Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Iron Law of Oligarchy

The Iron Law of Oligarchy was proposed by German sociologist Robert Michaels and the essential argument is that oligarchies (and really all hierarchical organizations) will reproduce themselves not only when the same group is in power, but even when an entirely new group takes control.

The democracy crisis outlined in my previous post may provide a perfect test for the Iron Law of Oligarchy.

Africa is notorious for having backward political and economic institutions that benefit the elite and their highly connected friends. All of the leaders outlined in my previous posts threw off oligarch rulers with promises of reforms, but once they took control of the country, they engaged in many of the same behaviors of their predecessors.

Much of the blame for this behavior, I feel lies with the weak political and economic institutions. Fixing broken institutions requires an “iron will.” There’s virtually no political will to engage in the building stronger institutions because that would mean sharing the wealth and inciting a rebellion from elites who benefited from the old system.

Even I must lament sadly: “Why risk a potentially deadly coup attempt when you can just sit back and grow fantastically wealthy”? At least until your deposed by your military or the people in a popular uprising.

 I’m not sure whether Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Wade in Senegal, or Kabila in the Congo were ever interested in instituting reforms. I’ll leave that to more seasoned Africa experts.

But the hope of reform these men once embodied is often swallowed by the materialist greed of the law of oligarchy particularly in Africa.

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