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02/06/2011

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Robert Johnson

Another reason that dictatorial regimes tend toward long term instability has to do with Bruce Bueno De Mesquita's concept of the selectorate - the body of individuals who collectively hold sufficient power to maintain a figurehead in power. In dictatorships the selectorate is small, just a handful of privileged people who control commerce, media, and military powers. Under democratic institutions the selectorate is, perforce, very large. Often as much as 20% or more of the national population (depending on voter turnout).

With a small selectorate, only a few individuals need to defect to an opposing side in order for the figurehead to be weakened and removed from power. In the short term, this is balanced by the powers the figurehead wields to dispense patronage and punishment. In the long run, the unsatisfied ambitions and grievances of the selectorate create an ever-present threat to the stability of the figurehead's administration.

Jack

Becker points out:

"The Internet, Facebook and other online social networks, are changing the dynamics of the political landscape in all countries, including Islamic countries."

Ha! Indeed! To an economist knowledge of the market place is all important! I'm certain that improvements in communication was THE major force in the collapse of the USSR, and perhaps China.

The politburo could easily lie to 'em when information could be corralled in costly printing presses and easily controlled broadcast media. But then came inexpensive copy machines, faxes, and satellite TV. Music recording too, the Soviet tried to ban Beatles and other "subversive western music" but LP's were smuggled in and they learned to copy them on used X-ray film, that could be rolled up under a coat sleeve and ha! marketed as "bones".

When joint venture fishing began in Alaska in the early 80's (our catchers delivering to Russian factory ships) what the crews wanted were our magazines, Levi's, T-shirts, etc.

Our info during the "cold war" was flawed too, despite having satellites and spies the CIA seems to have estimated USSR GDP at twice what it actually was and thus responding to a "bear" twice the size it actually was.

Ha-ha! "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm when they've seen gay Paree?"

Anonymous

^ Unbelievable as it may sound, the USSR economic policy was based on CIA estimates on the USSR economy . They did not trust their own economists, apparently.

Ernesto

The only rational phrase in the article is "Sometimes these demonstrations succeed... sometimes they fail".

Everything else is smoke and mirrors. It's all "will happen" as if the author could read minds and foresee the future. In 2nd century Rome there must have been a Garius Beckerius telling the emperors "When the Germans see our civilization, they will fall in awe and will overthrow their leaders".

Christopher Graves

There are real possibilities for liberty unfolding in Egypt, but real possibilities for greater tyranny as well. I hope that their revolution will take a liberal (in the classical sense) turn. But I have reason to doubt that it will or, if it does for a time, other forces will supplant it. One reason for my pessimism is the authoritarian nature of the regime that has just exited the stage. Average Egyptians might not have built up the habits, attitudes, and skills of discernment, determination, autonomy and responsibility that are necessary to make independent judgements necessary to function in a free society. Egypt may also lack the degree of development of the social and political institutions that would have provided an alternative to state action to meet people's needs and to offset governmental power.

Closely related to these possible lackings is the nature of the dominant religion of Egypt, Islam. While Islam does teach a sense of moral restraint that we see missing in large part from our contemporary free society in America that our Founders correctly thought necessary to provide social order, Islam does not seem to internalize many of these norms in the same way that Christianity does, especially Protestant Christianity. Consequently, people are not as free under Islam to make moral decisions that are truly autonomous. We, too, are failing to foster a true sense of autonomy in individuals for very different reasons, but, in any case, political liberty is dependent upon moral autonomy that might be lacking in Egypt.

Another, related problem with Islam is its lack of focus on the individual's relationship to God. There is no theological doctrine in Islam that is comparable to "the priesthood of the believer" that is central to Protestant Christianity. Hence, there is nothing comparable in Islam to the separation of church and state and religious toleration that we enjoy in historically Christian nations. Religious toleration in Europe and America developed straight out of its religious heritage dating back to the practices of Judaism that included separating the duties of the king and the High Priest continuing with the teachings of Jesus who famously said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." This trend was taken up with a newly found vigor by Protestants, who unevenly practiced these teachings at first, but came to form the basis of our modern concepts of religious liberty. According to Protestant teaching, one must come to accept Christ in a heartfelt personal decision. A coerced conversion is worthless. Hence, coercion is of no value in religious matters.

Princeton historian Perez Zagorin argues along these lines in this 2003 book, *How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West.*

"Religious intolerance, so terrible and deadly in its recent manifestations, is nothing new. In fact, until after the eighteenth century, Christianity was perhaps the most intolerant of all the great world religions. How Christian Europe and the West went from this extreme to their present universal belief in religious toleration is the momentous story fully told for the first time in this timely and important book by a leading historian of early modern Europe.
Perez Zagorin takes readers to a time when both the Catholic Church and the main new Protestant denominations embraced a policy of endorsing religious persecution, coercing unity, and, with the state's help, mercilessly crushing dissent and heresy. This position had its roots in certain intellectual and religious traditions, which Zagorin traces before showing how out of the same traditions came the beginnings of pluralism in the West. Here we see how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thinkers--writing from religious, theological, and philosophical perspectives--contributed far more than did political expediency or the growth of religious skepticism to advance the cause of toleration. Reading these thinkers--from Erasmus and Sir Thomas More to John Milton and John Locke, among others--Zagorin brings to light a common, if unexpected, thread: concern for the spiritual welfare of religion itself weighed more in the defense of toleration than did any secular or pragmatic arguments. His book--which ranges from England through the Netherlands, the post-1685 Huguenot Diaspora, and the American Colonies--also exposes a close connection between toleration and religious freedom.
A far-reaching and incisive discussion of the major writers, thinkers, and controversies responsible for the emergence of religious tolerance in Western society--from the Enlightenment through the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights--this original and richly nuanced work constitutes an essential chapter in the intellectual history of the modern world."

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7638.html

blake k

Timing isn't that surprising, food prices almost doubling sucks when you live on $2 a day.

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Jack

Blake: Indeed. Must be some sort of economic sin to fuel three ton tip-over rigs carrying one person with someone else's tortillas. Craziness.

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honestly these social sites are changing the dynamics of political landscape in almost every country i must say..but still we should never lose hope..thanks for sharing
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Bill Drissel

I'm amazed that the author and commenters have not mentioned "the weakness of strong states." The strong state is illegitimate. Every grievance, economic, political, agricultural, infrastructure ... piles on over the years. The ruler and his bureaucracy all know this. Everyone, including the ruling class, knows their pronouncements are lies.

Eventually a small group would rather risk death than continue. A larger group will risk massing in the public places. The ruler or some of his underlings will refuse to kill them ... the end is at hand.

Regards,
Bill Drissel

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I have reason to doubt that it will or, if it does for a time, other forces will supplant it. One reason for my pessimism is the authoritarian nature of the regime that has just exited the stage.

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The overthrow of the government may be quick and without much violence, as in the East German and Tunisian case..

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