Published February 2023 on YouTube

794: Alastair Smith | The Dictator's Handbook Part One

1. Introduction

Alastair Smith, co-author of The Dictator's Handbook, discusses the inner workings of dictatorships, including corruption, power games, and how dictators come to and stay in power. He also explains why these regimes tend to do poorly economically and why foreign aid can actually empower them.+

2. Dictatorship Dynamics

Dictatorship Dynamics:Jordan and Alastair discuss the dynamics of dictatorship and how dictators maintain power by relying on a small group of people at the top, while the masses are left unhappy but powerless to overthrow their leader. They use North Korea as an example of a country where everything is under strict control and the people have no freedom.+
Dictatorship Dynamics:Jordan and Alastair discuss the dynamics of dictatorship and how the elites around the dictator keep them in power. They explain why it's difficult to get rid of established dictators and how the average person's loyalty is tied to their chances of being one of the privileged ones under the new regime.Show transcript +

3. Nationalism and Dictatorship

Nationalism and Elites:Alastair and Jordan discuss the role of nationalism in Serbia and North Korea, and how the elites in these countries benefit from the current system. They also compare the lives of elites in North and South Korea, and how a change in leadership affects the citizens of each country differently.+
Loyalty and Dictatorship:Alastair explains the symbiotic relationship between dictators and their supporters, where access to resources is given in exchange for loyalty. In contrast, in democratic systems, people can be politically disloyal without affecting their welfare.+

4. Real Electorate

Real Electorate:Alastair Smith breaks down the concept of nominal versus real electorate, explaining that in the US, only a small percentage of voters really matter due to the way seats are handed out. This is in contrast to countries like North Korea where a small group of people are in charge.+
Electoral College and Policy Incentives:Alastair and Jordan discuss the impact of the electoral college on policy incentives and how presidential candidates target swing states to win votes, leading to policies that benefit those states rather than the entire country. They also touch on the issue of homelessness and how politicians respond to it based on its impact on their political supporters.+

5. Politics and Poverty

Homelessness and Politics:Jordan and Alastair discuss the sad reality that politicians are not rewarded for fixing social problems and often resort to cheap solutions like putting homeless people on a bus to another state, instead of addressing the underlying issue. They also touch on the fact that politicians are not always motivated by helping everyone equally.+
Poverty in Dictatorships:Alastair explains how dictatorships are designed to enrich the leader and their cronies, resulting in unproductive societies with isolated and uneducated citizens. The situation becomes even worse when the leader doesn't need the people to work to generate revenue, leaving the average person cut out of the equation.+

6. Sponsors

Fitness Routine:Jordan shares his tips on creating a sustainable fitness routine and how Peloton helps him stay consistent with thousands of classes to choose from, including their top-notch rowing machine with sensors that track your movements and form.+
Empowering through Therapy:Jordan and Jen discuss the benefits of therapy and how it can help people live a more empowered life. They also provide a discount code for listeners to try out Better Help, an online therapy platform.+

7. Autocracies & Money Laundering

Working in Autocracies:Jordan and Alastair discuss the challenges of working in autocracies, including the lack of incentive to work hard and the risk of corruption. They also touch on the phenomenon of brain drain, where talented individuals leave their home countries to pursue opportunities elsewhere.+
Money Laundering & Political Survival:Jordan and Alastair discuss the intricacies of money laundering from China to Canada and the rules for political survival. They touch on the corruption in the system and how even those who want to do the right thing can end up dead if they do so at the expense of their cronies.+

8. Leaders' Downfall

Leaders' Mistakes:Alastair and Jordan discuss how leaders' mistakes can lead to their downfall, using examples like Julius Caesar and the shah of Iran. They explore how even well-intentioned policies can have unintended consequences and how leaders must consider the interests of all stakeholders before making decisions.+
The Fall of Regimes:Alastair explains how the fall of regimes is often sudden and caused by the realization that the current leader is terminally ill and cannot promise continued benefits. Corruption and loyalty are closely linked, and when the end of the gravy train is in sight, loyalty quickly fades. This is why the biggest state secret is how sick somebody is.+

9. Dynastic Succession

Dynastic Succession:Alastair and Jordan discuss the common practice of dynastic succession in politics, where family members of the current leader are groomed to take over. This practice is prevalent not only in North Korea but also in other countries, including the United States. The logic behind it is that potential supporters already know the interests of the family members, and there is a better chance that they will keep the current elites in power. However, this practice also has its obvious problems, such as the crown prince pushing the king off the throne before they are ready.+
Lessons from the Fall:Alastair shares insights on the fall of the czar of Russia and how it relates to political power and policy making. He also discusses the current state of China and the importance of good policy ideas in maintaining political power.+

10. Sponsors

Alastair Smith joins Jordan to discuss financing options for businesses and Nissan's focus on creating thrilling electric vehicles. Nissan has been making EVs since 1947 and their EVs have now traveled eight billion miles by Nissan LEAF owners since 2010. NetSuite by Oracle has just rolled out one of the best offers they've ever given, allowing businesses to defer payments of a full NetSuite implementation for six months.+

11. Dictators and Debt

Dictator's Dilemma:Jordan and Alastair discuss the advantages of having natural resources for dictators and autocrats, and how foreign aid can enable leaders to prop up their regimes for a longer time. They also touch on China's ability to build quickly without accountability and the potential consequences of such actions.+
Debt and Politics:Alastair discusses how being in debt is not just a financial problem, but a political one as well. Leaders have to tax their own supporters or make reforms to pay off debt, which can be difficult. He proposes setting up an escrow account to ensure that money is only released after work is completed.+
Government-Engineered Famine:Alastair and Jordan discuss the government's role in engineering famines and how it benefits those in power. They also touch on the use of technology to eliminate famine and how it's not being utilized properly.+

12. Disaster and Autocracies

Disaster Preparation:Jordan and Alastair discuss the differences in disaster preparation between autocracies and democracies. While autocracies have little incentive to prepare for natural disasters, democracies are held accountable by their citizens. However, even democracies like the US have struggled with disaster response, as seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.+
Disaster Response:Alastair and Jordan discuss the response to natural disasters in democratic and non-democratic countries. They explore how political power and voter demographics can impact the allocation of aid, and compare the response to Hurricane Katrina in the US to Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar.+
Borrowing and Incentives:Alastair and Jordan discuss the incentives that autocratic leaders have to borrow money and not pay it back. They explain that borrowing now means any challenger in the future will have less credit to borrow from, making it harder for them to challenge the current leader. This leads to sacrificing the economic future of the nation, and it's a feature, not a bug.+

13. Outro

In this chapter, Jordan Harbinger promotes his podcast and offers listeners a chance to connect with him through his Six-Minute Networking course. He also thanks his sponsors, Peloton and Strictly Stalking podcast, and encourages listeners to share the show with friends.+