I heard about some people arguing about ineptocracy as applying to the country I live in. I searched up the term and found these definitions:

The phenomenon of governance or leadership by the incompetent.

(..) a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

The first definition is really vague, but the second suggests that through direct vote, people that produce less are able to get some wealth from those that produce more. Also, this mechanism seem to be unsustainable on the long term, since those who produce are demotivated.

I am interested in what ineptocracy really is about. Or is it just a buzzword without a deep meaning?

Question: What exactly is ineptocracy?


3 Answers 3


I think you are right that it is just a buzzword. Back in classical Greece, philosophers attempted a systematic study of forms of government and came up with the distinction of monarchy (one good ruler), tyranny (one bad ruler), aristocracy (few good rulers), oligarchy (few bad rulers), democracy (many good rulers) and ochlocracy (many bad rulers).

Political observers have expanded this system since, with terms like meritocracy and kleptocracy, but these are much more recent. Possibly the Greeks would have called a kleptocracy just another oligarchy, and your example of idiocracy just another ochlocracy -- note that ochlocracy is much less commonly used than the other five ancient terms.

There was an edit, rolled back by a mod because it should have been a comment, that kakistocracy is a couple of centuries old. That makes about as new as kleptocracy, and older than meritocracy.

Of course we're on Politics SE, and framing the debate is part of the political process. So instead of calling it a buzzword, one might call it a political slogan.

Note that the tendency of voters to vote themselves funds from the public purse is not related to incompetence. Deciding how to lobby and knowing how to get away with it requires highly skilled political operators.

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    Tyranny has a different meaning nowadays, but if you mention it as "Back in classical Greece, philosophers attempted a systematic study of forms of government", then tyranny is not "one bad ruler". Just as well as monarchy isn't "one good ruler". The main difference between those two is that a monarchy is about family - the king is king because he's daddy's son. Compare that to e.g. Peisistratos, who the people installed as a "tyrant" after rebelling against the aristocracy - and who was very popular.
    – R. Schmitz
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:38
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    FWIW "meritocracy" was actually coined as a satirical critique of what the word has come to mean today: i.e. the point of inventing the term was to ridicule a society in which aristocracy (social status is an accident of one's birth) was replaced with social status based on "merit", the attainment of which was an accident of ones birth. I mention this because the wikipedia article is bad
    – jberryman
    Apr 2, 2019 at 19:55
  • @jberryman I would encourage you to edit Wikipedia if the article is bad.
    – Wossname
    Apr 3, 2019 at 0:11
  • @jberryman That seems to be true with a lot of modern terms. Another example would be "logical positivism".
    – forest
    Apr 3, 2019 at 4:06

Or is it just a buzzword without a deep meaning?

It is just a buzzword without a deep meaning.

It's just a fancy way of saying that the politicians in charge of the country are incompetent.

There is no deep theory behind it.

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    Yes, the first definition is exactly this, but the second seem to dive into a more profound issue: those who benefit on "money redistribution" might vote for getting more money from those who produce (e.g. vote for politicians that promise them more money => increase taxes for those who produce)
    – Alexei
    Apr 2, 2019 at 6:45
  • @Alexei - I love the extra details in the other answers, but this is the only one that directly and correctly answers the question, with the level of detail the use of the term actually merits.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 2, 2019 at 13:54
  • It's not only to say politicals are incompetent but mainly to say his supporters are morons. It's one more way in the polarization fo the political marketing
    – jean
    Apr 2, 2019 at 14:18
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    @gerrit "least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing" it sounds clear to me: a marketing message aimed to create a feeling of "us (the betters) against the others (the lames)". Polarization and creating an "us vs others" discourse, creating an enemy, etc
    – jean
    Apr 2, 2019 at 15:48
  • 1
    I bet those who denigrate others as "least capable of producing" are not more capable of producing than the ones they're trying to insult. Apr 3, 2019 at 1:05

O.m. is partially correct. There is a 17th century term (in actual Greek) that roughly is synonymous:

Over the last fifteen years or so, commentators in Australia and abroad have coined a range of derogatory 'ocracies' to voice their disquiet at the white-anting of democracy. In 2011 Jeffrey Sachs wrote that America was being run by the 'corporatocracy', in which a small number of 'powerful corporate interest groups dominate the political agenda.' The 'military-industrial complex' heads the list, closely followed by (and linked to) big business, and the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries. Early in 2012, British Labour MP Paul Flynn apparently coined a new word when describing what the Coalition Government had created as 'An ineptocracy of greed.' Some have said it's even worse than this; that kakistocracy, Greek for the government of a state by the worst citizens, has arrived in some places.

And Wikipedia obliges us:

A kakistocracy (/ˌkækɪsˈtɒkrəsi, -ˈstɒk-/) is a system of government that is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word was coined as early as the seventeenth century. It also was used by English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829, but gained significant use in the first decades of the twenty-first century to criticize populist governments emerging in different democracies around the world.

And an 1964 essay of Leonard E. Read on the topic of kakistocracy opens with this variation/quote:

KAKISTOCRACY is one of those words so seldom heard that it might be taken to represent something that never existed. It means "a government by the worst men." Lowell gave the term an intolerant but more colorful definition, "a government ... for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools." [citing Letters of James Russell Lowell, ed. Charles Eliot Norton (Vol. II, 1893), p. 179.]

The longer quote provided in Wikipedia from the latter work (Lowell):

"What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone. Is it or is it not a result of Democracy? Is ours a 'government of the people by the people for the people,' or a Kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?"

I think is very close to the initial part of the longer definition of "ineptocracy" quoted by the OP, particularly as it construed as a criticism of democracy. It's also noteworthy that it influenced American libertarian thinking (e.g. L.E. Read per the previous quote).

One book even traced the "ineptocracy" term back to Ayn Rand, but I think that's an error of attribution. It is true however that the longer definition of ineptocracy quoted by the OP ends with the "taxation as theft" idea. And Rand basically supported only voluntary taxation.

  • OP's quoted paragraph immediately gave me Atlas Shrugged flashbacks. That said, I don't remember the term coming up there. That one paragraph does seem to sum up John Galt's 60-something page monologue though.
    – JMac
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:59

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