Foreign Aid

How Dictators Stay in Power


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.


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  1. 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?

    Because they didn’t rub Dubya the wrong way.

    1. Libya?





      1. Have we won there yet?

        1. Define “win”…

        2. yep, now we’re rounding-up stray SA24’s.

      2. Speaking of Libya, does anyone find it strange that there has been no reports – except one at very beginning – of any NATO plane crashes and pilot deaths from the operation? Thousands and thousands of sorties have been flown from many fields.
        The same level of training exercises in the U.S. is always producing flameouts, landing crashes and the like.

        1. Just because there have been no reports to the media doesn’t mean nothing has happened.

          It just means there has been nothing reported to the media.

        2. Even that’s not fully accurate.

          Just because nothing has been reported by the media doesn’t mean nothing has been reported to the media.

  2. There is another factor too. The inner circle and elites also stay loyal because they have blood on their hands. I saw this first hand in Iraq. The Bathist party was like the mafia. To get anywhere in it, you had to either kill someone or dime someone out for disloyalty to the party or do some other horrible act. By requiring this of all members, the organization ensured loyalty because everyone knew that if the regime ever fell the paybacks were going to be hell. This is what is keeping the North Korean regime in power. If North Korea ever falls, the elite are going to be killed by an angry populace. That keeps the elites from revolting.

    1. When and IF that personality cult ever implodes, it’ll be the biggest fucking nightmare since WWII!

      You ever see the news footage from when the first Dear Leader died?

      The people LITERALLY could NOT believe that their messiah’s death was even POSSIBLE!

  3. Qaddaffi’s big error IMHO, was that he threatened to publish a list of Western Leaders taking bribes from him.

    1. That’s about as smart as telling Tony Soprano you’re going to call the cops.

    2. I didn’t know that. And yeah, that wasn’t smart. Of course the list of people Saddam bribed came out and no one seemed to care.

      1. Everyone already knew that the UN is as corrupt as the devil’s balls, so him giving them bribes was considered par for the course!

        1. He also bribed the French and George Gallway and lots of other people.

      2. That’s when our European Allies grews some vicious balls and mobilized NATO to protect those poor exploited Libyans.
        He specifically claimed to have funded heavily Sarkozy’s election, I think it was Saif Al Islam said that they had documents ready to release.
        Sadly the NATO campaign bombed all of the regime’s “control nodes” so those papers are probably destroyed.

        1. If he was smart he would have given some copies to Wikileaks or some of the European Pirate Parties or just dropped that shit onto a few random webhosting sites in a private file or two. Once NATO actually mobilized, that is.

  4. I thought dictators kept in power by maintaining a perfect mix of penis + potato + ocean liner.

  5. Dictators stay in power because the Kochs and other mysterious monocle and top hat wearing forces want them to stay in power.

    1. SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Ix-nay on evealing-ray the ecrets-say!

    2. What? Afraid to call out the Bilderbergs by name. Or are they simply a subset of the Illuminati? I forget.

      1. The Illuminati are just a front group for the Masons who are being controlled by the Trilateral Commission.

  6. I may have missed it but from the review it appears that the biggest reason that dictators stay in power was not mentioned.

    It is the media stupid.

    Control the media and stay in power. This has been known for centuries as the key for an autocrat, dictator, etc long life in power.

    Of course it doesn’t hurt to also control the military.

  7. Let me be clear – it is through the “consent of the governed” that a leader remains in power in a democracy.

    In a “constitutionally-limited rep”….hahaha….AHEM…a “constitutionally-limited republic”, it is also helpful to have willing idiot hipsters who want to atone for their inner racist.

    I apologize about stumbling over “constitutionally-limited republic” – that just always cracks me up!

    Necessary and proper, general welfare, commerce clause, Executive Privilege.

    Thank you, and God Bless America.

  8. i just about fed-up with all these people who “know” what is best for myself and my family. just because they read all the right books, and went to the right schools, does not make them a whit smarter than anyone else.

    they need to get their hands dirty like every working person in the country.

  9. “With the Solyndra scandal still above the fold, the White House has banned journalists from its Silicon Valley fundraisers.”

    woops, that was supposed to be:”Autocrats … need only reward only a small class of loyalists”

    Deja vu all over again!

  10. “With a wounded economy, autocrats find it more difficult to bribe their small group of key supporters.”

    roughly translates as

    “Shoot the hostage.”

  11. Also if you are a dictator you can control the religion. Religious leaders can be made into cronies or cronies into religious leaders.

  12. 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…

    Not really. The solution is pretty simple: make sure the only electable choices are on your side.

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