For Dictators, Neither Carrots nor Sticks
Changes in economic relationships simply don't have much effect on already wealthy despots. Just like the honey badger, they do what they want.
Can economic relationships affect a dictator? Seven years ago, I wrote an article from Damascus about how the European Union was trying to cultivate economic ties with Syria, a country that the United States had labeled a state sponsor of terrorism. Today, those efforts seem to have been futile. But were they worth a try?
Back then, the EU was all warm and fuzzy about Syria. Its director-general of foreign aid said that Syria was "already an active partner of our ring of friends." Referring to Syria and other volatile countries in the Mediterranean, the European Commission's representative in Damascus told me, "They are neighbors, so we have to care for them."
So much for caring. The EU's trade with Syria - and with Libya - has clearly done nothing to quench the ruthless thirst for power that led those countries' dictators to pile up the bodies of their people. On the other hand, the sanctions that the United States has applied to rogue states haven't been particularly effective, either. They've punished despotic elites (except when the elites have found ways around them, as Saddam Hussein did), but they've also punished regular citizens.
In fact, economic relationships are a double-edged sword whichever way you wield them. If you try to make them grow, then you'll help the rank and file citizens but also allow the dictators to enrich themselves. If you cut them off, then you'll deny the dictators some creature comforts but also damage the livelihoods of the rank and file. At best, sanctions are a very blunt instrument.
They're not the only economic instrument, though. This past week, Owen Barder and Kim Elliott of the Center for Global Development proposed another way to overturn authoritarian regimes: once a regime is declared "illegitimate" by the United Nations, declare that no new contracts it signs will be honored in court. The idea is that dictators won't be able to buy more guns and supplies, and new governments that succeed them won't be encumbered by their debts. There's just one problem with this idea, though; it does not change one bit the incentives of a dictator with cash on hand, or one who deals with countries unlikely to declare its contracts illegitimate. Would Russia, Syria's main arms supplier, refuse to honor its contracts with the Syrian government? Come on now!
But perhaps this omission by the folks at CGD was simply an acknowledgment of what we should have already learned by now: changes in economic relationships simply don't have much effect on already wealthy despots. Just like the honey badger, they do what they want.
Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!
As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.
"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.
- Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
- His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
- All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
We're talking Ghost in the Shell type of stuff.
Maybe you watched Ghost in the Shell and maybe afterwards you and your friend had a conversation about whether or not you would opt in for some bionic upgrades if that was possible - like a liver that could let you drink unlimitedly or an eye that could give you superhuman vision. And maybe you had differing opinions but you concluded that it's irrelevant because the time to make such choices is far in the future. Well, it turns out, it's two years away.
- A forensic artist in Scotland has made a hyper realistic model of an ancient dog.
- It was based on the skull of a dog dug up in Orkney, Scotland, which lived and died 4,000 years ago.
- The model gives us a glimpse of some of the first dogs humans befriended.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.