Tag Archives: dictatorship

Democracy may be the best system due to political economy constraints

Democracy picks the leader who is best at getting elected, not necessarily the best at leading the country. The ability to become a leader differs from the ability to lead. For example, populism and overconfidence in oneself may help one’s election prospects but harm performance at governing.

Even if there was some very accurate way to select the best leader (e.g. test their honesty, intelligence, work ethic, in addition to electability), it may be not be feasible in practice to make this person govern for long. The reason is the political economy constraint that someone better at obtaining power can depose the best leader (one whose government would maximise social welfare, however defined). The disruption resulting from the coup may even harm society more than the difference between being governed by the best leader as opposed to the best power-grabber. In this case, the leadership of the most electable person may maximise welfare, subject to assumptions like „the best power-grabber is also good enough at retaining power, preventing coups once in government”.

The skills of getting elected and organising a revolution probably differ, so an elected government has some of the same vulnerability as the best leader. The political economy constraint of preventing a coup may then favour making the strongest dictator or the most dangerous revolutionary lead the country. However, this may not be the best system for selecting leaders due to a tradeoff between the ability to govern and the ability to overthrow a government. The welfare-maximising selection system subject to the political economy constraint would pick the person who is best at governing among those who can successfully resist a coup. Democracy may be such a compromise, choosing reasonably popular leaders who have a low probability of being overthrown and are adequate at governing. On the one hand, democracy may avoid a ruthless dictator whose rule is very stable, but harmful, and on the other hand a saintly leader who would be deposed quickly.

Comparing dictatorships

Why compare evil regimes? Sometimes a choice must be made which one to support. Inaction and refusal to choose is also a choice and may favour one or another. The help or harm to some regime may be indirect, e.g. through the enemy of an enemy.

How to compare evil regimes? I have encountered people who compare based on words, justifying crimes against humanity by some countries with the argument that their goals were good or the ideology was good, just wrongly implemented. (The subtext here is that if it was wrongly implemented in the past, perhaps it should be tried again in the hopes of implementing it rightly.) I disagree. Actions should be the basis of judgement, not narratives. A failure of a political system is a negative signal about it. Regardless of whether it signals a fundamental flaw or a low likelihood of right implementation, until all other systems have been tried and have accumulated a similar weight of negative signals, the failed system should not be tried again. This can be mathematically formalized as optimal sequential control under incomplete information.

I believe comparisons of countries should be based on objective criteria, preferably specified before the data is gathered (as in the scientific method). These objective criteria are for example the number of people killed, tortured, wrongly imprisoned, expropriated, the number and extent of wars started, the territory and population conquered and for how long, the economic and environmental damage caused. The number of ethnic or religious groups eliminated may also be counted, but this has the effect of weighting the deaths of people from smaller groups more.

The measures can be total or divided by time or by the number of supporters of the regime. The total of these criteria is generally larger for bigger countries. There is simply more opportunity to kill, torture, etc when there are more people available. The total measures are of interest because they show the whole negative impact on the world.

Division by time results in criteria that measure the flow of evil done. If the decision is which regime to eliminate first, it is optimal to focus on the one with the greatest predicted negative influence per unit of time. This strategy minimizes the total impact of evil regimes.

To find the expected number of crimes of a person from a dictatorship (or its leadership) without other data about them, the total crimes of the regime should be divided by its population (or number of leaders). Dividing by both people and time gives the expected flow of evil per person, suggesting an optimal strategy of removing leaders of criminal regimes.

The above focusses on past evil, but for predictive purposes the attractiveness or “selling power” of the regime also matters. How likely is the dictatorship to survive and expand? If more people favour and justify it, including outside its borders, it has a greater opportunity to do evil in the future. So the niceness of the narrative used to excuse its actions is actually a negative signal about an otherwise criminal regime. If the stories the dictatorship tells about itself make people consider its goals good or ideology good, then the dictatorship is more dangerous than another that cannot manipulate audiences into supporting it.

Principles help in resisting the siren call of “the end justifies the means.” For example the principle that nothing justifies crimes against humanity. No story about the greater good, no idealistic ideology. Another good principle is that actions speak louder than words. If a regime fails at good governance, excuses should be ignored.