Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on Democracies and Dictatorships, EconTalk Permanent Podcast Link: Library of Economics and Liberty - Sent Using Google Toolbar

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on Democracies and Dictatorships, EconTalk Permanent Podcast Link: Library of Economics and Liberty

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on Democracies and Dictatorships

February 12, 2007, Featuring Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of NYU and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks about the incentives facing dictators and democratic leaders. Both have to face competition from rivals. Both try to please their constituents and cronies to stay in power. He applies his insights to foreign aid, the Middle East, Venezuela, the potential for China's evolution to a more democratic system, and Cuba. Along the way, he explains why true democracy is more than just elections--it depends crucially on freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

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Readings and Links related to this podcast

Podcast Readings
  • "Testing the Selectorate: Explanation of the Democratic Peace", by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, James D. Morrow, Randolph M. Siverson, and Alastair Smith.
  • About Foreign Aid:
  • About the Natural Resource Curse:
  • Bruce's recent book:
  • The Political Economy of Power. Podcast with Bruce Bueno de Mesquita.
  • Addendum: Rational Autocrats. Blog entry by Arnold Kling.
  • Highlights

    Podcast Highlights
    1:07Different incentives faced by democracies, autocracies, juntas, oligarchies, etc. Selectorate refers to those who choose the leader. Winning coalition's absolute size and size relative to the selectorate both matter for type of benefits distributed. Large absolute size contributes to more public goods, hence more for general population. Large relative size of winning coalition (relative to size of selectorate) contributes to less distribution of grafts and booty.
    7:17In both cases, still want public to continue to work, so the leader has a supply of incoming resources to distribute. Implicit tax rate depends on size of winning coalition. North Korea example.
    9:39 Other sources of sustaining leader: Natural resource sector--oil, gold, diamonds--can be a curse. Foreign aid functions in the same way. Foreign aid is a form of paying off the leader and actually harms the public. It helps sustain leaders in office who are doing a bad job for the public. Recipient makes policy concessions for foreign aid (called "conditionality"), but the policies the recipient sells are ones the public doesn't like. Makes it easier for leader to tighten hold on government, rather than supplying public goods. What about the winning coalitions that include "good guys"? Hamas example. Iran example. Voters in donor country face choice: support candidates who endorse giving money to leaders who are democratic but whose policies are abhorrent, vs. cutting back aid to try to induce better policies; and historically, voters choose the latter.
    16:48But what about examples from countries whose interests are not at odds with the U.S., not national-security related? 1. U.S. voters respond to countries from which they emigrated. 2. World Bank itself is a political entity which has its own coalition system. Doesn't end up meaning advancing the welfare of the public in the recipient countries. Bill Easterly: The Elusive Quest for Growth, The White Man's Burden. "Aid is successful at keeping countries' policies in line with the desires of the donor", and in keeping autocrats in power. What people do and what they say are not the same thing.
    22:30Different incentives to go to war in democracies vs. autocracies. Democratic leaders will almost certainly be deposed if they lose a war, which makes them very selective about picking their battles, and, if a war turns out to be difficult, they increase their effort. Autocratic leaders, since they are judged by goodies to their cronies, are willing to fight in broader swath of circumstances, more likely to find themselves in trouble in war, and less likely to put in extra resources. WWII example, Germany. Benefits from war also differ between democratically elected leaders versus autocratically supported leaders. Autocrats tend to fight wars to seek to increase their resource bases because they are running their economies down and have to pay cronies.
    32:17Why the recent bellicose stances in countries like Venezuela and Iran? Are they just run by madmen? Nuclear weapons program in Iran supported by young professionals, while state of economy has gotten run down. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is bolstering his constituent base by finding an issue with popular support. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela attempted a failed coup as a military leader and is bolstering his newly-found constituency. If you control the ability of people to assemble you can control the media and secure your hold on power. Oil wealth allows a semblance of looking populist by not increasing taxes. In all dictatorship cases, it's easier to point to an outsider as the source of internal problems than to accept responsibility, so the U.S.'s economic success makes it a target of rhetoric. Is Iran's nuclear policy unduly risky?
    42:40What's a real democracy? Is the world becoming more democratic? Market economies vs. democracy: Autocrats have learned that market economies and growth can sustain them. Are elections the solution? Charlie Rose, Egypt example. Requirements for democracy: 1. Are people free to assemble? 2. Are the media free to report? (Japan is an example where media are not that free! Egypt, Haiti worse.) 3. Is the vote balance counted by a non-partisan, neutral presence? It's not enough to only satisfy number 3., neutral vote-counting. Russia example--neutral vote-counting is not enough. Short run solutions don't conform to long run solutions.
    48:19China example--free markets may not be enough. Information flow, growth statistics, labor laws. Foreign private investors up. But is life really changing for the average person in China?
    59:30What policies could the U.S. follow to help? Nigeria example--British petroleum workers are brought in to Nigerian oil fields but Nigeria doesn't train their own people. Window of opportunity. Dictators in their first two or so years die in their sleep or are overthrown when it is discovered they have a terminal illness. Free assembly and free press can be put into place during this window. Linking aid to those two pillars during that window may help make genuine democracy and ultimately prosperity persist. Cuba.
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    Posted by Russ Roberts