Bad behavior can be necessary for politicians

The Dictator’s Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith sheds light on how politicians get and keep power. In a nutshell, the most important thing to a politician is not the welfare of the citizenry, but the welfare of the politician’s winning coalition. Keep the coalition happy by lavishing rewards on them and the politician will stay in power.

A politician who fails to pay the winning coalition will see their careers, and in some cases their life, end. So a small coalition makes it easy for a tyrant to pay off supporters, while a large coalition like a democracy requires a politician to meet to the needs of much of the population.

The book explains the poor behavior of dictators who ignore the needs of their people while diverting revenue and aid to support the lifestyle of an inner circle. But from the dictator’s perspective, a failure to do so would be catastrophic as their winning coalition would just have them replaced.

This is a meaningful, if cynical, book that goes a long way toward explaining the often mystifying behavior of world leaders.