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Five Simple Rules for Staying in Power

From the ruler's perspective, says Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a democracy is the worst form of government possible, because it greatly increases the ruler's risk of losing power.

In the end, Machiavelli wasn’t all that Machiavellian, says professor of politics and game theory expert Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. In his later writings, the man whose name has become synonymous with political trickery advocated a republican form of government (essentially, modern democracy). From the ruler’s perspective, says de Mesquita, a democracy is the worst form of government possible, because it greatly increases the ruler’s risk of losing power. 

From the standpoint of self-interest, which de Mesquita and other game theorists argue is the prime motivator of human action and the only reliable means of predicting what people will do in the future, rulers want one thing: to remain in power. And the best way to maintain power, says de Mesquita, is by following five simple rules – more easily followed in a dictatorship than in a democracy. And whenever possible, says de Mesquita, democratically elected leaders will alter the political landscape such that these five rules apply. 

The Dictator’s Handbook to Remaining in Power

1. You want to depend on as few people as possible to keep you in power. 

2. You want the pool of people you could call upon to fill the role of that small group, that pool, to be as large as possible.  That waythe folks who are in the small group that keep you in power know that if they are wayward, they’re easily replaced

3.You want to tax the people as highly as you can because you want revenue to enrich yourself and to bribe your cronies.

4. You want to distribute the minimum amount of that revenue that you can get away with – just enough to keep your coalition loyal to you. You want as much of the money left over for your own discretion as possible

5. If at all possible, you don’t want to use the revenue to improve the lives of your people because a) it’s more expensive than paying off a few cronies and b) see rule 1 – if the people are your coalition –i.e. the ones you’ve got to pay off to remain in power – your risk of losing power is much greater. 

Watch de Mesquita here:

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