Thought Experiments for Aging Autocrats

putin_pointing.jpgFor the time being, things like repeated referendums and organized mayoral elections may work for the likes of Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin, but what will these and other authoritarian-leaning leaders of the world come up with in ten years time to maintain their iron grip on power?  It’s a question that Paul Collier is pretty interested in, and one that he sees three answers for:  1) they can embrace good government (unlikely), 2) they can lie to their voters (already been there), and 3) they can scapegoat a minority or foreign government (yes, guaranteed success!).

Here’s the intro from his clever piece on Foreign Policy:

The old rulers of the Soviet Union were terrified of facing contested elections. Those of us who studied political systems presumed they must be right: Elections would empower citizens against the arrogance of government. And with the fall of the Iron Curtain, elections indeed swept the world. Yet democracy doesn’t seem to have delivered on its promise. Surprisingly often, the same old rulers are still there, ruling in much the same old way. Something has gone wrong, but what?

To answer this question, I put myself in the shoes of an old autocrat–say, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak–now having to retain power in a “democracy.” What options do I face? Hard as it is to bear, I have to be honest with myself: My people do not love me. Far from being grateful for the wonders that I have achieved, they may increasingly be aware that under my long rule our country has stagnated while similar countries have transformed themselves. There are even a few cogent voices out there explaining why this situation is my fault. I shake my head in disbelief that it has come to this, seize my gold pen, and start listing my options. I decide to be systematic, in each case evaluating the pros and cons.