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Mark Kolarik

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If YOU were to become your country's BENEVOLENT AUTOCRACY, what would you do with your economy? Social services? Military? Infrastructure?

I am imagining a premise where there is no check on your executive power, except the natural restrictions imposed by your country being a part of a finite world with other autonomous countries with their own leaders. Imagine yourself as your country's Fairy God Governor, if you will.

How would you approach executing the duties of you new position?

What standard of living would you provide for yourself (given that you can have anything you want)?

What would be your top priorities?

What you would do if you were in a position to cheerfully and benevolently affect the course of your country and/or your people, how would you do it (or try to do it)?

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  • Apr 5 2012: I would argue that a (single) parent tries to be or effectively becomes a benevolent dictator to his/her kids.

    A child's opinions may be kept in mind when decisions are made, but the decision is in no way the child's. However, the parent conducts their parenting with the best interest of the child in mind.

    This is what I am meaning in my premise that benevolent dictators can exist. If there were to be a benevolent dictator of a country, how would it act?

    Due to a variety of semantic issues, let's call the ruler in this case a "Fairy God Governor."
  • Apr 4 2012: Krisztián Pintér – (I was unable to respond directly to your last comment that starts with “you cannot measure the group as a whole,” so I am writing it here):

    You are correct that an individual’s emotions about whether they like or don’t like something are not quantifiable, but if they explicitly say that they don’t mind, or that they like, or that they don’t like something, then those answers can be quantified by taking a poll of the group as a whole and relying on their answers. Their answers would be their honest answers and not ones given to them by a dictator.

    Maybe the term benevolent monarch would sit better with you than dictator.

    What I’m trying to get at with seeking Pareto improvements group-wide is finding areas of consensus. If you can get more and more people to agree about any idea as you refine it, then you are improving the idea about which they are agreeing until the point where someone disagrees with the most recent revision that was made.

    If you take a group consensus and get the maximum number you can to agree until anyone disagrees, then find ways for people who once disagreed to become neutral about the idea (while maintaining the people who were positive about the idea), then you have real Pareto efficiency up to that point in the process because all improvements/refinements were made such that people are neutral or positive about the changes.

    At that point, you have identified a revision of the idea that makes the maximum number of people happy or neutral AND the minimum number of people who are unhappy about the idea. When you have identified who is unhappy about the idea and why they disagree, the discussion toward reconciliation can be furthered.

    If a person is charged with being the mediator in a process like this and they then have the power to find the solution that the maximum number of people can support and implement the results, over any potential additional objections, then I would say that the person is a benevolent ruler.
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      Apr 5 2012: we are running in circles. my response to that was:

      if the guy agrees to the action, it is not dicatorship. not even monarchy. whatever you call it. it is just counseling.

      so make up your mind, and choose:

      if any person in the country disagrees with the dictator's judgment, what do you propose:

      force him, or let him dissent?
      • Apr 5 2012: You are missing what I am saying and you're getting bogged down by the term "dictator" or "monarch." The point is that the idea/policy/agreement would be implemented at the discretion of the ruler with no check on the ruler's power to implement it (That's the definition of dictator, by the way: that the ruler dictates what happens). I'm proposing the idea of a benevolent dictator because the dictator (who decdes what ideas/policies/agreement will be implemented or enforced) is implementing ideas that have a maximum amount of support.

        All dissenters may dissent freely, but the point is that the minimum number of people would want to dissent because through the process I outlined - the maximum number of people would be happy or neutral and the minimum number would dissent. If, in the real world, complete agreement cannot occur among a large group, does it not make sense to seek out the best idea/agreement possible? Whatever that idea is or ends up being would be implemented over any objections (at the dictator/ruler's orders) because applying the agreement to the country would be in its best interest. BUT the determination of what is best for the country is done objectively because of the process which lead to coming up with the refined idea (that idea where the maximun number support or are indifferent, and the minimum number disagree). Quantifying opinions, finding a best idea with the most support and the smallest amount of dissenting opinion, and then implementing that idea.

        You're stuck on what to call it. Call it the Easter Bunny if you want. What's in a name? I'm pointing you to an idea; not a name. If you really want to know why I chose "dictator" as a term initially, it is partly because dictators can do whatever they want, Dictators don't necessarily pass on a hereditery title (like monarchies do), and they aren't necessarily voted into office (as presidents are).

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benevolent_dictatorship
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          Apr 5 2012: listen, you need to clean your terminology. if dissent is possible, and only hoped to be minimal, it is NOT a dictatorship of any kind.

          i'm NOT dwelling on the name. you did. my point is from the beginning:

          if a ruler enforces his decisions on others against their will, it is not benevolent.

          if the ruler does not enforce decisions, it is not ruling, not dictate. it is just pure benevolence.

          benevolence and dictatorship are contradictory with each other.

          we can make a decision based on intent. there can be dictatorships with the dictator having good intent. i don't think it ever existed, but theoretically possible. but his rule is in fact malevolent. such a ruler is delusional, and probably accumulates a lot of anger, as he encounters disagreement to his wonderful ideas.

          actually, i would go so far to say that evil dictators are better. they just want to serve themselves, and leave others alone when they don't mean any threat to him. but a self-proclaimed benevolent dictator will try to control every aspect of our lives, for our own good, allegedly.
  • Apr 4 2012: We seem to have gotton away from the main question, which is not "are there such things as benevolent dictatorships?"

    The question is, if you were a benevolent dictator, how would you conduct your reign?
  • Apr 4 2012: How about Kaldor-Hicks Efficiency?:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaldor%E2%80%93Hicks_efficiency

    These methods can be used to determine if an improvement is actually a Pareto one.
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      Apr 4 2012: that think is an overcomplication of things. it is as easy as considering the case not as two-party but rather 3-party or N-party transaction. A, B and C come together, and agree on this: A produces iron bars, and give it to B, B gives money to A, and A gives money to C to compensate for the pollution on his gardens. it is still a voluntary cooperation between people.

      on the other hand, if a dictator uses such reasoning to compensate C who does not agree with it, it is not any better than any other dictator-ish behavior. C is worse off according to his own valuations.

      dropping in more and more factors won't make understanding easier. on the contrary, it will just muddy the waters until finally nobody will be able to follow the logic, and the dictator can claim victory.
      • Apr 4 2012: I prefer using the Pareto improvement-seeking scenario to the Kaldor-Hicks idea specifically because it has less tolerance for non-favorable results. Inherently, Pareto improvements would not meet resistance because it is N-party neutral or positive. Making all non-controversial Pareto improvements where everyone agrees is a place to start and when people start grumbling about changes is a place to stop.

        You are right about the K-H model in that it can lead to "dictator-ish behavior," however with true K-H actions, the system as a whole would at least be more efficient. I'm merely saying that to contrast it from true dictatorships which are usually not ultra-efficient. Although they can be, such efficiencies rarely last a long time.

        Good points :) Out of curiosity, suppose a group of people made a compromise such that each person in the group gets less than they want of something they individually desire, but that in return they all get something else that is equally beneficial to them, as each individual sees it. If you were a part of that group, would you consider yourself to be worse off under the compromise (since you are giving up something that you want) or neutral/better off (since you are being compensated in some way, albiet in a different form)?
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          Apr 4 2012: you can not measure the system as a whole. if person C disagrees to the dictator's decision, it means he is worse off, even if the dictator thinks (or claims) he is better off.

          because better or worse can not be measured. it can only be felt. only i can know what is better for me from two options. and even i can not tell in general, only in a certain situation, at a point in time.

          about that last question: probably i didn't understand, because the answer is already in the initial conditions. you said that what i give up and what i get are equally good for me. so the answer is this: i don't care since they are equally good for me. i'm neutral to that change.
  • Apr 4 2012: My mom packed me a ham sandwich for lunch but I don't like ham; my friend's mom packed her a turkey sandwich for lunch, and she likes turkey and ham sandwiches equally well. Nobody else cares what we eat for lunch.

    My friend and I trade sandwiches; I am better off than I was before, and nobody is worse off. This is an example of a Pareto improvement.

    So if a governor has a place in a society, because he can see more comprehensively what and where resources are allocated, why is it a stretch to have an overall manager of the society who is on the lookout for all things that can benefit his nation/people?

    We may only be talking theoretical here, since dictatorships aren't benevolent, but Let's talk the theory and see if we can apply it to real life. Or at least, see if any theoretical solutions can be applied to nations.
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      Apr 4 2012: people disagree in what is good. a certain individual either agrees to the dictator, in which case it is not dictating. or he does not, in which case he will be worse off according to his own valuations.

      voluntary transactions differ exactly in this. the decision makers are the ones that are affected. they both want it to happen, or it would not happen.
      • Apr 4 2012: (I'm also posting this part here, in case anyone else reads this exchange)

        Suppose a group of people made a compromise such that each person in the group gets less than they want of something they individually desire, but that in return they all get something else that is equally beneficial to them, as each individual sees it. If you were a part of that group, would you consider yourself to be worse off under the compromise (since you are giving up something that you want) or neutral/better off (since you are being compensated in some way, albiet in a different form)?
        ___________________________________

        If any members of the group consider the agreement to be neutral as far as they're concerned, one can consider them as effectively obstaining from the agreement - they don't care either way, or else they wouldn't be neutral about it.

        If this idea were ever to be applied to the real world in seeking a censensus about whether an improvement is positive (or is at all negative), the procedure to find Pareto improvements seems to be to make as many people as possible into neutral parties.

        This would accomplish 2 things: 1) It would minimize waste due to any mis-allocations, which is important in the real world; and 2) It would allow the group to get closer to finding areas of non-agreement that remain to be solved, which is important in order to find a consensus in the first place. Through this collaborative process, accords can be made and partnerships can become lasting.
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    Apr 4 2012: there is no such thing as benevolent dictator. dictating in itself is malevolent. because if people agree with me, i don't need to dictate, i just recommend. if they disagree, forcing them to do it anyway is malevolent.
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    Apr 4 2012: You gotta love that word "if". I spent three years observing a benevolent dictator by the name of Francisco Franco. Personally I thought he was quite benevolent because he despised communism and made his country available to the Free World for military, anti-Soviet purposes. However, there were many of his countrymen who, given the opportunity for candor with no threat of retaliation, would have said he was a malevolent dictator. Benevolent dictator is an oxymoron because benevolence, or malevolence, is in the mind of the beholder. But, to play your hypothetical game, I would let them eat cake and I would get busy accumulating massive personal wealth and go to an early grave due to a few glorious years of raging hedonism! Who wouldn't? Power corrupts.
    • Apr 4 2012: You're absolutely right about it being in the eye of the beholder, but since the beholders in your case (save for Franco himself) truthfully did not agree that he was benevolent, I would argue that he was not a benevolent dictator and so isn’t a qualifying character.

      “If” may indeed be the biggest word in the whole premise of my question, but let me illustrate it a different way. There is something called a Pareto improvement, which could be a guide in determining what actions are actually “benevolent” ones, given that the eye of the beholder may change:

      “In a Pareto efficient economic system no allocation of given goods can be made without making at least one individual worse off. Given an initial allocation of goods among a set of individuals, a change to a different allocation that makes at least one individual better off without making any other individual worse off is called a Pareto improvement. An allocation is defined as "Pareto efficient" or "Pareto optimal" when no further Pareto improvements can be made.” – Wikipedia (good enough for these purposes)

      Benevolent, in this case, means providing all with good and none with bad, although some may wish they were receiving more of the good that they are. In that case, everyone is as well off as they can be without harming others. A case can easily be made here that all people under this construct would view the actions of the dictator as being benevolent because all are helped, at least some.

      To me, a benevolent dictator would make a country that is Pareto efficient, with the only shortcomings in Pareto efficiency being those required to sustain the country, like be able to protect its borders from plunder, secure resources necessary for it, and that which is required for maintaining the effectiveness of Pareto improvement “administration,” if you will.

      How would you Pareto-improve your world?
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        Apr 5 2012: What, are you kidding me? Pareto, schmareto. Franco, Mussolini, Amin, Pol Pot, Hitler, Hussein (Sadam, not Barak), etc. prove the rule for dictator behaviour. Unchecked, absolute power allows one man to pursue his personal agenda with complete disregard for all else. Opponents are made to disappear and the illusion of unanimous popular appreciation for the leader's benevolence is complete. Again, power corrupts.QUOTE: "Power will intoxicate the best hearts, as wine the strongest heads. No man is wise enough, or good enough to be trusted with unlimited power." -- Charles Caleb Colton.
        • Apr 5 2012: You are right about the people on that list and that their actions exemplify dictatorial behavior.

          However, if every TED listener/contributor stopped discussing possibilities because they didn’t see them in the real world, TED would stop existing very quickly.

          I’m not asking what a normal dictator would do, I’m asking what people would do if they were in a position to cheerfully and benevolently affect the course of their country or their people, how would they do it (or try to do it)? The difference between a normal dictator and a benevolent dictator is who the dictator is trying to help – himself or his people.

          You’re also right that power corrupts, but it doesn’t corrupt immediately. Imagine an elementary school teacher who would teach, even with a crappy salary and facing budget cuts, because they want to benevolently educate kids and help them be excited for life and learning. Imagine that the person loves his students and wishes them the absolute best, and that he wishes to be loved in return. Now imagine that same teacher being thrust into a position where they become a ruler overnight and they have the powers of a dictator. What would that teacher do on his first day before power corrupts? First week? Month? Year?

          I’m not talking about a ruler who maintains the appearance of benevolence or having the support of his people, as observed from the outside. I’m talking about a ruler whose people love and admire and support freely, to the maximum extent possible. Theoretical as that ruler may be, I’m trying to have a discussion about how a benevolent dictatorship would work if it could. I don’t want to stop at “it can’t work,” I want to pursue “what is the closest approximation to it that we can think of and how would that operate?”
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        Apr 5 2012: Now we have entered the world of semantics. There is a set of behaviours associated with a dictator. The word has an established meaning. You are trying to use the word dictator to talk about something which bears no resemblance to the established description of a dictator. Coin a new word Mark, dictator is taken.
        • Apr 5 2012: When searching Google for the term "Benevolent Dictator," the idea I am talking about comes up repeatedly. To me, that indicates that the term exists and is, in fact, a valid one to use to describe what I am talking about. "Benevolent Dictator" denotes a ruler who retains all government power and uses his power to benefit all, but you are reacting to the connotation of only half of that term (because dictators often abuse their power and only look out for themselves).

          But, if changing the name gets us past semantics, then by all means, let's call the position a "Fairy God Governor." Arguing semantics is the last thing I wanted in posing my question, but it seems to be all that people can focus on.

          Pardon me for getting a bit snarky, I have been trying to get past semantics for a full day now and all I am trying to do is find out how people would run their country if they honestly had the best for their country at heart and they had the power to do what they wanted with, by, and for the country.
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        Apr 5 2012: No worries Mark. Snarkiness is benign. I view things through the lens of personal experience and my personal experience is that I would never call an altruistic leader (if there were such a person) a dictator, benevolent or not. Thanks for your idea. Don't give up because this is a good place to have your ideas evaluated without being vilified.
        • Apr 5 2012: Your point is well-taken, as was Krisztián's. The term of dictator is too charged to accurately convey what I mean. I have since changed the initial question to be regarding a benevolent autocracy, as opposed to a dictatorship. It is more precise a term for these purposes. Thanks for adding to the discussion.