THE DICTATOR'S HANDBOOK by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita


Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics
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Why politics is a matter of gamesmanship, and why the winners are those who understand the rules of the game.

Bueno de Mesquita (The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future, 2009, etc.) and Smith (Election Timing: Political Institutions and Decisions, 2009, etc.) are both on the faculty at NYU and have collaborated in the past (The Logic of Political Survival, 2003). Their argument rests on the conviction that there is little place for altruism in effective leadership. The rules are simple. One: “politics is about getting and keeping political power. It is not about general welfare.” Two: Dictators who depend on only a few cronies are in the best position as long as they are generous in sharing the spoils. Three: Make sure the cronies know that there is a large pool of potential replacements if they get out of line. Four: Greed is good within limits, but there is always the danger of popular uprising if the economy becomes dysfunctional. Bueno de Mesquita and Smith put it bluntly: “Paying supporters, not good governance or representing the general will, is the essence of ruling,” Although the authors point out that even in democracies bloc voting and redistricting serve the interest of incumbents, and they suggest that the same lessons apply to leaders in the financial world, the book is intended as a guide to how best to conduct foreign policy when dealing with countries that are not democratic. Tyrants become more vulnerable as they get older. However, write the authors, because dictators are cheap to buy, the U.S. government should be wary of regime change in the name of democracy.

An unabashed study of the uses and abuses of realpolitik.


Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61039-044-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2011


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