It is true, yours truly here suddenly received an email from one of the most famous people in the world today and he is offering me a lot of money. Here's the entire e-mail in full:
From: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi <email@example.com>
Subject: Assalamu 'Alaikum.
I know that you will be surprise to receive this e-mail from me, My name is Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, the son of the present president of Libya. I am contacting you for an urgent assistance which will benefit the both parties.
As you can read and see in the media, my family is presently undergoing tough time in the hand of the masses due to his long stay in power as the president of Libya for over 40 years now. Although there is no way you can satisfy human being, my father has done so many things to better the life of our people unfortunately they never appreciated his effort instead it resulted in calling my family bad names.
The International community has reached a resolution for immediate seizure of our assets both in US and the UK which they have already done and many other sanctions but it can’t affect our financial statue in the world. But as you can not predict tomorrow they say that is while I decided to reach you for this assistant hoping it will be top secret within you and i and you should avoid the media
I want to request your humble assistance to receive a total sum of $US9.3m.
I will not give you details of the fund now because of security reasons but just have in mind that the fund exit in one of the countries which i will tell you in the long run as confirming your interest in this project.
You will receive this fund directly and keep it safe or invest it in any business of yours till this saga is over then I will get back to you on how the fund or profit will be shared. By the special grace of Allah nothing will happen to me.
If you are ready and will keep it top secret and avoid the media contact me back and the details of where the fund exit and how it will be transferred will be made known to you.I know you may have little fear on you but it is risk free i assure you this.
I know you will be in hurry to reply me but due to what my family is facing now and security reasons I will not be responding always ! ! ! ! ! ! !.
All you need to do is to contact me and indicate your seriousness and interest in this matter as to enable us move into action.
Peace be with you till i receive your reply.
Saif Al Islam Gaddafi.
Hilarity is abound within this 419 email, such as the idea I won't have any peace until he receives my reply (I guess because he presumes me greedily pondering what I will do with $US9.3m [sic]). Still, this email raises many interesting questions, notably how do dictators get rich?
The easiest answer is corruption. It is true that most of them are corrupt. Still, not everyone acts like Mobutu or Kim Jong-il, completely robbing the state blind like an army of termites just marched through a wooden village. Some of them do pursue genuine business interests. Meantime, Qaddafi, al-Assad, Ben Ali, and Mubarak are just several autocrats whose family built strong business interests, but they realized that plundering the state was not enough, so they had to keep milking the cow.
What accounts for this difference in policies? This may sound like a cliche, but I think culture does matter. States lacking culture of trade end up frequently have exploiters as their leaders. On the other hand, states with strong merchant traditions end up with autocrats who engage in trade.
Second, an autocrat's instinct of survival matters. In countries in which the center weakly controls the rest of the nation, we often see the rise of rapacious autocrats. Since there's always a possibility of someone kicking them out of power, autocrats do not have incentive to build - rather they simply plunder. However, controlling enterprises can make others elites green with envy, provoking competition from the autocrats' power base.
Not surprisingly, unstable African countries are generally led by rapacious autocrats, ready to leave at any moment's notice because there's no guarantee they will be able stay on top. This results in very low human development and impoverished nations.
On the other hand, autocrats who are sure of the stability of their states, such as the Arab autocrats, tend to build and own as many enterprises as possible. Besides, it is another way to throw some bones to their population. Completely fed and employed people are generally content.
What about North Korea? I think North Korea is an aberration for one simple fact: the regime is always insecure to what they perceive as America's constant attempts to overthrow the dictatorship. So rather than building state-owned enterprises, Kim Jong-il prepares his citizens for the Armageddon, fighting to the last drop of blood to defend the regime. Really, it is more like a cult than a government.
In any case, because these dictators are so careful in stashing their riches, chances are very minimal that they will send a complete stranger soliciting their help in moving funds abroad. Heck, they have been doing it themselves for years.