This question is especially perplexing when one considers the process of mass Muslim immigration, which effectively strives to replace the existing populations of low-birthrate Western countries with Third World immigrants. The losers in this deal are obvious — but who are the winners? Except for the Islamists themselves, the beneficiaries of Islamization stand well back in the murky shadows.
BrianFH left us this excellent comment on the post, in which he describes the role that generalized corruption plays in distributing benefits within a political system. It’s worth reproducing here in its entirety:
Check out de Mesquita’s podcasts; he presents and applies the lessons from research which shows the decisions of politicians and rulers, throughout history and currently, are explained by the size of the Selectorate and the “ruling coalition”, which may be a few generals, a nomenklatura, an aristocracy, property-owning males, or a large chunk of the voting public. Idealism and statesmanship are rewarded only when there is a large pool benefiting from Public Goods, whose support is necessary. Fake elections without freedom of information and association don’t count as democratic rule.- - - - - - - - -
The World Bank and foreign aid ministries in general have been drawn into a system in which loans, grants, and aid funneled through corrupt governments actively suppress growth and freedom.
In this system of analysis, corruption is the essential method of distributing spoils to the “ruling coalition”; it ceases to pay off when the coalition gets large enough that general societal improvement results in prolonged power for the “rulers” — it’s the only win-win formula. But even democratic rulers have the welfare of their closest associates and coalition at heart; lame-duck presidents are famously profligate in passing out goodies to friends and relatives.
In the case of dictators, once they get past the first eighteen months or so and get the payola rolling, they stay in power for life — or until they are diagnosed with a fatal condition, like cancer. Then the wolves gather, deposition follows, and a new regime arises. (The Shah, for example, fell only when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer.) The gravy-train coalition suddenly sees the end of the guaranteed payoffs, and everything goes up for grabs.
The system, whether in autocracy or democracy, efficiently filters out genuinely ethical and altruistic leaders: they simply would not be able to assemble a sufficient inner support coalition to compete with those who hand out keys to the vault. In unusual emergencies, a power structure desperate for legitimacy might pluck someone like Vaclav Havel from outside the power pipeline to lead, but this is rare.
As an aside, I note that we all want power, in the fundamental sense of capacity to make stuff happen. It happens that political power depends on agreement and cooperation and compliance from others, so the tools used fit the context.
The podcasts by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on Econ Talk are part of the Library of Economics and Liberty, which looks to be a fascinating and informative site. Here’s a blurb for an article, plucked at random from their main page:
Think Globally, Act Irrationally: Recycling
by Michael Munger
In this month’s feature essay, Duke University professor of economics and political science Mike Munger looks at the economics and politics of recycling. He examines when recycling makes sense as a way to save resources, and when it appears to be more of a religious act. Along the way, he looks at some of the strange things local politicians have required or encouraged citizens to do when it comes to recycling.
If you’re intrigued by this, as I was, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Library of Economics and Liberty and read the whole article.