The Dictator Fallacy

Nearly everyone pretends, at some point, that they can design laws and
programs that manage human behavior, leading to an ideal social result.
* Maybe even you believe you know the best way to solve a particular
societal problem with a better organizational solution.
* Perhaps you admire and support a particular candidate who claims he has
just the right incentive, program, or regulation that will do the trick.

Well, if you ever catch yourself (or another person), making such a
pronouncement, then you can KNOW that either you (or they) are wrong. You
see . . .

When you have "a government of the people, by the people, and for the
people," YOUR "grand design" won't work. Why?

Unfortunately, other people will also be involved. This is, after all, a
representative government with separation of powers. Your scheme will be
touched and affected by lobbyists, legislators, bureaucrats, and judges.
Then it will be imposed on a group of people, many of whom will NOT
cheerfully cooperate because they do NOT appreciate your brilliance.

By failing to appreciate these events, you have fallen victim to the
Dictator Fallacy.

The Dictator Fallacy is the belief that any law or program will be
implemented in just the way you intended -- as if you were the king.

Your more perfect vision could only be actualized if you were the czar. Yet
to want that power would be to denounce the Constitutional principles and
representative democracy that you claim to adore.

There are at least six major ways your plan will go awry.

First, the legislative branch will have its say. They'll wheel and deal.
They'll modify your perfect design. Senator Foghorn will secure a new
federal building in return for his vote, while hordes of lobbyists will
secure exemptions, loopholes, or extra benefits for their clients.

Second, the executive branch will then interpret the law. They will mangle
your plan to fit their political goals. In accordance with The Slippery
Slope Law of The State, bureaucrats and prosecutors will work diligently to
stretch the limited power you intended to convey so that your focused plan
will become swollen, unfocused, and perhaps, even abusive.

Third, the Courts will get in on the act too, forbidding some aspects of
your design, while permitting other things you never intended. By this
point, you might not even recognize your plan.

Fourth, the People will then react to the law. Some will comply; others will
resist. Nearly everyone will look for loopholes. Attorneys, accountants, and
consultants of all stripes will have a new industry, vested in navigating
around your law to the greatest degree possible.

Fifth, the real "unintended consequences" of your plan will begin to
manifest themselves. You may even discover what most policymakers
experience; your proposal will boomerang, worsening the very problem you
presumed to fix. Consider these examples . . .

* laws to curb narcotic use will entangle children in the violent,
black-market drug trade
* fancy plans to restrict gun ownership will coincide with an increase in
burglaries in your own neighborhood

  Reality will laugh at your good intentions.

And here, we must go down an important rabbit trail. When our program fails,
it is easy to be blind to the obvious. The very normal human reaction is to
assume that things would've worked better if only our intelligent design had
been followed -- that our uniquely brilliant scheme could've made The State
more efficient and effective. We . . .

* bemoan the fact that legislators, bureaucrats, and judges mutilated our
* complain that the people weren't made to see how this was for their own

Now, hopefully, it's evident. We'll NEVER witness your wonderful, pet plans,
materialize. The only way that your more perfect vision could possibly have
been implemented, was if YOU were the king.

Sixth, comes the most brutal blow of all.

  The power you give a politician you love to do something you favor, is . .
  . . . the same power that people you abhor will use to do things you

Since you aren't a dictator you simply have to accept that officeholders
change. Partisan majorities switch hands. The power you wanted to give to
good people will always end up in the hands of bad people.

But for too many would-be dictators, "unintended consequences" simply means
that they never intended for their opposition to acquire power again.

This is the trap that snares naive, do-gooders who . . .

* fantasize about what they would do if they were the boss, while forgetting
that they supposedly despise dictators.
* fail to take into account that the people who really run things aren't as
brilliant or purely motivated as they are.

Do you ever support expanding The State because you imagine that a larger
State would do things the way you would do them if you were in charge? If
so, then you have made yourself (and others) a victim of the Dictator

The Dictator Fallacy means that no matter how well-intentioned you are, no
matter how good you think your idea is, your new regulation or initiative to
solve a problem won't . . .

* be passed by you,
* administered by you, or
* adjudicated by you.

Nor will . . .

* everyone cooperate with your scheme.
* the new powers you create always be controlled by people you like.

The concept of the "Dictator Syndrome" was created by Downsize DC
co-founder, Harry Browne, in chapter five of his 1995 book, "Why Government
Doesn't Work." That chapter was titled, "If You Were King (The Dictator

I love this piece. Thank you for posting it, Michael. This piece could describe, not only "government", but all human interaction!


what does your kingship recommend as an alternative? That we all strive to be muddling legislators, bureaucrats and judges? If the title of Browne's book is any indication, do you intend this article to persuade us that Washington should be down sized? Who is going to cut through the bureaucracy? It certainly won't be the bureaucrats. Dictators may fail, but the desire for dictatorship is not necessarily fallacious. South Korea developed from one of the poorest countries in the world into one of the most competitive economies in the world under the guidance of dictators. I'm not suggesting a dictatorship for America, but a strong Executive controlled by powerful personalities would be most effective in cutting through red tape and casting off the yoke of big business interests in politics.