The problem with power

Why do politicians, business leaders and those in power often make bad and contradictory decisions? Many think that if only they could become prime minister or dictator, then everything would be so much better. But is that really true? How free are those in power to make wise decisions that are good for everyone?

The decisions of those in power rarely benefit the vast majority
Studies show that there is often a disconnect between what voters think and what policies ultimately become reality. In a high-profile study [1] of two thousand decisions made by the US Congress and the President. They found that virtually only citizens belonging to the wealthiest group had influence over the decisions. Proposals that ran counter to the interests of the wealthiest never passed.

In Sweden, the situation may be slightly better, but here too, actual policy differs from the will of the people. An overwhelming majority of voters in Sweden, for example, want to limit profits in the welfare sector, according to repeated opinion polls, but nothing happens. As many as 70% of voters in the Centre Party want to limit profits, while the party leadership is taking a different line. [2]

Another high-profile study [3] found that there is an average difference of opinion between representatives in the Riksdag and ordinary voters of 13 percentage points. The researchers conclude that if a random sample of 349 people in the population had been taken, the difference in opinion would in principle always have been lower.

Of course, it could be that if voters had only read and been as knowledgeable as the MPs, this 13 percentage point opinion gap would disappear. But a more likely explanation is soft corruption: politicians are influenced by lobbyists. Some famous examples are the Primes scandal, where the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise paid the PR agency Primes' S-branded consultants 5 million to steer the Social Democrats' election analysis in a pro-business direction [4].

Another example is how party leader Nyamko Sabuni allowed the Liberals' stance on a number of key issues to be influenced by the PR agency Nordic Public Affairs and their clients, large companies such as Scania [5].

There are also many examples of revolving doors between politics and business, politicians have sold off nursery schools, apartment buildings and privatised businesses or otherwise favoured companies that they themselves then start working in or have close ties to. [6]

Why do those in power rarely make wise decisions that benefit everyone?
The simple explanation is that no one can rule alone. Exercising and maintaining power requires control over the strategic resources of a country or organisation. This in turn requires control over a number of key subordinates. These must be given enough privileges and resources to keep them happy and satisfied, otherwise powerful key players will relinquish their leadership.

In turn, the key people depend on keeping their subordinate key people happy, or they will replace their superior. This makes it difficult for management to make any decisions. In order to remain in power, the leader must prioritise decisions that benefit his or her key people.

Illustration of how those in power depend on strategic key players. Even those who try to be good angels are in turn dependent on their key subordinates. Those who do not favour their subordinates but allocate resources to the public good can quickly become unpopular and be removed from office.

Example 1: exercise of power in dictatorships. A dictator often exercises power by controlling a country's natural resources. This could be a diamond mine, oil or gas which is then sold to other countries to make money. The proceeds can then be distributed to the dictator's family and immediate team. Rivals and others who protest are shot dead. It works well as long as the dictator keeps a stable majority of key people happy, otherwise they depose their dictator.

Example 2: Exercising power in democracies. In a representative democracy, the key players are groups, organisations and companies: homeowners, families with children, taxpayers, wealthy capital owners, large corporations, etc. In a democracy, those in power cannot execute their opponents, but they can exercise power in other ways. They can remove people from positions of high status and pay. They can legislate to regulate and tax groups they want to punish. They can also allocate resources to their constituents and key groups they have co-dealt with and want to reward. If the leaders of a democracy do not distribute enough of the pie to their key groups, they are rarely re-elected.

This means that when certain groups or members do not attend meetings, vote or are represented other than every 4th year when there are parliamentary elections, then their interests become irrelevant for those in power to take into account.
To maintain power in a representative democracy, the leadership must prioritise keeping the strongest individuals and groupings happy. This means that well-resourced groups with a strong ability to lobby and influence public opinion, such as the financial sector, have managed to acquire a number of privileges and can live by owning, while other weaker groups have to make do with hard work to survive. Is there any way to create better democratic structures that encourage those in power to consider the common good when making decisions?


We can create a democracy where everyone's interests and voices are heard, counted and given their due.

Read more: democracy or dictatorship?

Countries with a large share of natural resources such as oil, coal, diamonds and gas concentrated in a small area have tended to become dictatorships. Countries that rely on decentralised production of goods and services in more knowledge-intensive industries tend to be democracies. Why is this?


In order to gain as much advantage as possible for themselves and those around them, a country's leadership wants as few key people or groups as possible. In countries with a few large natural resources concentrated in a small area, it is easy to get by with few key people. The person who controls a large diamond or oil mine only needs to build a road from the palace to the airport and a road from the port to the mine. Beyond that, no more infrastructure is needed, no hospitals or schools. The workers in the mine can be left to live in terrible conditions and die. There is always room for more desperate labour from the poor population.

The dictator with control over precious natural resources does best to oppress the people and keep them as poor and uneducated as possible that they cannot coordinate themselves for revolution. If the dictator tries to give resources to the people, there will be fewer resources left for the key strategic people, who may then get angry and depose the dictator on their own, or support a people's revolution as a means of replacing the incumbent dictator with themselves.


In countries where valuable natural resources are not concentrated in a small area, it is much more difficult for a dictator to rule with only a few key people. The country must engage in more decentralised production of goods and services over a larger area. This makes the leadership dependent on many more key strategic players and groupings to maintain power. In such countries, democracies have been able to emerge.

In democracies, the economy is based on goods and services produced by an educated population. This means that management benefits from
to invest in education, hospitals, roads, sewers and schools. This increases the productive capacity of the economy, which means that more tax revenue can be collected and distributed to strategic stakeholders. Educated citizens who are sufficiently secure and happy work better and produce more. [7]


We can create a democracy where everyone's interests and voices are heard, counted and given their due.


[1 ]Martin Gilens & Benjamin Page (2014). “Testing theories of American Politics: Elites, Interes Groups, and average Citizens” Perspectives on Politics

[2] Katalys (2021). "Den ignorerade majoriteten"

[3] David Karlsson (2018). ”Företrädarskap i riksdagen”.

[4] Primeskandalen.

[5]  Annie Reuterskiöld (2020). "Så tog lobbyister makten över liberalernas agenda", Svenska dagbladet

[6] Eva Lindström & Nokolas Bruun (2012). "Svängdörr i staten – en ESO-rapport om när politiker och tjänstemän byter sida"

[7]  Bruce Bueno de MesquitaAlastair Smith (2012). The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

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The Digital Democracy Association is a non-profit association that is religiously and politically independent. It aims to support and promote effective democratic organisation of people at all levels: from small networks and organisations at grassroots level to large companies, political parties and organisations at national and international level.

Its ultimate goal is a world in which everyone's influence and participation is maximised in a way that is compatible with high flexibility, efficiency and power to act in human co-operation and organisations. The Association's sub-goals are to (i) develop innovative open-source tools for digital democratic organisation (ii) disseminate knowledge and stimulate interest in effective democratic decision-making and organisational practices (iii) support organisations and companies to improve their internal democracy.