Wiki Contributions


Review: The End Is Always Near

I was teaching my students Huntington’s clash of civilizations last week, an essay with similar problems. I had them nail down the testable assumptions, causal arguments, and falsifiable predictions of the piece. Got them to emotive the fuzziness themselves. It was a pretty rewarding way to teach.

Idea: Give the Nobel peace prize to institution designers

I totally agree that "autocracy is always and everywhere an expectation phenomenon". My favorite piece of evidence is how quickly regimes collapse when the leader is terminally ill. Nothing has changed but you found out the Shah has cancer so you immediately throw down your arms. Because "Hello prince, i killed people for your dad now rob the people to pay me" doesn't work. Clearly, repression is motivated by the expectation the incumbent will win and pay you back in the future.

Yes, if people expect democracy to fail it probably will. But the inverse is not true. People expecting democracy to succeed is not nearly a sufficient condition for its success, and such expectations are more common than successful democratizations. The Russians really expected to democratize in 1992, and their experiment failed. The French really expected to democratize in 1789 and didn't. The Ethiopians I talk to today really expect Ethiopia to stay democratic and it obviously won't.

The US didn't just believe in themselves and win the gun game. They denied coercive capacity to the president and distributed it among state governors. They then constrained the governors with the threat of tariffs to prevent secession or shirking. The governors are specialized leader-restraining elites with coordination capacity, the ability to punish each other for shirking, and they are competitively selected.

The Chilean regime had strong expectations of democratic continuity but a terrible constitution that gave Allende the presidency with 35% of the popular vote, leading to collapse into autocracy.

On the other hand, society wide expectation flips are surprsingly common. I agree that it's weird, but it's true. Autocratic regimes (not leaders) are very shot lived. The oldest autocratic regime today is Saudi Arabia, which became a state around 1920. Even Saudi is currently in a massive consolidation crisis. The CCP is ancient at ~80 years old, and also in a consolidation crisis. Consolidation means the leader is systematically removing competent elites to cement control. When a consolidated leader dies regimes often collapse. Most autocratic states have not had a regime last 30 years. So it seems like the autocats expectation equilibrium would be very stable, but empirically it is quite unstable.

One could argue that the expectation that any regime will keep power is weaker than the expectation that "democracy will backslide into autocracy". I think that's a stretch, but this post is already too long.

rohinmshah's Shortform

I have been doing political betting for a few months and informally compared my success with strategies 1 and 2.

Ex. Predicting the Iranian election

  1. I write down the 10 most important iranian political actors (Khameini, Mojtaza, Raisi, a few opposition leaders, the IRGC commanders). I find a public statement about their prefered outcome, and I estimate their power and salience. So Khameini would be preference = leans Raisi, power = 100, salience = 40. Rouhani would be preference = strong Hemmeti, power = 30, salience = 100. Then I find the weighted average position. It's a bit more complicated because I have to linearize preferences, but yeah.

  2. The two strat is to predict repeated past events. The opposition has one the last three contested elections in surprise victories, so predict the same outcome.

I have found 2 is actually pretty bad. Guess I'm an expert tho.

Assume long serving politicians are rationally maximizing their careers

Yes! That’s exactly what I was suggesting! Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Idea: Give the Nobel peace prize to institution designers

I guess the full picture is some kind of co-evolution of institutions and popular opinion. Institutions channel human ambitions into behavior. Humans can uphold the institutions, or dismantle them, or pervert their intended function from inside. Maybe we need to wait 10 years after the institution was established, to see whether it works as intended.

I think you’re right, non-elite support for democracy is essential. I think elites are status maximizing assholes always and everywhere.

Problem is, no matter what kind of mechanism you set up, it only has a chance to work if a large number of participants are non-assholes. A bad moderator may e.g. censor his political opponents, and you may set up some system where users check his behavior, but what if most users agree actually support that?

I disagree what happened on the US after independence. The founding fathers were assholes, bad moderators who sought illicit advantages. They were checked by governors, voters and legislatures.

In other words, you can design a system where every actor pursues their own interests (is an asshole) but it doesn’t revolve into dictatorship. A longer treatment

For a very simple illustration, imagine you are in a room with 6 others. 6 of you have dollars, and one has a gun with one bullet. There is a Nash equilibrium where each of you give up your dollar and a NEwhere you say “shoot one of us am we’ll kill you”. Both only involve people being “assholes” or selfish. The point is to design a system where being selfish leads to good governance.

Misc. If and when median voters support genocide is a separate question from democracy. Separation of powers is surprisingly bad

Slovakia wound up a flawed democracy or an anocracy, yes. Next door the Czech Republic wound up a full democracy with redistribution.

Assume long serving politicians are rationally maximizing their careers

Yes there are other factors, policy does not explain 100% of political survival. And charisma does help one win popularity contests. You could write a post about it.

Assume long serving politicians are rationally maximizing their careers

GJM’s interpretation is my intended meaning. Specifically I meant Pelosi’s intransigence, Boris’s strategic position changes and fake awkwardness. For khameini I was referencing the nuclear bullshit which is destroying Iran’s economy and obviously a bad deal, but good for his career. As evidence it’s a bad deal, observe that only 1 other country trolls the big five with nukes. But all of this allowed Nancy to stay speaker for years, Boris to go from mayor of London to PM and khameini to rule for 30 years

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