3 di 3 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
- Pubblicato su Amazon.com
Formato: Copertina flessibile
Mesquita and Smith write a compelling book and engaging read comparable to “Freakonomics” in style. The authors seek to use simple economic logic to explain the staying power of dictators. This might be a foregone conclusion for many- dictators are synonymous with mean nasty people that take away free speech, freedom to assemble, they lower education and health standards, and lower access to political participation. Dictators simply stay in power because they take power away from everyone else and do their best to keep it that way.
The book begins with a “dictator” story of an elected city manager, Robert Rizzo, in the small town of Bell, California. The authors take away the ugly dictator mask and present the idea that anyone- even a Western, elected, white politician in small town USA can be dictator. Their thesis is that all leaders rely on people following them and they stay in power by keeping their following happy, not too powerful, and relying on them as the sole head-honcho. They authors divide the constituency into three parts- the nominal selectorate (pretty much everyone), the real selectorate (those who make a difference), and the winning coalition (those who tip the tide). They argue that the more nominal people are in the selectorate and the larger the winning coalition then the more the leader will reward the constituency with “good” behavior- or policies that provide quality public goods. When the selectorate is small and the winning coalition even smaller (a few generals) then the only thing a leader should do is provide benefits to that handful- they should not try to give benefits to the wider public. The underlying theme for the book is dispassionate leadership- leaders cannot afford to have values, feelings, or virtuous standards to live up to, there is no good or bad behavior. The authors want to drive home the limitation of incentives for leaders. If they want to stay in power their only measuring stick for good or bad is whether the real selectorate and winning coalition are big or small.
I found the book helpful to understand the staying power behind some things I never completely understood- like corrupt police forces and commodity boards. I find that the authors’ arguments hold up to an extent. I am convinced that for any analysis of a government or institution it is absolutely imperative to look at the size of the selectorate and the real coalition to see who is responsible for the leader staying in power and how many are unable to participate. One must understand if the leader has incentives to create more public goods or private goods for cronies.
The authors simply shoot themselves in the credibility foot by comparing and contrasting extremes on the winning coalition scale. For instance, to argue that smaller winning coalition governments have less incentives to provide public goods they compare Chile and Iran. In Iran they have earthquakes a lot but the government doesn’t have the incentives to make sure buildings can stand up to them. In Chile, a democracy, the people make sure the government is on top of making sure buildings can withstand big earthquakes. To show that dictatorships only care about the public to the extent they make the winning coalition happy they contrast primary education levels in Cuba and North Korea to Oxford and Paris. Castro and Kim Jong Il need to make sure the population can read and are healthy so they push buttons on the machines and go to work, but they don’t need Art majors or anyone studying sociology. To show how foreign aid and leaders of resource rich countries have their incentives distorted they present Pakistan. Pakistan has received a lot of aid, the dictator has stayed in power, yet poverty and the Taliban continue to persist.
When the argument relies on extremes the more the “facts” presented might rely on a wider range of correlations than the one suggested. Besides, no one is going to argue that Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe, or any of the other figures that come to power wearing a military uniform with stars are not self-interested dictators that don’t care about anybody else. The interesting part of the argument is the possibility it presents for democratic leaders to engage in dictator-like behavior. The book presented only a few cases of this, and one of them ended in an arrest.
I hope the authors come out with a second edition. I feel there is much more to elaborate on in winning coalitions of democracies. I notice that absent from the evidence is a list of governments and the size of the winning coalition in proportion to the population they serve. I think the authors decided to step around the objectiveness of determining the selectorate and winning coalition size- because maybe it can get confusing and polarizing. It is easy to use examples like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq because there are clear lines- there is Saddam, then the sons, the generals, and everyone else. But, in our democracy, for instance, there is the media, celebrities, wealthy people, businesses, and tricky campaign finance laws that play a role in greying the lines between selectorates and the winning coalition. It seems there could be much more written about the relationship between these “tools” and the winning coalition.
Secondly, the chapter on foreign aid dealt mostly with US unilateral aid to dictators elucidating on the “alliance trap” and the “hypocrisy curse”. It is known and well understood that much of this aid, especially during the cold-war and to those providing military assistance is not actually for economic, political, or social development. Most aid and development assistance today, which is thought of as real honest development, is done through multilateral actors such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Millennium Development Institute, as well as a host of European agencies. The developing world often sees some of the agencies as agents of the West devising confusing plans that make their country weak and the West better off. A coalition analysis may bring more light to understanding what these agencies, including USAID, are doing and why.
On the second thesis- that there is no morality when it comes to a leader staying in power, I am more shocked than satisfied. There is no evidence presented. It is given as a self-evident postulate. I can see how a leader who wants to maintain office and status quo would be more beholden to the rules to maintaining power presented in the book. However, in democracies, and autocracies, a fair amount of leaders get where they are in order to change the status quo- they are driven by a moral imperative. Sometimes they come from the smallest losing coalition and through some struggle, and without making compromises, they change the interests and values of the other coalitions. Perhaps in the next edition the authors can provide a coalition analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency from election to emancipation proclamation; the Eisenhower presidency from forbearance to 101st airborne deployed on US soil to ensure integration; or the inability pass stricter gun laws despite overwhelming popular support. These episodes are stories of adapting to coalition changes and/or changing coalitions through a leader’s own vigor. Leaders are not always victims of the limitations of their incentives- leaders are leaders because they change things up. I would be intrigued to delve into a book that elucidates on the dynamics of coalition change and the role of leadership; as well as a deeper coalition analysis of US foreign policy in the modern age, and multi-lateral development assistance.