“Rules to rule by”_Blog Post # 7, 03/13/17

In the “cynical portrayal of politics” (words from horse’s mouth indeed), Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith in their book “The Dictator’s Handbook” have identified three fundamental rules of politics: 1) No one does politics for benefits of others rather for one’s own interest, 2) There are certain rules to rule by, follow them otherwise you will be nowhere, and 3) You have to have group of people as your supporters. The third rule which they have named as “Selectorate” theory is the one of the most important determining factor for politics as it can make the government a democracy or an authoritarian regime. When the first and the third one intertwined to each other, they give the basic rule for any of the governmental form which is “hold onto power, no matter what.” Basic difference between the democracy and the authoritarian government is that, for remaining on power the later one mostly depends on a close distribution of resources whilst the first one systematically distribute more resources to the larger population.


The selectorate theory, in their writing, Masquita and Smith have talked about three group: 1) Nominal selectorate, 2) Real selectorate and 3) the Winning Coalition. Though sometimes the terms were used a bit interchangeably (and a little bit of confusing perhaps only to me), the real selectorate and the winning coalition are the major role player for the government’s power. In autocracies, the rulers are prone to keep a small winning coalition. For them a big winning coalition can create a problematic situation where this demands diffusion of resources among more numbers. Interestingly, having a very small winning coalition can also pose threat to the autocratic leader, hence the autocratic government would like to have a winning coalition of “just-the-right-amount!” On the contrary,systematically democracy are supposed to have larger winning coalition which is for the democracies is a part of the real selectorates. In a democracy, a larger winning coalition can act as an instrument of check-and-balance for the government. Furthermore, distribution of resources to a larger group guarantee (less) corruption which the autocracy cannot afford to have. Thus, it is often very much visible in the democracies, in comparison to the autocracies, that they have better governance and better public services like education, public infrastructures and health care systems. Otherwise, the mass will revolt and can make the government to step down. Just in this way, the autocracies do not have great educational systems, as more educated persons mean larger threat to their power.


The interesting learning I got from the interesting write up (though with repetitive examples), whatever strategies the government are choosing are necessarily associated to their needs of remaining on power, not for the “great good of humanity.” Even so, democracy can definitely provide better services for the public in comparison to the authoritarian regimes.

4 thoughts on ““Rules to rule by”_Blog Post # 7, 03/13/17

  1. I was also struck by Bueno de Mesquita and Smith’s assertion that governments do not provide goods and services out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather to appease the constituencies they need to retain power. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I’m hesitant to agree fully with their assertion. I get the impression that to an extent, the actions of democratic leaders are predetermined by the system in which they operate. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that not every decision is coldly calculated, but that there is some room left for benevolence.

    • I totally support your standpoint. I feel somewhat in the same way as well. The most striking factor to me is that, politics and result of politics involves innumerable stakeholders in one event. Is it really possible to identify everyone’s decision making behavior well ahead of time? I know there are plenty of examples like this where academicians will say, yes, that is possible. Just on the contrary to that, there are plenty of situations where every single prediction has proven wrong. We have indeed a very recent example in our hand from the USA perspective. Just like this, I cannot fully agree with the argument that it is always possible to predetermine the “steps” of leaders. And your idea is a great way to put things into perspective that the actions of democratic leaders are predetermined by the system in which they operate.

  2. Mesquita and Smith’s idea that governments operate solely under the pretenses of retaining their power seemed like a no brainer to me… We discussed in class how the meaning of politics is, arguably, the pursuit of power.
    In order to gain power, it’s necessary to offer a limited supply of wealth & resources (albeit making sure that you are simultaneously maximizing your own profits) – thus the importance for the real selectorate/winning coalition. The “offering” of wealth/power/resources (to me) simply seems like a way to essentially buy and maintain complete control of government.

    • Yeah, and that is really interesting. I also wonder, as we saw the video in the classroom, if President Obama was given a chance, he might want to be a dictator himself. May be that is not the fact, or may be, who can tell. But the question remains, if that is the case, then how and why politics in general, democracy in particular, regarded as the platform of bringing greater good in the society?

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