On February 10, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, professor of Political Science at New York University, presented the models of his latest book, “The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics.”
“It takes very few variables to understand what goes on in the world of politics,” Bueno de Mesquita told the standing room-only crowd in the Sadler Center, before examining both current and historical cases in which authoritarian rulers used foreign and domestic policy tools to maintain their power.
Bueno de Mesquita, whose research interests include international conflict, foreign policy formation, and peace processes, is well-known and controversial within political science for using formal models and statistical methods to predict political outcomes.
He is one of several authors of the “Selectorate Theory,” or the idea that in any state there exists a population known as the Selectorate, and a population known as the Winning Coalition. According to the theory, a political leader will retain the most strength in an autocracy in which the Selectorate is large and the Winning Coalition is small.
“When I started out there was great resistance to the idea that mathematics could be used to help understand politics,” Bueno de Mesquita said. “I found early in my career that people were willing to assume an argument was wrong simply if it assumed decision makers are rationally self-interested. Fortunately that is less true today.”
After speaking for more than an hour, Bueno de Mesquita took questions from the audience as wide-ranging as why dictators may make decisions that benefit the general population, his opinion on sanctions on Iran, and what he believes might be causing increased partisanship in America. Later he signed copies of his recent books.
This event was sponsored by the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations (ITPIR), the Government Department, and the Reves Center for International Studies.