Authoritarian leaders are not generally known for their meekness. Most, if not all will generally deprive their population of various civic liberties, attempt to stomp any opposition by any means available, punish people for political reasons, etc. Very well, it is easy for me to see why this is the case.
However, it is also often claimed that countries under authoritarian regimens tend to be poor, economically inefficient, dependent on unqualified labor and with much of their population struggling to meet their basic needs, such as access to medical care or even sufficient amounts of food. To put it bluntly, dictatorships are often said to reduce their population to Emaciated Slaves Struggling for Survival (hereinafter ESSfS). This is what I fail to understand.
The oft-cited CGP Grey video 'The Rules for Rulers' attempts to explain this phenomenon and it does seem persuasive. To summarize that argumentation: Dictators are dependent on their key supporters to maintain power. This group of key supporters are formed out of a small number of the dictator's immediate underlings, such as the general, the ministers, etc. Thus, virtually all revenue must be distributed among these key supporters. Should a dictator fail to distribute enough resources among their key supporters (and instead use these resources to, for example, improve the population's living conditions) then another pretender for power will swiftly appear and try to sway enough of the key supporters on their side by promising them more revenue; such a dictator is, therefore, very likely to be removed from power and replaced by an even worse tyrant. Also key supporters do not actually have any choice either, they must strive to get the greatest possible share of resources because they too are dependent on their own immediate underlings and must distribute as much money among them as possible. Furthermore, it is safer for dictators to see their population reduced to ESSfS, because if the people have their most basic needs met then they have some spare time, energy and resources to revolt; otherwise, they are unable to do so. Both reasons coalesce because if the elites are unhappy and the population is not reduced to ESSfS then the elites will often permit and inspire the population to revolt. Thus, contrary to intuition and propaganda, revolutions happen because the dictator fails to be cruel enough and serve the purpose of installing regimes that worsen, rather than improve the living conditions of the people.
Such a system is only possible, according to CGP Grey, if the country's economy is based on unskilled labor. This is because even ESSfS can be miners or farmers. If, however, a country's economy is based on a highly qualified workforce then such a country cannot be a dictatorship because ESSfS do not make good professors, engineers, etc.
Thus CGP Grey offers an alternative between an authoritarian regime dependent on unqualified labor whose population suffers under horrible living conditions and a democratic regime dependent on highly qualified work whose population enjoys good living conditions. Any regimes that attempt to occupy some middle ground between these two extremes, such as a dictatorship that does care for its population, a democracy dependent on unqualified labor or an economically failing democracy are unstable and will end up in a coup d'etat or a violent revolution.
My reasoning, however, is that ostensibly, keeping their countries poor should be against the best interest of dictators. If someone operates under the premise that, to quote a well know authority on the subject, "I am the state", then the wealth and strength of the state is also the wealth and strength of the dictator. The dictator should, therefore, invest in their country and grow it in order to multiply their own personal wealth and power.
Keeping their population reduced to ESSfS should be economically ineffective even if economy is based on unskilled work. Slave labor is always inefficient; even the Nazis learned this the hard way when they attempted to utilize their prisoners of war as slaves but got poor performance from them. Having workers die from poor conditions unnecessarily reduces the country's available workforce and should, therefore, also hamper total available revenue.
The argument that virtually all revenue must go to a numerically small elite seems persuasive, but myopic. The elites demanding that all available resources go to their private treasuries at the expense of the state as a whole seem to be tantamount to the proverbial sawing off the branch you are sitting on. The end result of such a behavior seems to be a poor and undeveloped country that cannot even support the wealth of the elites (who will become themselves poorer than moderately rich people in healthier countries), and that cannot hold its own during wartime (and consequently cannot even guarantee its own elites safety). History shows multiple examples of countries effectively disestablished by their own avaricious elites to a catastrophic result for these elites: the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to name just three.
To me it would seem that not only humanitarian reasons, but selfish pragmatism as well should dictate not to operate a kleptocratic government and instead to distribute a significant share of a country's revenue on multiplying the country's wealth rather than private riches.
It is also unclear to me how facts support this reasoning. Plotting GDP per capita vs. electoral democracy does not seem to show such hard rules: while democracies are indeed rarely very poor, dictatorships are spread more evenly, with hellholes such as North Korea or Zimbabwe on the one hand but very rich states such as certain Arabian states on the other hand (notwithstanding some of the other characterizations that may indeed make them rather difficult places to live in).
And yet the reasoning provided by CGP Grey is not limited just to this video: it is quite often heard in general.
Is the reasoning provided by CGP Grey correct, do dictators must reduce their countries' populations to emaciated slaves struggling for survival for the reasons CGP provided? And if yes then how to explain the existence of autocratic states with high GDP per capita?