The Rules For Rulers :Do you want to rule? Do you see the problems in your country and know how to fix them?
If only you had the power to do so.
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
But before we begin this lesson in political power, ask yourself why don’t rulers see as clearly as you instead of acting in such, selfish, self-destructive, short-sighted ways?
Are they stupid… these most powerful people in the world? Or is it something else?
The throne looks omnipotent from afar, but it is not as it seems.
Take the throne to act, and the throne acts upon you.
Accept that or turn back now before we discuss, the Rules for Rulers.
No matter how bright the rays of any sun king: No man rules alone.
A king can’t build roads alone, can’t enforce laws alone, can’t defend the nation or himself, alone.
The power of a king is not to act, but to get others to act on his behalf, using the treasure in his vaults.
A king needs an army, and someone to run it.
Treasure and someone to collect it.
Law and someone to enforce it.
The individuals needed to make the necessary things happen are the king’s keys to power.
All the changes you wish to make are but thoughts in your head if the keys will not follow your commands.
In a dictatorship, where might makes right, the number of keys to power is small.
Perhaps only a dozen generals, bureaucrats, and regional leaders.
Sway them to your side and the power to rule is yours, but never forget: displease them and they will replace you.
Now all countries lie on a spectrum from those where the ruler needs few key supporters to those where the ruler needs many this foundation of power is why countries are different.
Yet many keys or few, the rules are the same:First, get the key supporters on your side.
With them, you have the power to act; you have everything. Without them, you have nothing.
Now in order to keep those keys to power, you must, second:Control the treasure.
You must make sure your treasure is raised and distributed to you — for all your hard work– and to the keys needed to keep your position.
This is your true work as a ruler: figuring out how best to raise and distribute resources, so as not to topple the house of cards upon which your throne sits.
Now you, aspiring benevolent dictator, may want to help your citizens, but your control of the treasure is what attracts rivals, so you must keep those keys loyal.
But there is only so much treasure in your vaults, so much wealth your kingdom produces.
So beware: every bit of treasure spent on citizens is treasure not spent on loyalty.
Thus, doing the right thing, spending the wealth of the nation on the citizens of the nation, hands a tool of power acquisition to your rivals.
Treasure poured into roads, and universities, and hospitals, is treasure a rival can promise to key supporters if only they switch sides.
Benevolent dictators can spend their take on the citizens, but the keys must get their rewards, for even if you have gathered the most loyal, angelic supporters, they have the same problem as you, just one level down.
Being a key to power is a position of power.
They too must watch out for rivals from below or above: thus the treasure they get must also be spent to maintain their position.
The loyal and dim may stay by your side no matter what, but smart key supporters will always watch the balance of power, ready to change allegiance if you look to be the loser in a shifting web of alliances.
In countries where the keys are few, the rewards are great and when violence rules, the most ruthless are attracted; and angels that build good works will lose to devils that don’t.
So buy all the loyalty you can, because loyalty, in dictatorial organizations of all kinds, is everything.
For the ruler, anyway.
Thus, the dictatorship exposed: A king who needs his court to raise the treasure to keep the court loyal and keep raising the treasure.
This is the self-sustaining core of power, all outside is secondary.
Now a king with many key supporters has real problems: not just their expense, but also their competing needs and rivalries are difficult to balance, the more complicated the social and financial web between them all, the more able a rival is to sway a critical mass.
The more key supporters a ruler has on average, the shorter their reign.
Which brings us to the third rule for rulers:Minimize Key Supporters.
If a key in your court becomes unnecessary, his skills no longer required, you must kick him out.
After a successful coup, the new dictator will purge some of those who helped him come to power.
While working with the underlings of the previous dictator — which from the outside seems a terrible idea.
Why abandon your fellow revolutionaries?
Are the old dictator’s supporters not a danger?
But the keys necessary to gain power are not the same as those needed to keep it.
Having someone on the payroll who was vital in the past, but useless now is the same as spending money on the citizens: treasure wasted on the irrelevant.
And by definition, a dictator that pulls off a coup has promised greater treasure to those switching sides.
The size of the vault has not changed, so the treasure must be split among fewer.
A dictator that sways the right keys, takes control of the treasure, cuts unnecessary spending, kills unnecessary keys, will have a long and successful career.
Seeing the structure unveiled, you might be excited to get started and control a country to the benefit of you and your cronies,or you might be exhausted, wishing to do good but seeing the structural difficulties, now turn to democracy for salvation.
So let us discuss rulers as representatives.
You again might have grand dreams of the utopia you wish to build, but: no man rules alone.
And never more so than in democracy.
Presidents and Prime ministers must negotiate with their senates and parliaments and vice versa.
And they all have their own key supporters to manage.
In a well-designed democracy, power is fractured among many and is taken not with force but with words, meaning you must get thousands or millions of citizens too if not like you on election day, at least like you better than the alternative.
With so many voters and such fractured power it’s impossible to, as a dictator would,follow these rules and buy loyalty. Or is it?
Of course not.
Don’t think of citizens as individuals with their individual desires, but instead as divided into blocs: the elderly, or homeowners, or business owners, or the poor. Blocs you can reward as a group.
Democracies have wildly complicated tax codes, and laws, not as an accident but as a reward for the blocks that get and keep the ruling representatives in power:
Farming subsidies, for example, have nothing to do with the food a nation needs, but entirely with how key the vote of the farming bloc is.
Countries where farmers’ votes don’t swing elections, don’t have farming subsidies.
If a bloc doesn’t vote, such as younger citizens, then no need to divert rewards their way.
Even if large in number, they are irrelevant to gaining power.
Which is good news for you: one less block to sway and the treasure you give to your key blocks has to come from somewhere.
If you want long years in office, rule three is your friend in a democracy just as much as a dictatorship.
You can’t eliminate those who don’t vote for you, but there is still much you can do.
Once in power, make it easier for your key blocks to vote and harder for others.
Establish voting systems that reduce the number of blocs you need to win the more rivals you get,very handy indeed.
Draw election borders to predetermine the results for you or your cronies, and have party pre-elections with Byzantine rules to determine who blocs even can vote for.
Mix and match the above for even better power perpetuation.
When approval ratings couldn’t be lower, yet re-election rates couldn’t be higher,you’ll know you’ve succeeded.
Now, enough with thinking about the citizens.
Even in a democracy there still are very influential individual key supporters you need on your side because their money or influence or favors keeps you in power.
While you can’t just promise to give them treasure directly, as a dictator would, you can create loopholes for their investments, pass laws that they’ve written, or print get-out-of-jail-free cards for their actions.
Not a wheelbarrow of gold to the door, but contracts for their business.
You as ruler do have roads to build or computers to maintain or buildings to reconstruct.
No man rules alone, after all.
Or you could take the moral path, and ignore the big keys.
But you’ll fight against those who didn’t. Good luck with that.
Corruption is not some kind of petty crime, but rather a tool of power, in democracies and dictatorships, but more on that another time.
So, accept the favors, sway the key blocs and you will get into power, ruling with actions that look contradictory and stupid to those who don’t understand the game, privately helping a powerful industry you publicly denounced, or passing laws that hurt a bloc that voted for you.
But your job isn’t to have a consistent understandable ruling policy, but to balance the interests of your keys to power, big and small.
That is how you stay in office.
Now with all this headache of being a representative, you may wonder, looking at rule three why couldn’t you skip all this bloc-building, favor trading nonsense and just bribe the army to take power?
We must finally turn to: taxes and revolts.
You must understand rule two and how the treasure is raised and used to hold a country together.
If we graph the tax rate of countries vs the number of key supporters the ruler needs, there’s a clear relationship. More democracy, lower taxes.
If you’re sitting comfortably in a cushy democracy you may scoff at this, but your fellow citizens who don’t earn enough don’t pay income taxes and get rebates, bringing the average tax rate down. In dictatorships, this doesn’t happen.
Dictatorships often forgo tax paperwork in favor of just taking wealth directly.
It’s common for the dictator to force farmers to sell their produce to him for little, then turn around and sell it on the open market, pocketing the difference at an unthinkably high equivalent tax rate.
So taxes in democracies are low in comparison to dictatorships.
But why do representatives lower their take?
Well, cutting taxes is a crowd pleaser.
Dictators have no need to please the crowds and thus can take a large percentage from their poor citizens to pay key supporters.
But representatives in a democracy can take a smaller percentage from each to pay their key supporters, because their educated, freer citizens are more productive than peasants.
For rulers in a democracy, the more productivity the better.
This is why they build universities and hospitals and roads and grant freedoms, not just out of the goodness of their hearts but because it increases citizen productiveness, which increases treasure for the ruler and their key supporters, even when a lower percentage is taken.
Democracies are better places to live than dictatorships, not because representatives are better people, but because their needs happen to be aligned with a large portion of the population.
The things that make citizens more productive also make their lives better.
Representatives want everyone productive, so everyone gets highways.
The worst dictators are those whose incentives are aligned with the fewest citizens, those who have the fewest keys to power.
This explains why the worst dictatorships have something in common.
Gold or oil or diamonds or similar.
If the wealth of a nation is mostly dug out of the ground: it’s a terrible place to live, because a gold mine can run with dying slaves, and still produce great treasure.
Oil is harder, but luckily foreign companies can extract and refine it without any citizen involvement.
With citizens outside this cycle, they can be ignored while the ruler is rewarded and the keys to power kept loyal.
Thus we live in a world where the best, smartest democracies are stable, the worst, richest dictatorships are stable, and in between is a valley of revolution.
The resource-rich dictators build roads only from their ports to their resources and from their palace to the airport, and the people stay quiet not because this is fine or even because they’re scared, but because the cold truth is: starving, disconnected, illiterates don’t make good revolutionaries.
Now a middling dictator without resources must, as mentioned before, take a large amount of wealth directly from his poor farmers and factory workers.
Thus two roads won’t do, and so he must maintain some minimums of life for the citizens.
But keeping the work-force somewhat connected and somewhat educated and somewhat healthy makes them more able to revolt.
Now understand: the romantic image of the people storming the gates and overthrowing their dictator is mostly a fantasy.
If you run a middling dictatorship, the people only storm the palace when the army lets them remove you, because you lost control over your keys and are being replaced.
This is why after ‘popular revolts’ in middling dictatorships, the new ruler is often the same as the old, if not worse.
The people didn’t replace the king, the court replaced the king, using the peoples’ protest they let happen to do it.
The very things a benevolent dictator wants to build to cross this valley take the treasure away from the keys to power and make the citizens more able to revolt, often ending in a stronger ruler less likely to build bridges and more loyal to his keys.
On the other side, the best democracies are stable not just because a large number of keys and their competing desires make dictatorial revolt near-impossible to organize, but also because the revolt would destroy the very wealthy is intended to capture.
The high productivity of the citizens.
Plus: those helping the would-be dictator in a democracy know he plans to cull key supporters once in power.
That’s what’s a coup is.
So potential key supporters must weigh the probability of surviving the cull and getting the rewards, versus the risk of being on the outside of a dictatorship they helped create.
In a stable democracy, that’s a terrible gamble: maybe you’ll be incredibly wealthy,but probably you’ll be dead and have made the lives of everyone you know worse.
The math says no.
Being on the right side of a coup in a dictatorship means having the resources to get you and your family what the peasants lack.
Health care, education, quality of life — this is what make the competition for power so fierce.
But in a democracy most already have these things, so why risk it?
So the more the wealth of a nation comes from the productive citizens of the nation, the more the power gets spread out, and the more the ruler must maintain the quality of life for those citizens.
The less, the less.
Now if a stable democracy becomes very poor, or if a resource that dwarfs the productivity of the citizens is found, the odds of this gamble change, and make it more possible for a small group to seize power.
Because if the current quality of life is terrible or the wealth not dependent on the citizens, coups are worth the risk.
When democracies fall, these are usually the reasons.
These rules for rulers explain not only why some men are monsters and others are merciful, but everything about politics: from war to foreign aid, to political dynasties, to corruption.
All of which, we can talk about at another time.
But for now, you aspiring ruler may be disgusted by the world of politics, and have decided to avoid it entirely, but you cannot, for rulers come in many forms.
Yes, Kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers but also Deans, Dons, Mayors, Chairs, Chiefs.
These rules apply to all and explain their actions: from the CEO of the largest global corporate conglomerate who must keep his board happy, to the chair of the smallest home owner’s association, managing votes and spending membership fees.
You cannot escape structures of power.
You can only turn a blind eye to understanding them, and if you ever want the change you dream about, there is a zeroth rule you cannot ignore.
Without power you can affect nothing.
You may not like these rules, but surely, better you on the throne than someone else.
And who knows, maybe you’ll be different.
somber piano music, slowly fading
This video and its follow-ups are based largely on The Dictator’s Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alistair Smith, which is simply the best book on politics written.
There is far more detail and far more examples in it than I could ever hope to cover any series of videos.
Every citizen should read this book, and if you want to support the channel, you can get a copy of it at Audible.com/Grey which is how I first came across the book years ago.
If you sign up at Audible with that URL, you can get a free thirty-day trial, and give the book a listen.
So if you want to understand human politics, if you want to understand the rules for rulers as applied to everything, go to audible.com/grey and download a copy of The Dictator’s Handbook.
You will not regret it.
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