country, Egypt, to be particularly illuminating. 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. Chapter Seven on foreign aid was another gem, unexpectedly thought-provoking and informative. It explains several previously confusing and seemingly senseless attitudes, such as the US giving Pakistan (whose citizens are not huge fans of America) billions of dollars in aid to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban, with Pakistan spectacularly failing all the same. Later on, after dramatic increases in aid: the Pakistani government accepted the aid money and greatly stepped up its pursuit of militants operating within its borders. By February 2010 they had captured the number two Taliban leader, but, as we should expect, they have also been careful not to wipe out the Taliban threat. Doing so would just lead to a termination of US funds. Curiously, contrary to what many democracies declare, it is not in their interests for other countries to democratize, since a dictator with a small coalition is easier to buy off compared to a democratic leader beholden to the people. Trading aid for policy changes is an easy way to appease the voters but it allows tyranny to continue and the suffering of the poor and oppressed to never end. "Our individual concerns about protecting ourselves from unfriendly democracies elsewhere typically trump our longer term belief in the benefits of democracy. Democratic leaders listen to their voters because that is how they and their political party get to keep their jobs...When a foreign people are aligned against our best interest, our best chance of getting what we want is to keep them under the yoke of an oppressor who is willing to do what we, the people, want." I know this review is partially all over the place; however, there is absolutely no way I'd be able to summarize each eye-opening idea mentioned in this book. It seems depressing and it is so indeed, but there is light at the end of the road. The final chpater offers hints and suggestions that, if implemented, would greatly improve the livelihoods of the wretched and downtrodden. These include targeting states that depend on tourism for democratization, as they are more likely to allow their people more freedoms; exploiting the opportunities that arise when the leader is new, sick, or bankrupt, as the coalition members are uncertain whether they will be retained or disposed of; the widespread use of cell phone technology and access to the internet to allow people to communicate and organize themselves; tying foreign aid with actual improvements in governance, and not merely accepting empty promises; and offering a way out for despots "to preserve and improve the lives of the many who suffer at the hands of desperate leaders, who might be prepared to step aside in exchange for immunity." These and more will be found in this great work of non-fiction, which will serve as a reference and a fresh perspective with which to view the realm of politics. In its essence, it is a long argument for democracy without allusion to its moralistic and egalitarian justifications. Regardless of ideology, democracy is the only course we can take to ensure prosperity and freedom for all people. The great thing about these rules is that once understood, those of us who wish to see the world a better place can also play the game, and perhaps -hopefully- end up winning it too. "Blind fools don’t often get to rule countries or companies."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    This is one of those books whose main thesis could be explained and extrapolated upon in about 10 pages, which means the rest of the book is pretty repetitive. Includes an interesting examination of political systems (autocracy vs democracy) and why politicians ultimately all work on the same incentives. Read the first few chapters and skim the rest.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    This was a really interesting read. On the one hand, it's incredibly fascinating, but on the other, it's kind of so obvious that I feel like we should all be out here like "DUH. Dude, everyone knows that." But, clearly, no, not everyone does. Including myself. It's obvious to me after finishing this book, just how painstaking the research into this topic was - they had to go through so much history and political policy, for so many countries and political factions, and then analyze so much data. This was a really interesting read. On the one hand, it's incredibly fascinating, but on the other, it's kind of so obvious that I feel like we should all be out here like "DUH. Dude, everyone knows that." But, clearly, no, not everyone does. Including myself. It's obvious to me after finishing this book, just how painstaking the research into this topic was - they had to go through so much history and political policy, for so many countries and political factions, and then analyze so much data... it's mind-boggling to think about logistically. And yet, EVEN THOUGH I realize how comprehensive the research was, coming out the other side, it feels like one of those things that, in hindsight, we should all have been able to see all along. So, I'm now feeling all kinds of idealistically naive. So that's fun. But that's the thing that makes politics so interesting (and by interesting, I mean maddening), is that perception and spin and misdirection and interpretation are the vertebrae in its backbone. We all see the same actions and policies and speeches... we just perceive them and interpret them differently based on a million different factors individual to ourselves. And one of the most prominent of those factors is how well we're doing within the system, how much (or how little) we're benefiting from the powers that be. It's very rare for people to be truly objective or nonpartisan about politics. People may ignore politics, sure, but I think that signifies, to some degree, that they are doing well enough within their system to not have to sweat their everyday existence. Others obviously do not have the same privilege. So, they start this book with a set of rules and a general description of autocracy* vs democracy, which essentially comes down to size. Because in this case, size does matter. There are three groups of people who matter in determining how you'll come to power as a politician, regardless of your level of autocratic inclination: Nominal selectorate - interchangeables Real selectorate - influentials Winning coalition - essentials The smaller the winning coalition is, the more likely it is you're looking at a dictatorship. There's not really any such thing as a true autocracy, in terms of one person having absolute power, because everyone - presidents, dictators, and kings alike - has to have a base of supporters to protect and enforce their rule, otherwise anyone could simply kill or overthrow them and take their place. The rules are thus: 1. Keep your winning coalition as small as possible - A small winning coalition allows a leader to rely on very few people to stay in power. 2. Keep your nominal selectorate as large as possible - Maintain a large selectorate of interchangeables and you can easily replace any troublemakers in your coalition. 3. Control the flow of revenue - The most effective cash flow for leaders is one that makes lots of people poor and redistributes money to keep select people (their supporters) wealthy. 4. Pay your key supporters just enough to keep them loyal - Your supporters would rather BE you than depend on you. Give your coalition just enough money so that they don't work to replace you, and nothing more. 5. Don't take money out of your supporters' pockets to make the people's lives better. - If you're good to the masses at the expense of your coalition of supporters, it won't be long until your 'friends' will be gunning for you. Annnnnnd then a whole massive chunk of the remaining book supports their reasoning for these rules, with lots and lots and lots of examples and breakdowns and suchlike. And lest you be under the delusion that democracy (large coalition) = good and dictatorship (small coalition) = bad, well... they give reasons why they are BOTH bad... just, in varying degrees and for somewhat different reasons. Your disillusionment will thank them later. Possibly. Mine says "their thank you card is in the mail." :/ One thing that I found really disturbingly interesting was the discussion of aid. I had not long ago (maybe a year or so) seen a documentary about the problems that aid causes to poor countries - reliance, loss of local employment opportunity, stagnant or failing economies, etc - and this book touches on that a bit as well, but looks mainly at how governments use aid, particularly disaster relief aid. And it's eye-opening. If you thought that disaster relief aid was used for disaster relief (as I did)... my disillusionment has a condolences card for your disillusionment. Instead of governments using aid to help people who have suffered catastrophe, this book shows that more often it's hoarded and used to line the pockets of the already astronomically rich, to the immense and horrific suffering of those with nothing. And further, that countries like the US still give it, because 1) US constituents believe that it's helpful and the right thing to do, and 2) we benefit from paying to keep potentially unfriendly leaders in resource rich areas friendlier - regardless of how atrociously terrible they are to their own people. "BUT WAIT!" I hear you saying... "We deposed Saddam Hussein, remember?! He was a horrible dictator!" Indeed. We did. Eventually. But it wasn't because he was a brutal dictator or killed a quarter of a million people or anything, though that was convenient to get Americans on board. But look at the current world... Far from taking down dictators, or even criticizing them, the current administration has praised them. But I'm trying very hard to not get into... that. My point is, for all of our bleating about wanting to bring democracy to other nations, and decrying human rights violations and murders and brutal regimes... we don't really get involved unless there's something in it for us. And the same is true for aid. You can bet your brass buttons that we're getting something in return for the money we invest in "helping" other nations. Anyway... this book has made me quite cynical tonight. More than normal. It's made me rethink the benefit of the doubt that I usually have for a great many situations and wonder if perhaps I'm too willing to ascribe mistakes or poor planning to bad luck or a confluence of events rather than just straight up greed and contempt. I mean, I know that there are shitty people in the world. I know that there are greedy, immoral, assholes would wouldn't piss on a poor person if they were on fire. But damn, the fact that you MUST have at least some of that mentality to gain political power... that's put some cracks in my idealism, for sure. But still, this is an interesting and informative book, for all that it was kind of a downer for me. I think people should have a better understanding of how dictators come to power, and stay that way, and how foreign relations work to solidify their position. There's a reason that authoritarian leaders like to keep their people downtrodden and isolated and uninformed, or misinformed through propaganda or state-run news. There's power in knowledge and information, and the more access people have to that information, the more risk there is to the dictator's regime. They aren't gods. Just greedy assholes who clawed their way to the top and are ruthless enough to kick people who are already down to stay there. Fuck them. Tear the motherfucker down! :D

  8. 5 out of 5

    David

    Everybody understands that leaders reward the coalition that brought them to power, but I didn't understand all the implications of this. Here's a bald summary, but you should read the book. I can't do it justice in a few sentences: Whether leaders act in enlightened or brutal ways depends entirely on the size of their winning coalition. In all cases, the members of the winning coalition must be paid for continued support. Failure to do so ends the leader's career and, in small-coalition environ Everybody understands that leaders reward the coalition that brought them to power, but I didn't understand all the implications of this. Here's a bald summary, but you should read the book. I can't do it justice in a few sentences: Whether leaders act in enlightened or brutal ways depends entirely on the size of their winning coalition. In all cases, the members of the winning coalition must be paid for continued support. Failure to do so ends the leader's career and, in small-coalition environments, often his life. With a small coalition, it's easier to buy off individuals (e.g. by giving them an opportunity to extort money from the people, so corruption is a good thing for an autocrat. He can use it to let his supporters enrich themselves, but if a supporter becomes disloyal, then anti-corruption laws can be invoked to bring the disloyal supporter down). If the winning coalition is large relative to the size of the population, then the leader can't buy them off with direct payments. Instead the rewards have to come through public goods. Moreover, if a country's wealth comes from domestic labor instead of natural resources, then the leader needs an educated, relatively free work force that can efficiently produce wealth. If there are natural resources, then it's easier to keep the people poor and uneducated and accept money from foreign companies in exchange for letting them exploit the resources. CEOs are typically small coalition leaders (board members and executives are their cronies). Foreign aid, as currently given, often serves to keep autocrats in power. The democracies giving the aid actually end up preferring this because it's less expensive to get policy concessions from an autocrat than a democrat. While democratic leaders give lip service to spreading democracy, the way we actually act often ends up propping up autocrats. But don't be too hard on the democratic leaders since they're just doing the will of the people who elected them (i.e. we want cheap oil and everything else follows from that). I listened to the audiobook. It's a little chewy for audio format, but it ends up working ok. There's a pdf with charts that comes with the audiobook.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bon

    Even in print form, so much to take in. A denser text than I expected - talking narrow margins and small font - and so my politics nerd half hopes to buy a copy for myself and better absorb the material. Lots of insightful commentary and things that just make sense in here.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nitin

    While this book is easy to read and never gets boring, its authors oversimplify a number of issues and don't seem to realize when they have contradicted themselves. More often than not, I could come up with a counterexample to whatever idea they were pushing. Save your time and pick a better book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    No matter whether the governing body is an autocracy, consisting of a domineering ruler who will strip every penny he can from his citizens or the most benevolent leader of a democracy, who seems from all outward appearances to care for his or her citizens, all rulers without exception follow the same basic rules of governing other human beings. Prior to reading this book, I would not have identified the patterns of a ruler's behavior and been able to boil them down to simple and predictable beh No matter whether the governing body is an autocracy, consisting of a domineering ruler who will strip every penny he can from his citizens or the most benevolent leader of a democracy, who seems from all outward appearances to care for his or her citizens, all rulers without exception follow the same basic rules of governing other human beings. Prior to reading this book, I would not have identified the patterns of a ruler's behavior and been able to boil them down to simple and predictable behaviors, which are tweaked based almost entirely on who has the power to keep the ruler in power. Any ruler who is able to stay in power does so because they do their level best to take from the people who do not support them and reallocate those funds to the people who do. In an autocracy, there is a very small coalition of people who hold real power. Elections are bought. People's votes are for show. The leader has already been chosen prior to the outcome of the election. Thus, the people do not receive any aid from their leader. However, the leader must always show support for those whose votes count. Even in North Korea's Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un must keep their very small coalition of supporters happy. For even they rely on others to gain and maintain power. A president in the United States will also reallocate funds away from non-supporter and toward supporters. In the U.S., most people understand that their votes largely count (even if we do have an electoral college that gives the presidency to the candidate who did not receive the popular vote). The coalitions are larger for rulers in a true democracy. Thus, liberals will likely reallocate funds to their supporters (even select rich) and toward programs for their poor voters, whereas conservatives likely reallocate those funds back to their rich supporters at the expense of the poor. Each does so because it must provide funds to its coalition and to the masses whose votes count enough to win them elections. These authors include a captivating and comprehensive survey of how money, power, and status is distributed across the globe. They provide possibly the clearest, most succinct, and compelling argument for a simple pattern of leadership behavior in politics, applied across the board, that I have ever come across. Usually the use of many individual examples puts books at risk of providing nothing more than anecdotal meanderings. However, this comprehensive discussion of political behavior from the various rulers who live all over our globe (at different points in history) ended up producing an argument that I think would difficult to refute. The books description calls it "clever," and indeed it is. A central theme for these authors, that permeated every chapter and every discussion about leader behavior was the distribution of aid. At first I felt slightly defensive. They basically informed their reader that if they gave with their hearts (and sometimes even a well educated mind, having vetted where your money actually goes), that you probably wasted your money and helped a hellish dictator treat their citizens even worse than before they received aid. Their discussion started out sounding fairly conservative and made me wonder if they had a political agenda. Their argument sounded, to me, to go something like this: Do not give aid, no matter how desperately a country needs it because they need to prove they can do (insert what they promised to do) in order to get the aid. That argument, at first, did not sit well with me because I, naively, believed that in order to the thing they promised to do, they would need the money to do it. However, these authors really helped me understand that even when it seems aid will help, it often ends up doing more harm. They call for strict and clear guideline for providing foreign aid. I still feel as if someone could come up with better guidelines, but after I read their points about aid distribution, I am convinced we need a change. One rather compelling example of the misuse of aid involve babies and Saddam Hussein. Babies were starving. They needed formula. Americans and other countries bought formula and sent it to the starving babies. Pretty good use of aid money, right? Wrong. Saddam had his guys stop the trucks, steal the formula, and sell it to make more money for Saddam to pay his coalition. The aid was never going to make it to the babies because we don't yet have good way to ensure the aid we give actually makes it the people. Instead, the way we provide aid often, far too often, ends up enriching the dictator at the expense of his people. The way we give aid does the opposite of what we want it to do. Having studied corruption around the world, thanks to lectures from fraud investigators at the World Bank, I knew a fair amount about corruption and how dictators and many citizens around the world excel in scamming and stealing power and wealth from those less powerful, but this book really helped me understand it on a much deeper and much, much broader level. I actually felt as if I were reading a book on animal behavior, but with the rare species of Country Leader. As an aside, but related to animal behavior, these authors went so far as to define the correct coalition size for various types of leadership, just as birds have specific sizes of clutches for optimal survival rates for the current and future breeding season. There were so many interesting and informative aspects of this book, many that made me think of our leader here in America. There was one especially great discussion that caught my attention and made the what-if part of my brain become active. The authors, with tongue in cheek, advised dictators to choose loyalty over experience. Often throughout history, dictators have chosen family members who lack political experience, given them a high powered government positions, and allowed them to help rule. The examples of the *extreme* corruption that arose from choosing family members who are loyal but lack experience were astounding. It made my imagination go wild with what could have happened when Trump allowed Kushner to be his right hand man. Even though this was published in 2011, it is still extremely relevant and I highly recommend it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Read the first few chapters through and then skimmed the rest. The basic premise is that, regardless of whether a leader is democratically elected or assumes power through violent overthrow of the previous regime, the leader's raison d'être is to stay in power -- whatever it takes. The author proceeds through many chapters to give excellent examples of historical and more recent dictators and other world leaders and how they accomplished their main goals. Interesting but skimmable.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Mesmerizing and essential. A simple (yet well researched and presented) far reaching work that clearly explains why despots continue to thrive, how and why democracies flourish and why foreign aid and debt forgiveness can be a bad thing. Highly recommended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David

    A competent primer on realpolitik, but most of the ideas in the book seem rather obvious to anyone that has read much history or studied politics for any amount of time...and isn't a Progressive. Still, as suggested in the beginning, this is an adequate primer for realpolitik and for that reason it is valuable. Please note, this is an abridged/popularized edition of 'The Logic of Political Survival'(also available as a Kindle). I've not read the original version and was more than a little upset A competent primer on realpolitik, but most of the ideas in the book seem rather obvious to anyone that has read much history or studied politics for any amount of time...and isn't a Progressive. Still, as suggested in the beginning, this is an adequate primer for realpolitik and for that reason it is valuable. Please note, this is an abridged/popularized edition of 'The Logic of Political Survival'(also available as a Kindle). I've not read the original version and was more than a little upset when I learned I was reading an abridgement. However, this was a good book within reason, but not as good as I was hoping. I was hoping to learn something new and this work did not offer that...though it may to others. Mild Recommendation

  15. 5 out of 5

    한 카트

    By all means, this book just made me more cynical and hopeless about politics. Great read and all their arguments are pretty solid. Autocracies vs Democracies. Small coalitions vs big coalitions. How each handle their people, do they stay educated and healthy but unthreatening to power or the opposite. The only thing that bothered me is the lenght of the book, I found it too long and very repetitive since the author had made most of his points in the first 100 pages, there was no need to keep go By all means, this book just made me more cynical and hopeless about politics. Great read and all their arguments are pretty solid. Autocracies vs Democracies. Small coalitions vs big coalitions. How each handle their people, do they stay educated and healthy but unthreatening to power or the opposite. The only thing that bothered me is the lenght of the book, I found it too long and very repetitive since the author had made most of his points in the first 100 pages, there was no need to keep going for more.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    If at times a bit too reductionist, this is a generally coherent breakdown of political behavior into its most basic components. The authors posit that all politicians, whether authoritarian or democratic, are motivated by the desire to stay in power. While successful politicians will behave very differently in different contexts, this desire holds true no matter the time or place. Seems pretty straightforward, no? To stay on top, politicians must juggle the needs of three groups of people: the If at times a bit too reductionist, this is a generally coherent breakdown of political behavior into its most basic components. The authors posit that all politicians, whether authoritarian or democratic, are motivated by the desire to stay in power. While successful politicians will behave very differently in different contexts, this desire holds true no matter the time or place. Seems pretty straightforward, no? To stay on top, politicians must juggle the needs of three groups of people: the interchangeables, the influentials, and the essentials. The essentials are the must-have backers of the person in power. The influentials are vying for a spot in the essential crowd and they have some degree of influence over the selection of the leader. The interchangeables may or may not have any nominal say in the selection of the leader, but realistically have very little say over who leads their polity -- most of the time. The authors go on to argue that the size of the winning coalition -- that is, the number of essentials -- has a decisive impact on the kinds of behavior leaders need to follow in order to stay in power. A good rule of thumb is that large winning coalition tend toward democratic forms of governance, whereas smaller winning coalitions tend toward oppressive forms of governance. Why? Because with fewer people who need to be rewarded for their support, you can choose to follow unpopular policies. In fact, you can choose to act against the interest of millions if that feeds your pocketbook. There's more to it than that, but the book is brain candy and since I highly recommend it, I'll leave it to you to suss out the specifics. Here are some fun tidbits to tide you over: * The resource curse. If politicians have access to natural resource wealth, look out. They're not beholden to the masses, and they'll act like it. Oil, minerals, gems... it doesn't lead to a happy ending. * Debt forgiveness. The motivation for debt forgiveness may be good, but the results are usually bad. Why? Autocrats need funds to pay off their essential supporters. Nothing else matters. If they can't pay off their supporters, they generally need to liberalize their state in order to stimulate growth. Or they hold on for dear life and the state collapses. In either event, that lack of cash works out better for the masses than a dictator with access to international debt relief. Counterintuitive perhaps, but the world can be ugly. * Democracies work by forcing politicians to answer to larger groups of key supporters. The larger the group of key supporters, the less well that direct payments work, and the more the politicians are forced to reward their supporters with public goods, like infrastructure, free speech, education, etc. * Infrastructure. Autocracies don't like road, rail, air, and telecommunications networks because they allow the masses to move about and talk with one another. A good rule of thumb is that dictators build the smallest, least efficient transportation and communication networks necessary to move their goods to market. This isn't because they're dumb or incapable; it's actually a clever survival strategy. * Corruption. In many corrupt countries, this isn't a bug, it's a feature. For example, a corrupt police force. Why are many police officials in oppressive countries corrupt? They're not paid well. That saves the government money, money that's spent rewarding essential backers. The police, left to shift for themselves, turn to the masses to make their salary. They're often given signals, some subtle and some overt, that they're permitted to take the remainder of their pay in the form of bribes. It's a terrible system from the point of view of the average citizen, but since the leader isn't beholden to the average citizen, it doesn't matter. * Krushchev accidentally triggered a culling of Soviet cattle herds by committing to best the West in meat and milk production. Not understanding what he'd asked of his agricultural sector, he inadvertently put tremendous pressure on them to meet quotas. As a result, myriad animals were slaughtered before their time to meet expectations, and some meat was even purchased from stores, repackaged, and presented as fresh from the farm. Supplies eventually collapsed and prices went up. This led in no small part to his eventual ouster in the form of a soft coup. What does this have to do with the thesis of the book? I can't remember, but I thought it was funny. Highly recommended. Knocked off a point for repetitiveness, but don't let that put you off.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This is a super interesting book about the political economy of power. It's sort of like the smarter version of Robert Green's books. It dissects the incentives of those in power who want to keep control of their coalition. The most striking and interesting aspect of the book is that they apply these concepts to democracy as well. Because of course democracy is about power--it's just a larger coalition of voters. There are some good insights at the end as well about how to spread power out thoug This is a super interesting book about the political economy of power. It's sort of like the smarter version of Robert Green's books. It dissects the incentives of those in power who want to keep control of their coalition. The most striking and interesting aspect of the book is that they apply these concepts to democracy as well. Because of course democracy is about power--it's just a larger coalition of voters. There are some good insights at the end as well about how to spread power out though I have to admit that it did make me a bit hopeless about the future

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mikhail Novoselov

    I really wish I could give this book a five-star rating, but I just can't force myself to do it. First, I should note that the theory outlined in the starting chapters of the book is exceptional. Put shortly, it defines political regimes in terms of number of their beneficiaries and the number of people the ruler is beholden to. Despite being incredibly simple, this approach explains A LOT of features and actions of authocratic regimes that otherwise seem completely illogical and/or groundless. P I really wish I could give this book a five-star rating, but I just can't force myself to do it. First, I should note that the theory outlined in the starting chapters of the book is exceptional. Put shortly, it defines political regimes in terms of number of their beneficiaries and the number of people the ruler is beholden to. Despite being incredibly simple, this approach explains A LOT of features and actions of authocratic regimes that otherwise seem completely illogical and/or groundless. Pinpointing political survival as the main objective of any leader is also a great and incredibly revelatory aspect of Smith's and Mesquita's theory. Yet the evidence provided by the authors in their case-studies is, to say the least, subpar. Of course, I can not fact check it in it's entirety - I am by no means an expert in Liberian or Ghanian affairs, for instance. But as far as the aspects I'm fairly familiar with - such as Russian or Asian history and geography - are concerned, the authors' ignorance becomes obvious, and that, of course, casts a shadow of doubt on other pieces of evidence as well. A couple of examples: the authors claim that Egypt is "resource poor", despite its being well ahead of many OPEC countries in terms of oil and gas reserves (not to mention much-valued fresh water). They also claim that Vladimir Putin is "the former head of the Soviet secret police - the KGB" (while he chaired the FSB) and that Nicholas II got ousted in February 1917 as a result of an indignant crowd storming the Winter Palace, even though he was out of the capital at the time, and the storm itself occured during the October revolution, when the czar had already been long resigned. Soon after, it is claimed that during his Taiwan reign Chiang Kai-shek "woke up to a democracy one day", which is painfully nonsensical if you know a thing or two about China (just for the record, Taiwan at his time was a full-blown dictatorship with purges, secret police and hereditary rule; democracy came only after his death). And the list of inconsistencies in the book goes on and on. Quality of arguments is also sometimes lacking. Consider the following: chapter nine says that "of these nations [participating in WWI] only Britain in France were democratic", yet on the very next page we read about "more democratic government of Bismarck's Prussia". In the same chapter the authors venture to compare Sun Tzu's military advice with some modern American strategies, coming to some far-reaching conclusions regarding the nature of political regimes, being completely oblivious to enormous historical and cultural differences and basically comparing apples to oranges. Unfortunately, the book (especially its second half) is ridden with such fallacies and far-fetched conclusions. Any facts that don't fit the authors' agenda are mangled until they more or less comply with the theory. Cherry-picking is also not an uncommon sight in this book. tl;dr: Nice theory stained by far-fetched arguments, fact manipulation and general ignorance of historical facts. Reading the first half of the book is strongly recommended, though.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    This was definitely an eye-opening book for me. I've never been a big fan of discussing politics, mostly due to the complexity of the topic and the fact that most people have strong opinions on it without having enough actual knowledge. While I still doubt I know enough about politics to make any convincing arguments, this book has made it quite clear on what the primary motivations for politicians are and how they tend to go about ruling based on those motivations. As cliched as it may sound, m This was definitely an eye-opening book for me. I've never been a big fan of discussing politics, mostly due to the complexity of the topic and the fact that most people have strong opinions on it without having enough actual knowledge. While I still doubt I know enough about politics to make any convincing arguments, this book has made it quite clear on what the primary motivations for politicians are and how they tend to go about ruling based on those motivations. As cliched as it may sound, most people, especially politicians, tend to want money and power. Once you quite safely assume that premise, you can more easily make sense of the dodgy stuff politicians get up to. The writing was good, but having listened to it, I think it's the kind of book that's better to read, rather than listen. It often felt like a fact-dump, which for someone who didn't have much prior knowledge on a lot of the examples and ideas, made it feel a bit overwhelming at times. If I had been able to reread some parts in my own time, I think it would have probably made it more enjoyable for me. There were a lot of examples used to explain the concepts and ideas, which I usually appreciate, but a lot of the concepts were very similar which made thing start to feel quite repetitive after a while. There also seemed to be quite a disproportionate amount of time dedicated to autocracies at the expense of democratic governments. This made the title very apt, but also made it harder to relate to since a lot of the information was very specific and unlikely that I'd ever be able to apply it outside of the context of hearing about some dictator in another country. One of the main things I enjoyed about the book were the candidness of the authors about how the political world works and how unsavoury some of the solutions might be. I couldn't find any flaws in their logic and pretty much agreed with everything they said. That might be due to my lack of knowledge in the field, but a lot of the arguments either made logical sense or applied very well to examples that I knew of. While one can definitely apply some of the knowledge gained from this book to the business world, in general, the only thing you'll be able to do with this information is better understand the political world. If that's something you find interesting, then I'd definitely recommend this. I personally think more people would benefit from learning the lessons that are in this book, but I'd be hard pressed to recommend it to most from a purely reading-pleasure perspective.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Max Nova

    Full review and highlights at https://books.max-nova.com/dictators-handbook I expected "The Dictator's Handbook" to belong to the genre of "bathroom readers" along with the likes of "The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook" and "The Dangerous Book for Boys." I was expecting colorful portraits of dastardly dictators and their evil escapades (like Robert Greene's "48 Laws of Power"). Instead, I found a very serious scholarly work written by fellows of Stanford's Hoover Institution. The authors ar Full review and highlights at https://books.max-nova.com/dictators-handbook I expected "The Dictator's Handbook" to belong to the genre of "bathroom readers" along with the likes of "The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook" and "The Dangerous Book for Boys." I was expecting colorful portraits of dastardly dictators and their evil escapades (like Robert Greene's "48 Laws of Power"). Instead, I found a very serious scholarly work written by fellows of Stanford's Hoover Institution. The authors are the founders of a branch of political science called "selectorate theory" which contends that dictators stay in power by keeping their winning coalition small and by paying them off with private goods at the expense of the general public. They remind us that "States don’t have interests. People do," and keep us focused on the political power calculus of the ruling elites. Sardonically, they categorize dictators into the "Hall of Fame," "Hall of Shame," and the "Haul of Fame." Through the lens of selectorate theory, the authors explore corruption in resource-rich African states (hitting many of the same points as "The Looting Machine"), International Olympic Committee and Fifa scandals (also see "The Fall of the House of Fifa"), and how foreign aid often perpetuates problems rather than solving them. They even venture a bit outside of politics to apply selectorate theory to Carly Fiorina's HP/Compaq merger. Jaunty and highly readable, "The Dictator's Handbook" gives us a new way of seeing the world. Written in a sort of "Freakonomics" style, the book manages to cover a lot of ground without getting too bogged down in technical details. An excellent addition to my 2018 reading theme on "Crime and Punishment."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Addi

    You know that guy at a party, slightly tipsy but very self confident and affable, who's made a good turn as an entrepreneur, and has ideas about how the world works, how politics works? Who's cynical but is also kinda like, well this how the game is played, so yolo? I think the 'voice' of this book is that guy's voice. It is all very cynical and VERY partial reading of history, often inaccurate, often missing important details about how movements, and people and events took place, took shape. It You know that guy at a party, slightly tipsy but very self confident and affable, who's made a good turn as an entrepreneur, and has ideas about how the world works, how politics works? Who's cynical but is also kinda like, well this how the game is played, so yolo? I think the 'voice' of this book is that guy's voice. It is all very cynical and VERY partial reading of history, often inaccurate, often missing important details about how movements, and people and events took place, took shape. It takes those partial narratives and make an interesting but extremely flawed extended opinion piece out of it. It is important to such books that they masquerade as science. However they are not, scientific. There are a few interesting ideas about patronage politics and the building of coalitions, but nothing too offensive, incisive, or something one could do without.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Keith Swenson

    Very interesting, well written book, that puts forth a clear thesis that makes a lot of sense. I really liked the way that this book considers "the complete system" around governing. Too often leaders are either vilified or celebrated when the credit clearly lies partially with the system they find themselves in. The entire system is quite a bit more complex, and the qualities of the leader play off the qualities of the rest of the system. Nobody works in isolation, we should not analyze in isol Very interesting, well written book, that puts forth a clear thesis that makes a lot of sense. I really liked the way that this book considers "the complete system" around governing. Too often leaders are either vilified or celebrated when the credit clearly lies partially with the system they find themselves in. The entire system is quite a bit more complex, and the qualities of the leader play off the qualities of the rest of the system. Nobody works in isolation, we should not analyze in isolation. The theme is that size of the group that selects the leader determines how corrupt that leader could potentially be. There are three degrees to consider (interchangeables, influentials, and essentials). Interchangeables are the people who nominally choose a leader, and in a democracy this would be all the eligible voters. Influentials are then the ones that actively participate in the choosing, either for or against the leader. And the essentials for the winning coalition who actually caused the leader to be chosen. A despotic ruler wants all of these to be as small as possible. The essentials must be paid off for their support. The disenfranchised public at large, those outside of the essentials, gain little or nothing from this leader, and can do nothing about it. Using this lens many different cases of state corruption are analyzed, and it is fascinating. Identifying these three factions will tell you what a leader can get away with. More than that: It tells you how the leader must operate to remain in power. The most successful strategy in a regime where the essentials -- the winning coalition -- is small is one where lots of money is siphoned off and redistributed to the coalition. A leader who fails to do this probably does not remain long in power. The surprising overall conclusion of the book is that in order to eliminate corruption, you just need to shift the system to one where these factions are as large as possible. A democracy does this, and that explains why open democracies are relatively free of corruption. Of course, a crafty leader will do everything possible to work against this, and limit the size of the winning coalition that is needed. There are plenty of examples of despots who achieved this end. One thing that left me a tad uncomfortable is that while there are plenty of examples that fit the pattern, they seem a bit to anecdotal. I am not an expert in the field, so I have no idea, but the book did not give me the impression that a large, impartial research was done across all factors. The theory has been worked on for 20 years, so clearly a lot has been studied and the theory stood the test of time. But the examples seem to always fit too well, as if cherry picked. What I mean to say is that while it is clear that a despotic dictator has a smaller coalition to satisfy, it is not clear how easy it would be to determine precisely who is in or out of the winning coalition, without first judging whether they are corrupt or not. If corrupt, it makes sense that their coalition must be small, but how would you really know? It is not clear to me how the role of the media -- particularly fake news -- plays into this idea. If you have a large group of selectors, but they are misinformed by a smaller propaganda group, how big is the selectorate in reality? It is also not clear how the counterfactual speculations would work out. If Iran was a real democracy, would it be less corrupt? Is it possible that some regions are not democracies because there is some other systemic problem requiring corruption, and making democracy impossible? Or, if Singapore was a democracy would it be better or worse? All that aside, the thesis is interesting and it certainly gives a particular way to view ruling organizations. It gives us a clear rationale to promote democracy, as well as confidence that democracy -- as bad as it is -- might still be the best option for the entire world.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ciro

    Different take on coalition politics and how power is truly maintained. Excellent examples in world history of how coalitions are the main driving forces behind any political decision. However, the author ended up advocating for open borders and mass immigration in the final chapter thus spoiling what was prior to that, a decent read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Azita Rassi

    Interesting, but perhaps more so for an American reader. I found it all too familiar and lived through.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tom Stamper

    This is maybe the most cynical book on politics that isn't trying to be humorous. According to the authors, the politics is driven by self-interest even when masked as compassion and empathy. What really happens is that political leaders build a coalition of supporters and as long as they pay off the supporters they stay in power. In a dictatorship it's easy because the coalition is small and the payoffs can be handsome. In a democracy it's more difficult because there are more mouths to feed so This is maybe the most cynical book on politics that isn't trying to be humorous. According to the authors, the politics is driven by self-interest even when masked as compassion and empathy. What really happens is that political leaders build a coalition of supporters and as long as they pay off the supporters they stay in power. In a dictatorship it's easy because the coalition is small and the payoffs can be handsome. In a democracy it's more difficult because there are more mouths to feed so the policy decisions have to be wider and the effects are smaller per person. From this starting point the authors explain predictable outcomes. For instance, democracies only fight wars they think they can win while dictatorships might actually be better off losing wars. The thinking here is that the cost of winning wars is so high that a dictator may not have any money left over to pay off his coalition. Winning the war might meaning losing power. In a Democracy the people expect the soldiers to have the best equipment and technology. The costs of such things divided over such a large coalition of voters is very small per person compared to the dictator's coalition. The last part of the book is the author's views on things that would improve politics. They have a very good idea on how to make foreign aid more effective. They propose putting the money into a Swiss bank escrow accounts to be released when countries reach certain objectives. The current system they argue rewards promises and not accomplishments because most countries know the aid will dry up once the goal is met. For instance, Pakistan had no real incentive to help us catch Bin Laden as long as we were paying them to help us catch him. Bin Laden would have been caught sooner had we just put a billion dollar price on his head. The one disagreement I had with their policy prescriptions is their promotion of open borders. While it's consistent with their hypothesis that larger coalitions of voters is better for the greater populace, it doesn't take into account the cultural divides that can negate those benefits. The book can be a bit much taken as a whole, but each lesson in itself makes a lot of intuitive sense. Politicians that aren't calculating aren't going to be in office long. Those who rise to the top have to be practical even if they have to fool themselves into thinking their decisions are altruistic. And even if the authors overstate a leader's lack of compassion when it comes to the citizenry, voters would be better served to see their leaders this way rather than be carried away by rhetoric and symbols of political campaigning. Being an idealist can make you feel better, but being a cynic can make you live longer. This book is a good framework in which to look at political decisions. It will make you ask yourself the kinds of questions that Meet the Press won't ask. It will help you get beyond the theater of politics and into the practical reasons politicians do what they do.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alper Çuğun

    This is a great book with loads of insights about how the world actually works and why that is the case. Talk about good intentions and this ideology or that in international relations may look like it has influence, at the end of the day the pure lenses of self-interest and self-preservation prevail. I found understanding those base principles and their implications for policy and change to be useful additions to a toolkit of understanding how the world works. In short the larger the coalition o This is a great book with loads of insights about how the world actually works and why that is the case. Talk about good intentions and this ideology or that in international relations may look like it has influence, at the end of the day the pure lenses of self-interest and self-preservation prevail. I found understanding those base principles and their implications for policy and change to be useful additions to a toolkit of understanding how the world works. In short the larger the coalition of people is that influences who gets to rule and the more representative this coalition is for the entire population of a country, the better off everybody in a country generally is. The only reason not to teach this in school is if there is some merit in keeping school children naive. Such a merit exists but it most certainly is not one that is to the benefit of those school children.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Juneight

    Just finished reading the book and I found it very interesting.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Abdulla Alemadi

    such an eye-opener! The book completely changed my perspective on politics. besides, it's a well written and enjoyable read. Recommended for anyone who wants to know how politics really work.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dorum

    I heard about this book long time ago. Nevertheless, out of indolence or lack of time, I postponed reading it until now. This book is really something that should be read by everyone, no exceptions. Allow me to explain: There is a difference between ideology and politics. Politics is the art of ruling and describes what people actually do to rule. Ideology is a set of ideas that describe what should be done. My biggest issue is that people discuss politics in ideological terms. Justifying politica I heard about this book long time ago. Nevertheless, out of indolence or lack of time, I postponed reading it until now. This book is really something that should be read by everyone, no exceptions. Allow me to explain: There is a difference between ideology and politics. Politics is the art of ruling and describes what people actually do to rule. Ideology is a set of ideas that describe what should be done. My biggest issue is that people discuss politics in ideological terms. Justifying political actions SHOULD be done using political terms. Ideology is simply for armchair philosophers and no time ever, someone ruled using the ideology, and ignoring the rules for politics. In Japan, the terms are 建前 (tatemae - official stance, pretext, etc) and 本音 (honne - real intention, true opinion). Politics is about 本音 (honne). Ideology is about 建前 (tatemae). One must never ever confuse this! Bruce Bueno de Mesuqita and Alastair Smith explain in very simple and clear terms the rules of the game of politics. Their book can be considered an overarching framework for politics. Reading this, writers like Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Thucydides and Thomas Hobbes become particular cases. The apparent contradiction between them is solved and one can comprehend them much more thoroughly. As such, one will find interesting answer to questions like: 1) Why dictators stay in power for tens of years while even the most successful democratic even leaders are removed? 2) Why did Israel defeat quickly a much larger coalition in the Six-Day war? 3) Why countries which blatantly violate the human rights receive large humanitarian support? And why it doesn't help? 4) What to do about it? This is a great response to question raised by Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Aside from it I am also a fan of the humility and thoughtfulness of the writers. Consider this quote: Now there is no doubt that Montesquieu, Madison, Hobbes, and Machiavelli were very clever and insightful thinkers (and surely brighter than us). However, they got an awful lot of politics wrong simply because they were coping with momentary circumstances. They were looking at but a small sample of data, the goings-on surrounding them, and bits and pieces of ancient history. This particular quote right here (at the beginning of the book) was for me really important. It showed a certain understanding and respect for the work of others, but at the same time provided a critical eye over the previous works. I think that all writers (and readers) should aspire to that. In the end, this book might give you the framework you make a bit more sense of the geopolitical world. It would be good if everyone read it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian Gebski

    I liked it A LOT. The beginning wasn't that encouraging (the theses the book is built around felt limited and repetitive), but it has got far better in time. How come? Mainly due to many interesting historical references that are relatively unknown to an average reader - Nicaragua, Kenya, Burma, even some better-known stories (Palestine, South Africa, Iraq, Iran) have got some attention and interesting examples are brought to the table. In the end, it still feels like all the authors wanted was t I liked it A LOT. The beginning wasn't that encouraging (the theses the book is built around felt limited and repetitive), but it has got far better in time. How come? Mainly due to many interesting historical references that are relatively unknown to an average reader - Nicaragua, Kenya, Burma, even some better-known stories (Palestine, South Africa, Iraq, Iran) have got some attention and interesting examples are brought to the table. In the end, it still feels like all the authors wanted was to illustrate the idea "the wider the selectorate, the harder it is to stay in control", but ... it didn't bother me that much - I mean, the book was still very enjoyable & interesting. Well, maybe except the final chapter, which was repetitive^3. To summarize: a decent read. 4.2-4.5 stars.

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