Indian President Narendra Modi
Karan Thapar

Op-Ed

INDIA — I don't watch many Netflix programs, but a series recommended by my cousin has struck me like a bolt of lightning. Called How to Become a Tyrant, it presents what it calls "a playbook for absolute power." Much of it is tongue-in-cheek, yet it's based on the actual tactics and strategies used by Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Il-sung, Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein. So if you take it seriously, it tells you what you must do if you aspire to be India's tanashah. And the remarkable thing is it feels uncannily like the country we're living in and the politics we're subjected to. Read on and see if you agree.

First, if you want to be a dictator, you need to be a particular type of person. For a start, you must be or, at least, present yourself as, one of the people. Hitler was a corporal, Mussolini the son of a blacksmith. As the commentary puts it: "A man who shares your dreams can fulfill them." So a chaiwala (tea vendor) will do very nicely.

The would-be dictator must also believe in himself. The series claims "a megalomaniacal belief in your abilities convinces others of them." So whether it's the mystical power of taalis and thalis or the claim that a single act of demonetization can eliminate corruption, if you are convinced of it then you can be sure an awful lot of others will also agree.

However, our putative dictator needs one further character quality: the gift of speech or, actually, the more important capacity to attract attention. Hitler's pencil-brush mustache was his defining feature. It was unmistakably him. But a flowing white beard might do as well. Hitler, we're told, was a natural-born adman. The swastika, it's claimed, was the most striking symbol ever created. If that's true, the performance we first saw at Madison Square Garden and the penchant for clever alliteration, acronyms and rhymes is clearly an enormous asset.

Now, if these are the qualities that can define a potential tyrant, there are a few others he needs to attract a firm and loyal following. First, the promise that he can create a better world for everyone. It's not necessary to succeed — few tyrants have — but the promise must remain evergreen and the belief you're steadily getting closer to delivery must be unquestioned. After all, you won't become a tyrant if you're associated with burre din, or bad days.

But this promise on its own is not enough. Our tyrant-in-the-making must also be seen as the only man who can fulfill that promise. He must, therefore, be acknowledged not just as the fount of all wisdom but also the fount of all virtue. So he needs to whip up a cult of personality. With the right number of bhakts, that's quite easily done.

In normal times this should be enough to corral the flock behind the shepherd but, sometimes, even sheep can go astray. So it's a good idea to create an enemy to keep them in line. Hitler found one in the Jews, Idi Amin in Ugandan-Asians and Gaddafi in Italian-Libyans. Our minorities could neatly fit this purpose. The Muslims, for example, at 14% of the population, are large enough to be falsely painted as a threat yet small enough to be easily kept in their place.

Every now and then, an external enemy also helps. Saddam Hussein chose Iran, Kim Il-sung South Korea, Hitler France and Germany, and Stalin most of the rest of the world. Little Pakistan next door would be perfect for us. The problem is the support it gets from China. If the enemy you choose is stronger than you, things could unravel pretty quickly. Still, if you can strike at Balakot and the only price you pay is a MiG-21, the audience at home will keep smiling.

Our tyrant-in-the-making must also be seen as the only man who can fulfill it.

Finally, tyrants need to be prepared for the worst. Not their denouement so much as the fact that there will always be critics and even rebels. Tyrants need to ensure they don't get out of hand. This is where the use of fear comes handy. As the commentary pithily explains, "Every dictator's best friend is a ruthless secret police." How lucky we are to have Section 124A, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation. I wouldn't have thought we'd need anything more.

In fact, modern India has one advantage Netflix's six-part series did not. I'm speaking of spyware technology of the winged-horse variety. Pegasus can achieve for our future tyrant far more than he did in Greek mythology. This magical equine can see and hear everything — but like a good monkey, keeps silent.

Now there's just one thing left and I've kept it for the end because it could be the most important of all. "You must dominate the truth," the series advises, "because then you end up controlling people's minds." This is where fake news becomes real news and the battle with Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook is revealed to be a disingenuous ploy. Seventy million followers on Twitter is a great start!

According to Netflix, if you've done all this, you're ready to be a tyrant. But success creates its own demands. When you reach the top of the tree, it can be boring to be on your own. Tyrants are never lonely but they do need to amuse themselves. The series claims they do it in two ways.

First, there's the ritual humiliation of those around them. Stalin executed Zinoviev and Kamenev, but a sudden and ruthless cabinet reshuffle will do equally well. The second tactic is to cast pearls. That's usually enough to turn people into swine! The commentary says: "Give your allies and supporters opportunities to be corrupt." First, it's amusing to watch them scramble for the crumbs you've thrown in their direction. More importantly, when they nibble, they'll stay loyal. Because then you'll have in your hands the evidence that can bring them to book and no man wants his judgement written so easily.

Now, as I end, does all of that feel familiar? They say truth can be stranger than fiction, but who would have thought a series on Netflix might mimic reality? No doubt it was intended to make you laugh, but many a truth is told in jest.

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Economy

Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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