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Manual The Dictators Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

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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.


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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. I found myself not wanting to agree but actually, for the most part, being convinced that the cynical analysis is the true one. James Woolsey Director of Central Intelligence, , and Chairman, Foundation for Defense of Democracies , July, andquot;In this fascinating book Bueno de Mesquita and Smith spin out their view of governance: that all successful leaders, dictators and democrats, can best be understood as almost entirely driven by their own political survivalandmdash;a view they characterize as 'cynical, but we fear accurate.

Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, July, andquot;In this book, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith teach us toand ;see dictatorship as just another form of politics, and from thisand ;perspective they deepen our understanding of all political systems.

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In a style reminiscent of Freakonomics , Messrs. Bueno de Mesquita and Smith present dozens of clever examplesandhellip; The most fascinating chapter in The Dictator's Handbook concerns the rewards that governments provide other governments. The authors make the obvious, but nevertheless controversial, argument that almost all aid money is dispersed not to alleviate poverty but to purchase loyalty and influenceandhellip;. 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.

Dictators Handbook Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

But it just may be the truth, which is a good starting point for anyone seeking to improve human governance. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. More Details Other Editions Friend Reviews.


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  5. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Dictator's Handbook , please sign up. That seems odd, but such is our upsidedown world. Who agrees this book explains the phenomenon of Frumpitude? John Smith I've read the book, you are sadly mistaken. Sadly, because your parroting of Trump Derangement Syndrome, including a misspelling of his name in your …more I've read the book, you are sadly mistaken. Sadly, because your parroting of Trump Derangement Syndrome, including a misspelling of his name in your coinage why would any adult bother with such juvenility?

    Mistaken, because the book covers leaders of any type, of corporations and nations, including A. In some ways Trump merits praise by the books standards, for instance he'd cut foreign aid, as suggested by De Mesquita. You should do some study and come to realize you own a poorly developed and strongly biased negative understanding of the man you think you are qualified to disparage. As such you fail in the effort. When it refers to leaders and politics, does this just refer to politicians, or are there references to, say company leaders, community leaders, departments leaders, etc? Maru Kun The thesis of the book can absolutely and probably very interestingly be applied to any organisation with its own "internal politics".

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    Although mostly …more The thesis of the book can absolutely and probably very interestingly be applied to any organisation with its own "internal politics". Although mostly about national politics the book gives a couple of very illuminating extended examples from corporate life including Carly Fiorina at Hewlett Packard. See all 3 questions about The Dictator's Handbook…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews.

    Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Oct 20, Maru Kun rated it really liked it Shelves: current-affairs , philosophy. Politicians care only about their own power; politicians care about their electorate only to the extent that the electorate keeps them in power.

    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. 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.

    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. Who decides the make-up of the ruling coalition? The nominal electorate is every person who, in theory at least, has a say in choosing their leader. To illustrate, in an advanced democracy the nominal electorate would comprise everyone of voting age.

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    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 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. Back in 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.

    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. 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. 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.

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

    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.

    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. View all 4 comments. Feb 19, Andrej Karpathy rated it liked it. This book examines positions of power e.

    THE DICTATOR'S HANDBOOK - Bad Behavior = Great Politics

    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. 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. 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.

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    This leads to the development of technologies that empower people, such as better communication networks, transportation infrastructure, education, etc. 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. 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.

    View 1 comment. Nov 20, Paul rated it really liked it Shelves: politics , nonfiction , audiobooks. 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 and 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 and 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. Feb 10, Andy rated it it was ok.


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    Basically, this author tells us over and over that powerful people abuse their power if no one checks them. This is not news.