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Cover image for The dictator's handbook : why bad behavior is almost always good politics
The dictator's handbook : why bad behavior is almost always good politics


1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, 2011.
Physical Description:
xxv, 319 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Introduction: rules to rule by -- The rules of politics -- Coming to power -- Staying in power -- Steal from the poor, give to the rich -- Getting and spending -- If corruption empowers, then absolute corruption empowers absolutely -- Foreign aid -- The people in revolt -- War, peace, and world order -- What is to be done?
Explains the theory of political survival, particularly in cases of dictators and despotic governments, arguing that political leaders seek to stay in power using any means necessary, most commonly by attending to the interests of certain coalitions.
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For eighteen years, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith have been part of a team revolutionizing the study of politics by turning conventional wisdom on its head. They start from a single assertion: Leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don't care about the "national interest"--or even their subjects--unless they have to.

This clever and accessible book shows that the difference between tyrants and democrats is just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind but only in the number of essential supporters, or backs that need scratching. The size of this group determines almost everything about politics: what leaders can get away with, and the quality of life or misery under them. The picture the authors paint is not pretty. But it just may be the truth, which is a good starting point for anyone seeking to improve human governance.

Author Notes

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is the Julius Silver Professor of Politics and director of the Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy at New York University. He is the author of 16 books, including The Predictioneer's Game . Alastair Smith is professor of politics at New York University. The recipient of three grants from the National Science Foundation and author of three books, he was chosen as the 2005 Karl Deutsch Award winner, given biennially to the best international relations scholar under the age of 40.

Reviews 1

Kirkus Review

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 (TheLogic 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.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Rules to Rule Byp. ix
The Rules of Politicsp. 1
Coming to Powerp. 21
Staying in Powerp. 49
Steal from the Poor, Give to the Richp. 75
Getting and Spendingp. 101
If Corruption Empowers, Then Absolute Corruption Empowers Absolutelyp. 127
Foreign Aidp. 161
The People in Revoltp. 195
War, Peace, and World Orderp. 225
What Is To Be Done?p. 251
Acknowledgmentsp. 283
Notesp. 287
Indexp. 301