Dictatorship: A Matter of Incentives
Former president Donald Trump wrote about his possible indictment related to his trying to stay in power after he lost the 2020 election:
“An Indictment of me would only further destroy our Country.”
A critical observer (perhaps under the influence of Public Choice analysis) may reflect that the word capitalized should have been “me” instead of “country.” But we should not minimize the concerns that many of Trump’s voters had, even if they were naively looking for a dear leader, instead of individual liberty, to resolve them. And the following also applies to his successors and, indeed, to many of his precursors’ sometimes smaller steps. The populist temptation and unlimited democracy naturally become competitive dictatorship.
Power is a matter of incentives. Incentives must be such that a potential dictator will not find it in his own self-interest to pursue his project. On this topic, a reflection by famous economist Mancur Olson is especially relevant (quoted from his book Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships [Basic Books, 2000], pp. 39-40):
Sometimes, when leading families or merchants organized a government for their city, they not only provided for some power sharing through voting but took pains to reduce the probability that the government’s chief executive could assume autocratic power. For a time in Genoa, for example, the chief administrator of the government had to be an outsider—and thus someone with no membership in any of the powerful families in the city. Moreover, he was constrained to a fixed term of office, forced to leave the city after the end of his term, and forbidden from marrying into any of the local families. In Venice, after a doge who attempted to make himself autocrat was beheaded for his offense, subsequent doges were followed in official processions by a sword-bearing symbolic executioner as a reminder of the punishment intended for any leader who attempted to assume dictatorial power. As the theory predicts, the same city-states also tended to have more elaborate courts, contracts, and property rights than most of the European kingdoms of the time. As is well known, these city-states also created the most advanced economies in Europe, not to mention the culture of the Renaissance.