Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hierarchies and Spontaneous Orders in The Dictator

Yesterday I watched The Dictator. I especially recommend it to Hayekians who understand the difference between organizational hierarchies and scale-free spontaneous orders, because the differences between the two are pointed out in both.

The dictator of The Dictator, Aladeen, is a despotic ruler over an oil-rich poor north African country. His is a top-heavy Big Man dictatorship, and he is pursuing policies that benefit his ego, but harm the country. Of course, his hierarchical structure is ineffective at all levels, in no small part because such a structure is ineffective at such large scales. Big Man leadership does not scale to the size of countries.

But democracy is not the answer to everything, either. The shop owner, Zoey, believes she can run her store on democratic principles. The result is a store that is a mess, in which nobody respects her or the well-being of the store itself, resulting in inefficencies and theft. When Aladeen convinces her to put him in charge -- and if we ignore the absurd ways he gets people to fall in line that are played up for comic purposes -- we see that the imposition of an organizational hierarchy results in a clean, well-organized, well-managed business. But this, of course, is precisely the level at which such a network structure is appropriate. And it is also the level at which scale-free network strucutres are not appropriate.

At the end, when Aladeen tears up the new constitution, he gives a speech celebrating dictatorship, saying if America had a dictatorship, they could bail out banking cronies, etc. It was a list of every questionable thing the U.S. government has done over the past decade. However, if you are going to mistakenly believe that this means there is no real difference between democracy and dictatorship, the film twists you in another direction. Yes, government is government in many ways, but if you're going to have one, democracy is the better kind. Not, of course, that Wadiya will ever get one . . .

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