It seems people assume that a Gadaffi or a Mubarak got fabulously wealthy by abusing their office as unelected military dictator, an interesting concept on several levels. I suggest that fabulous wealth or the evident ability to get it is rather a necessary prerequisite of becoming an unelected military dictator. Subtle distinction, I know, but bear with me.
In a book called something like ‘The Oxford Short History of England”, one of the authors describes early English history like this: you had a number of nobles – tribe leaders, really – who each had designs on kingship, meaning, in effect, they each thought they could beat the neighboring tribe leaders and take their stuff. Problem was, each tribe leader was surrounded by other tribe leaders who were thinking the exact same thing.
What to do, what to do? Call a standoff, and focus on agriculture? Hey, these are the English we’re talking about here.
So, intrigue: Lord A would get together with Lords B, C, and D with the following proposition: help me take out Lords E and F, let me be King, and I’ll richly reward you with spoils.
A tempting propositi0n. But, in politics, it’s always prudent to ask: what about Act II? What’s that look like?
Lords A-D defeat Lords E & F, Lord A becomes King, and Lords B-D get a cut of the spoils. Now, Lords G – M have been keeping tabs on all this, and aren’t about to let it go unchallenged. King A knows this – and so, he goes back to Lords B-D, and maybe even recruits some more Lords, with the promise of, again, a share in the loot if they win. (And a certain grisly death if they loose, but the Marketing Dept probably didn’t emphasize that too much in the brochures.)
But now, wait a second – the King really needs the help of his allied Lords, and they know it – so who’s in the strong position for bargaining? So Lords B-D get promised a good healthy chunk of the loot, and help the king again. Note that it really doesn’t matter who wins or who loses – the dynamics stay the same. Lords keep teaming up to fight each other, motivated by the chance to get some spoils (and, of course, the desire to NOT be the target of the despoiling.)
Once in a while, a strong King would emerge, and and his loyal Lords would conquer all or most of the surrounding Lords. Now for Act III – how does the King keep the loyalty of his allied Lords? The King is dependent of his Lords to rule – in total, they have the most troops and probably the most wealth. He can keep them in line by force one at a time, but not en mass. In fact, the Lords are natural allies *against* the King, exactly because the King is motivated to try to pick them off one-by-one and take their stuff so that he doesn’t need to keep buying them off – and the Lords know this.
In this game, the King is doomed. There’s no one left to loot, so he can no longer promise his allies spoils, and his allies fear him most of all. Eventually, the game starts over: Some number of Lords get together and pick off some parts of the Kingdom, share out the spoils, and a civil war ensues, etc.
How did this ever end? Potential kings realized that, in order for this to work, the king had to end up not merely being the richest Lord, but his wealth had to dwarf the wealth of any reasonable-sized set of his Lords – a reasonable sized set of Lords being the largest group that could practically get together to oppose him. Eventually, this state was reached.
Anyway, now the game changes – the best strategy for a Lord at this point is to be a loyal subject of the King, to do everything he can to help the king trust him, and, above all, to avoid looking like he might have designs on the throne. The King could pick off any Lord he wanted, and it would be difficult for the other Lords to do anything about it – they’d have to gang up, ambush the guy, and impose a Magna Carta. Or something.
Back to present: there’s really not much difference between an old school King and an unelected military dictator, apart from taste in clothing, except for one thing: there are ways in the modern world to keep getting loot without having to keep conquering people: oil and foreign aide, for example. The key for the military dictator is making sure he’s the spigot through which all this wealth flows – that way, he can buy the loyal and cut off the disloyal, he can pay the troops he needs to keep everybody in line.But is has to be completely under his control – if anyone else can get at the cash without going through him, he’s in trouble.
So, Q.E.D. – military dictators are going to be richest guy by far in the countries they rule, as much as possible controlling every dollar. If they don’t they won’t be around very long.