Is there a connection between Putin’s facelift and the invasion of Crimea?

18 Mar

Using plastic surgery and botox among the world’s most feared leaders: fashion or rational choice?

  The trendsetter in Moscow: Vladimir Vladimirovich (61)

Putin’s testosterone is bad for democracy – we wrote in a post on Ukraine a few weeks ago. That testosterone level has kept us thinking.

Imagine that you are an aging authoritarian leader, who has to fear a whole spectrum of enemies: coup d’états, foreign powers, the global economy, or even your own son. However, it seems that there might be an even more fearful, indestructible opponent above all: Mother Nature.

If there is such a thing as fashion for these alpha males, then the recent trend is definitely plastic surgery (just think of Putin, Qaddafi, Turkmenbashi…). Have you ever wondered what these people are chatting about when they meet at various conferences and meetings? Well, it seems that a popular topic is giving advice to each other about their most pleasant facelift or recommending posh plastic surgeons (Qaddafi and Berlusconi were sharing their plastic surgeon).

Qaddafi did care about at least with one thing: his own appearance
Source: Vanity Fair

Is it just male pride not to let yourself look old? We tend to think there is more to it: there might also be a much more rational element to it in the case of leaders. Below we explain why this might be the case.

Looking old means that your people would realize that you are getting closer to death, which in turn makes them start to wonder: what is going to happen after you are gone? This is where battles for inheritance start: even your most loyal military general or your own son can turn against you.

Interestingly, the issue of the aging of authoritarian leaders has been studied extensively by social scientists. An idea is that as you are getting older, your time-horizon also becomes shorter. You do not care about long-term benefits for the country (like creating a favorable environment for foreign investors), but rather start extracting (“stealing”) more and more rents from your people. As you are getting older, you care less about declining economic growth.

You use the extracted money to build your own legacy, to do something that even your grand-grandchildren will remember your name for. Like building a huge golden statue that rotates to face the sun (check).

Or the occupation of another country. This is definitely something that your people do not forget easily.

After dying his hair, Turkmenbashi made it illegal to own watches which showed him with gray hair.
Sources: Flickr and WorldNomads

A study written by a Harvard scholar found that the older the leader is, the higher the chance is for initiating military conflict. They argue that it is partly due to short-term legacy building and partly to the fact that the older the leader is the more institutional credibility he has (so he does not have to fear a political opponent at home). Moreover, they found that this effect is strongest in oligarchic states, as here they have to maintain their macho behavior constantly.

Animal analogies: alpha males lose their status when they lose their teeth