Qaddafi: Just “Too Nice” To Survive

Michael Moynihan has a nice review of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith's new book The Dictator's Handbook:

How is it that undemocratic leaders—who exploit, imprison and brutalize their subjects—frequently maintain power for far longer periods than their democratic counterparts? Autocrats, the authors argue, need only reward only a small class of loyalists—the army, judiciary, an inner circle of advisers—who will reliably suppress opposition. While democrats likewise dispense rewards—sweetheart contracts, farm subsidies, welfare payments—they are constrained by a system of government that requires the loyalty of fickle voters. This ensures that if a leader accumulates wealth and power in a few hands, his job security weakens.

Wasn't all this written down half a century ago by naughty Nick? Bueno de Mesquita and Smith summarize their rules for dictators (as part of a series for The Monkey Cage) and apply them to Qaddafi:

Gaddafi was a successful leader. He outlasted seven U.S. presidents and survived for nearly 42 years. But complacency cost him more time in office—he did not pay enough attention to Rule 5. He was too nice. Conditions in Libya were certainly brutal under Gaddafi, but they could have been much worse. According to the index of press restrictions produced by Reporters Without Borders, Libya shifted from being more repressive than its neighbors in 2005 to being freer than Syria, Yemen, and Tunisia and on a comparable level with Saudi Arabia in 2010.

Last weekend Jay Ulfelder had some thoughts about how democracies survive.