Are autocratic successors less fierce?

Hypothesis A: Successors to tyrants will be less fierce, because tyrants themselves fear fierce wanna-bee underlings. 

Hypothesis B: Hereditary monarchy does not breed for love of power, therefore successors will become less fierce than the first usurper monarch.  Bryan Caplan attributes this view to Gordon Tullock.

Hypothesis C: Any method of orderly succession is better than recurring contests for national leadership.

Hypothesis D: Over time orderly succession becomes difficult to maintain, given the lack of fierceness of the rulers.

Hypothesis E: If you can prevent repeated coup d’etats, you are on your way toward economic growth.


Here is a Jonathan Klick paper on autocracy.  Here is a Daniel Sutter piece on the transition from autocracy.  Here is another painting by Neo Rauch.



If your peaceful tribe is repeatedly being ransacked by a group of nomads,
it is better to pay them 'protection taxes' so that they get the same benefit
without causing carnage. It's even better to give their leader a sanctified title,
king, prince, etc. to make sure he has a legalized stake in this tax agreement and
protects your tribe from the ransacking by other nomads.

Thieves, not saints, become kings. And the most brutal are given the highest honours.

What are those Rauch paintings?

1. Ask any Roman whether king #7 was better or worse than king #1. or for that matter, how Nero compares to Augustus.

2. Let's add Hypothesis F: Hereditary monarchies practice inbreeding, which leads not to love of power per se but to insanity. Insanity may lead to unpredictable and destructive acts of violence, which are likely to be worse for the people and for economic growth than the rational, Machiavellian fierceness of the original usurper/tyrant.

3. As a corollary, your best hope for economic growth is that your autocratic rulers' particular insanity involves colonics, astrology, sexual affairs, and peculiar beliefs about architecture rather than rape, murder, and appointing their favorite horses as Senators and/or gods.

4. There is a counterargument that the average horse is smarter and better qualified for public office than the average U.S. Senator, but this is beyond the scope of this thread.

I think it depends on their political backing. The first autocrat was likely someone who gained that power and had some real strong reputation. Mugabe had a strong reputation when he first took power, as a liberator from colonial rule. Mao also had massive reputation as a fighter against Japan. Castro has a great reputation as a liberator from the military dictatorship and foreign control. The successor probably is a bit more tame because he does not enjoy the strong reputation of his predecessor. However, as we have seen from Kim Jong Il they can still be quite inept at ruling.


Great to see a collection of blog posts that includes thoughtful and perceptive commentary.Keep up the great work .

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