Always make it clear that you are acting out of the goodness of your own heart, not under pressure from the opposition

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

Commenter Dwarkesh proposes this hypothetical to Bryan Caplin:

If I’ve inherited control of a traumatized dictatorship, and I want to turn it into a capitalist liberal democracy, how should I go about reforming things without causing things to fall apart like they did in the Soviet Union or Iraq?

Caplin offers his best guess:

Consider it a recipe, not an endorsement.

Step 1: Purge known hard-liners en masse, without warning, Godfather style.

Step 2: Swiftly liberalize the economy and civil society from this position of strength, while unequivocally affirming your monopoly on political power.

Step 3: During the same period, open up your society to foreign business, tourism, media, NGOs, etc.

Step 4: Once you’ve had 4–6 years of strong economic growth and rising international prestige, slowly relax your monopoly on power. Always make it clear that you are acting out of the goodness of your own heart, not under pressure from the opposition.

Step 5: After 15–20 years, you’re ready for your first competitive national election. Put strong post-reform protection for your supporters into the constitution so they aren’t tempted to derail your plan.


  1. Bomag says:

    “I want to turn it into a capitalist liberal democracy”

    He wants to sterilize the women and demoralize the men? He wants to demographically replace the current population? He wants to valorize under-performing minorities?

    I guess social engineers like to think up ways to destroy things even faster.

  2. LGC says:

    This person is not too bright. NEVER invite NGO’s anywhere but ummmm big cliffs. Grifters.

    I agree with Bomag, this sounds like a way to ruin your nation.

  3. Allen says:

    How many political purges have been conducted by people willing to give up power?

  4. Harry Jones says:

    I would start by asking the question that would never occur to a wonkhead: how did this situation come to pass in the first place?

    To direct the future, understand the present. To understand the present, know the past.

    The difficulty: all too often in disastrous situations, the past is secret. You will have to play detective.

  5. bruce says:

    1) Pinochet purged the other side’s hardliners. I think Caplan’s instinct is to betray his own side.
    2) Pinochet more or less listened to Milton Friedman on economics.
    3) Pinochet was business-friendly. NGOs?
    4,5) Pinochet, unlike the Castro brothers, eventually allowed real elections and left power. Ortega eventually allowed real elections and accepted a loss also, though after enough US pressure that he’d armed the people against invasion, making fake elections more risky.

  6. Altitude Zero says:

    Anyone who askes for Caplan’s advice on anything deserves whatever they get. He’s an open-borders fanatic, a pacifist, a market fundamentalist, a total free-trader – he’s a human weapon of mass destruction, his books and policy papers should be air-dropped over any country or regime we want to destroy. To say that Bomag is right is an understatement.

  7. Kirk says:

    Any time you’ve got a situation such as that described in this post, you’re looking at something that simply isn’t amenable to a cookbook cookie-cutter approach. Every path upwards is going to be messy and different.

    The South Koreans looked at “fixing” North Korea, and decided that it was going to be too damn expensive, and probably essentially impossible to fix. That’s why the “Unification Ministry” was more-or-less shut down and re-purposed.

    Once a population has gone nutters enough to let the left-wing fanatics take charge, it’s likely to be unable to return to the status-quo. Look at how long Franco had to take, in order to suppress the nutters, and what happened the minute he died? They started their return march.

    The basic issue is that humans are, as a group, fundamentally insane. Individuals can demonstrate sanity, but in groups, we tend to listen to those siren calls of “It ain’t fair…”, and “We can make this right…”, which are the fundamental theses of the Left. Never mind that they’ve never once managed it, or that they’re really just con men seeking to swap out power blocks with the current, supposedly “corrupt and unfair” governing elites… Who, by the time they’re actually vulnerable to such antics, are usually incompetent and venal.

    It’s all part of the dance of history since time immemorial. The Gracchi brothers were the Roman version of Trump, and his fate shows we’re probably about as far from America Impericus as they were from Caesar. Healthy polities don’t do histrionics like this, and the fact that the Democrats haven’t been laughed off the political stage by a knowing electorate just points to the fact that most of said electorate is stone ignorant of history, and mostly dumb as posts. A state of affairs greatly aided by the capture of the media and educational establishments by the permanent insurgency of the Left…

    I can’t even get upset about it, any more. It was simply my misfortune to be born in the era I was, and to have to live through this BS. A pox on all of their houses, and I devoutly hope that the majority of those houses cave in on the assholes.

  8. VXXC says:

    Is there anyone else you want to put up today besides Caplan, Isegoria?

    Caplan is a Nihilist who sits in Mom’s basement plotting the demise of all. No matter where he is, he’ll never leave Mom’s basement.

    Mom being in the root cellar, and Norman Bates Caplan has lots of talks with her…yes…

    NGO’s, oh holy fux.

  9. Wang Wei Lin says:

    To have a civil government you first need an existing civil society which requires people of virtue. Totalitarian societies do not produce people of virtue. So to a recipe like Caplan’s has no connection to reality.

    I did a thought experiment decades ago by asking myself where would I rather live than the US. I consistently chose Western civilized countries. Thinking I had a bias toward white societies I then excluded all of Western civilization. Now with rather limited choices the only place I could settle on was Japan. Why Japan? Clean, neat, civilized, etc. I doubt would have chosen Imperial Japan, but modern Japan yes. Again, why? Since WW2 Japan has been consistently exposed to Western thought.

    My conclusion was that any society consistently exposed to Western thought and Greco-Judeo-Christian philosophy will become a more civil society. These are the best places to live.

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