I have often referenced Appendix A of Edward Luttwak’s “Coup D’Etat: A Practical Handbook”. I have previously presented his statistics on coups, but refrained from also copying this appendix because of its use of images. Now I figure I’ll just make some crappy MSPaint imitations, since the text is more important. In the original, currency is denominated in pounds, but since the actual amounts don’t matter and I have an American keyboard, I will use dollar symbols. Enjoy!
The Economics of Repression
Once we have carried out our coup and established control over the bureaucracy and armed forces, our long-term political survival will largely depend on our management of the problem of economic development. Economic development is generally regarded as a ‘good thing’ and almost everybody wants more of it, but for us – the newly-established government of X-land – the pursuit of economic development will be undesirable, since it militates against our main goal: political stability.
An economy develops by extending and improving its stock of human and physical capital and this requires investment, whether to train people or to build factories. In order to invest, current income has to be withdrawn from would-be consumers and channeled away to create capital. Clearly, the higher the rate of investment the faster will be the development of the economy, but also the lower the present standard of living. The governments of economically backward countries – where the need for development is manifest – are therefore faced with the alternative of either slow economic development or further reduction of the already desperately low standard of living. The more that can be taxed from current incomes, the nearer will be the beautiful dawn of prosperity – even if it is the prosperity of Spain or Greece rather than that of Western Europe or North America. But there are limits to the amount of saving that can be forced out of a population whose annual income per head is already very low: there is an economic survival limit below which the population – or a large part of it – would simply starve (or retreat into the pure subsistence economy), but well before this point is reached, there is a political survival limit below which we, as the government would be overthrown. The economic survival limit is more or less rigid: in any particular environment with a given climate, pattern of nutrition, habits and traditions, there will be a minimum annual income which an inhabitant of average resourcefulness will need to satisfy his and his family’s bodily needs. The ‘political survival limit’ is, however, very flexible and it will depend on psychological, historical and social factors, but also on the efficiency of the system of state security and of the propaganda machine.
The problem is particularly acute in the newly-independent states of the ‘Third World’. The colonial regimes may or may not have tried to achieve economic development, but if they did try it was without the urgency which the new post-colonial regimes try to achieve. Immediately after independence, therefore, instead of the increase in the standard of living which the native population had been led to expect, the opposite takes place. The new ‘independence’ government has to increase taxes and import duties in order to finance the great projects with which economic development often starts: dams, road systems, steel mills and harbours. Foreign aid, which many in the ‘donor’ countries have been led to believe to be very substantial*, only contributes a fraction of the necessary funds. Most of the money has to come out of current incomes so that, instead of ‘having cars like the whites’, the level of consumption actually falls. This impoverishment of those who are already very poor indeed is not easily tolerated – especially when the mechanism of expectations has been built up.
*Foreign aid has been falling as a percentage of GNP in the developed countries in the last few years.
Our basic problem therefore, is to achieve economic development – in order to satisfy the aspirations of the elite and would-be elite* – without taxing the masses beyond the politically safe limit, which could lead to their revolt. There are two main instruments wiht which we can persuade the masses to accept the sacrifice of present consumption for the sake of an increased future income: propaganda and repression** or, more efficiently, by a mixture of both. Imagine, therefore, that we have inherited a country with a backward economy whose vital statistics are those shown in Table 16.
*For the elite, economic development subsumes the national goal of modernization with the personal goal of expanded career opportunities. For the new generation of educated citizens (the would-be elite) economic development is a guarantee of employment – and the unemployed intelligentsia is a major threat to many regimes in the ‘Third World’.
**By propaganda is meant the whole range of activities whose content is information or entertainment and whose function, in this case, is (a) to distract attention from present hardship, (b) to justify it in terms of assured future happiness. This may or may not involve the presentation of the outside world as even less well off, but it will almost certainly present the past standard of living as much inferior. An equally important aim of propaganda will be to persuade the masses that the present leadership is the most efficient vehicle of modernization; this can be done in rational terms by using statistical images, or by irrational ones which present the leadership as super-human. By repression is meant the whole range of political police activities which aim at: (a) suppressing individual political activity by surveillance and imprisonment, (b) intimidatin the masses by displays of force, and (c) preventing the circulation of rival information by controlling the media and inhibiting public discussion.
TABLE 16. National Accounts Data, Country X. (Assumed egalitarian distribution)
Annual GNP per head
$100 … Present actual level of income in pounds per inhabitant
$90 … Level of taxation accepted in the past (i.e net income left after tax)
$45 … Economic survival limit
Thus, in the past, in this poor (but not particularly poor) country the gross national product per head was $100 per year, and of this $10 was paid out in various taxes while $90 was spent on current consumption, or saved. Now we know that only $45 per inhabitant per year is needed for economic survival, and the problem is to get hold of some of the difference in order to finance development – and to do so without being overthrown. If we simply increase taxes the chances are that part of the population will refuse to pay them, and if administrative methods are used in order to enforce payment a violent reaction may ensure. We will therefore divert some of the modest tax payments received now ($10 in the diagram) from other uses, and spend it on propaganda and the police. This may well result in the situation shown in Table 17.
TABLE 16. National Accounts Data, Country X. (After propaganda and police)
Annual GNP per head
$100 … Present actual level of income in pounds per inhabitant
$80 … Level of taxation accepted after, say, $1 per head per year has been spent on propaganda and police
$45 … Economic survival limit
In the new situation, then, our sums work out as in Table 18.
TABLE 18. National Accounts Data, Country X. (Funds available for development)
|Before||Expenditures on propaganda and repression)||After|
|$100||GNP per head per year||$100|
|$55||Less $45 per year needed for ‘survival’||$55|
|$0||Less money spent on propaganda and repression||$10|
|$0||Net funds available for development||$19|
Thus by spending $1 per man per year on propaganda and an inefficient police system, we have lowered the political survival limit by $10, and after deducting the amount spend on the system of repression and persuasion we still have $19 left. If we spend another $1 per man per year the chances are that we will be able to ‘liberate’ some more of the possible margin above the survival limit, but as we spend more and more money on repression we are likely to find that it will lower the safety limit by less and less (see Figure 10). And, of course, as we spend more and more on the police and propaganda we will find that while the first extra $10 of taxes costs us $1 to obtain with safety, the next $10 will cost, say, $2. Eventually the point is reached where (as shown in Figure 10) further expenditure brings us no increase in taxation at all. At that point we spend an extra $1 per year and get no increase at all in the taxes which can safely be collected. Well before that point is reached, however, there will be an earlier stage when we will spend, say, and extra $1 on repression and persuasion and get exactly the same sum in further taxes. Immediately before that point is the maximum efficiency level of expenditure on the police and propaganda machine.
[Table 10, which I may produce an imitation of later, shows the pounds per capita in taxation as a logistic curve increasing with expenditure on propaganda and repression. It plateaus at the theoretical maximum of the economic survival limit]
Maximum Safety and Zero Economic Development
This is the formula which Duvalier has applied in Haiti with increasing thoroughness since his rise to power. Taxation, which is heavy for a country with an annual income per head of about $30, is spend almost entirely on the army, the ‘police’ (The Ton Ton Macoutes) and on propaganda. The only major economic development project is of doubtful value: the building of a new capital, ‘Duvalierville’, which, in any case, has now been suspended.
[Table 11, which I may create an imitation of later, depicts “The Duvalier Formula” where political security = maximum economic development = zero. A minimum subsistence level of income per capita combined with a quite small margin of income above minimal subsistence make up disposable income. The rest is taxation distribution among (in order) Ton Ton Macouts, Army, Propaganda, (Duvalierville palaces etc.), Health/Education and lastly Development]
The Duvalier mix of efficient repression, massive propaganda and no development investment has paid off; he has been in power continuously since September 1957, and his regime still appears to be more stable than that of most Latin American countries. The Ton Ton Macoutes operate as a semi-public presidential guard which carries out police and security functions, and they supplement their (generous) salaries by private exactions from what is left of the business sector. The propaganda machine, which involves ceremonial parades, laudatory films and the projection of ‘Papa Doc’ as a Voodoo expert, is almost as expensive to run as the Ton Ton Macoutes, but equally useful. The extreme poverty of the population means that their level of political awareness and even vitality is extremely low; the Ton Ton Macoutes terorize the thin elite and the army officers – who are constantly watched – and the Ton Ton themselves rely on Duvalier because their position depends on his survival; the Voodoo mythology and the propaganda machine have deified the man whom the Ton Ton defend, and if Duvalier should disappear from the scene the army and/or the masses would quickly liquidate the Ton Ton.
Kwame N’krumah of Ghana, and many other African leaders now dead, in prison or in exile, have followed a policy of high taxation and investment associated with clearly insufficient propaganda and repression effort. N’krumah in spite of his eccentricities, was largely defeated by his own success: the by-product of the considerable economic development achieved by Ghana was to stimulate and educate the masses and the new elite, their attitude to N’krumah’s regime becoming more and more critical in the light of the education which the regime itself provided. When this happens, more and more repression and propaganda are needed to maintain political stabiility and, in spite of considerable efforts, N’krumah was unable to build a sufficiently ruthless police system. The cause of his downfall was not, therefore, the mismanagement of the economy – which was considerable – but rather the success of much of the development effort.
The middle way, efficient repression, extensive propaganda and enough economic development to create new elites committed to the regime, has been followed successfully in both the Soviet Union and China; the regimes of both countries have, however, used different blends of repression and propaganda. The two are interchangeable up to a point, but the nature of the most efficient mixture will depend on the particular country, and local conditions will dictate the most appropriate mixture.