Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Reason staffer Michael C. Moynihan reviews The Dictator’s Handbook, a new account of how dictators (and democratic leaders) stay in power. As Moynihan writes:
So how is it that undemocratic leaders—who exploit, imprison and brutalize their subjects—frequently maintain power for far longer periods than their democratic counterparts? Autocrats, the authors argue, need only reward only a small class of loyalists—the army, judiciary, an inner circle of advisers—who will reliably suppress opposition. While democrats likewise dispense rewards—sweetheart contracts, farm subsidies, welfare payments—they are constrained by a system of government that requires the loyalty of fickle voters. This ensures that if a leader accumulates wealth and power in a few hands, his job security weakens....
And how about those well-meaning debt-forgiveness campaigners? While it might seem intuitively true that clearing balance sheets helps poor countries, "The Dictator's Handbook" suggests that pardoning debt obligations tends to entrench authoritarian leaders and retard the development of democracy. With a wounded economy, autocrats find it more difficult to bribe their small group of key supporters.
Read the whole review here.