Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why democracy is bad for development.

China is a rapidly growing, increasingly powerful, economic powerhouse. India is chugging along, but still trails by a large margin its Asian neighbor. Why is this?

China is ruled by an authoritarian one-party state. India is a multi-party democracy. And democracy is bad for the development of a developing ('third world') country, while, conversely, authoritarianism is 'good' for development.


An authoritarian government is stronger and more effective at bringing order to a poor and arguably more passionate populace. This is even more pressing for countries which are not comprised overwhelmingly by a single majority ethnicity. Ethnic, not racial, diversity can lead to separatist movements and tribalism where one ethnic group works in the interests only of their 'tribe' rather than for the nation as a whole.

Look at the former Yugoslavia or the Philippines and the disharmony in their ethnically heterogeneous societies. There are riots, protests, and violence from one ethnic group towards the others, some strong enough to be a military challenge. Authoritarian governments have militaries strong enough to crush dissent, and the people know this. So while they still could retain antagonistic views towards some of their countrymen, and still have the desire to be clannish, they are prevented from turning their opinions into action. Instead, on the surface, the whole country appears to be unified and stable. This is good for foreign investment, and even domestic investment when there is little risk of investments being destroyed.

Opinion on Democracy:
"Democracy is a poison for the economic development of developing countries, and a luxury which their peoples cannot afford."

In contrast, in democracies, dissidents are free to air their opinions about their neighbors, and fuel ethnic hatred and antagonism. Rebels can move relatively freely throughout the country. The military, hampered by a democratic government, is weaker than it would be under authoritarian rule (where it has the other duty of protecting the government--so obviously the government would invest a lot in making sure the military was strong). So weak that opponents to the state or country believe they stand a chance against the state and military. And so democracies are more violent and unstable than many authoritarian governments, and thus drive off investors, both foreign and domestic. Extra government resources must also be devoted to trying to make peace with the dissidents.

The Press

Authoritarian states also have an effective propaganda machine. They can tell the nation and the world that all is proceeding smoothly in the country even when such is not the case. Thus they boost the confidence of their citizenry and foreigners. The state media can stop news of unrest in the parts of the country from spreading. Mentioned above was ethnic divisions. Propaganda is also good to combat this. Propaganda can promote the assimilation of many ethnicities into a single, national ethnicity. The media can enforce the use of a single language and a single culture across the nation. There can be cultural genocide (not physical genocide) of minor cultures, and the advance of a single, uncontested, unifying culture. China has succeeded in making Putonghua, the Beijing form of Mandarin Chinese the language of the land. China has enforced the use of Simplified Chinese so that the majority of Chinese are literate. Chinese businesses often require proficiency in Putonghua, thus giving incentive to pick up the language. Thus, in only a few generations, almost all Chinese are literate in Simplified Chinese and fluent in Putonghua. Local cultures, especially non-Han local cultures, are quickly being eroded by this and by strategic immigration from the Han population. Soon, pretty much all Chinese will be de facto Han, and will be a single ethnicity (although there is still racial division between Northern and Southern Chinese).

Compare this to democracies, where media express a wide range of divergent viewpoints and are distributed via multiple languages. Ethnic division is cemented, and progress toward unity retarded. The world and the nation sees chaos and instability, and therefore foreign investors don't invest and the local citizens do not have confidence that their country is advancing strongly.


Authoritarian governments are able to build roads, power plants, electrical grids, dams, railways, factories, etc. in the locations and quantities they deem fit. They can oust people from their homes if necessary. They can ignore protests about pollution and environmental degradation. They can dismiss dissent about asthma caused by smog and radiation poisoning from nuclear plants. They can do so rapidly without going to public hearings and seeking approval from the populace. Complete cities, designed to be efficient, can be built from scratch.

They can also build in advance, relying less on a trigger and more on prediction. In some cases, such as the Soviet Union investing heavily in the industrial development of Siberia, such action is a failure. However, if the advance planning is done competently and strategically, the government can both anticipate supply and demand on the one hand, and promote growth and development earlier in the region on the other, shortcutting the natural 'organic' drivers of developmental growth. They aren't at the mercy of an ignorant electorate or the desires of foreign investors.

Democracies, however, are at the mercy of their electorate, which invariably will slow down--or prevent--the process because of internal divisions, lack of foresight, or other reasons. And that electorate, particularly in developing countries, will not even give the advantage--rare even in the West--of coming up with more advanced ideas than the original proposal.

The Government

An authoritarian government has much more breathing room and has more energy and resources to devote to developing their country because the leadership's position is secure. They don't have to put in effort to run for re-election in a few years or be too submissive to the populace. They can make bolder decisions, and do so faster and more efficiently. Authoritarian governments, because they remain in power by default--often over decades, can have long-term plans for development which will be implemented and prolonged by their successors in the party.

A democracy does have to spend resources and energy on proving things to the electorate. They have to work to try to remain in office. In countries such as the Philippines, where party unity is weak, individual politicians, considering only their own interests rather than those of their party and especially the nation, have to work hard to be re-elected or to line their pockets with as much taxpayer money as they can before they are out of office. Because developing country democratic governments change hands so often, policies are usually short-term and the few good effects they bring are often countered or taken by the next party or individual in power.

Ironically, an authoritarian government is also more beholden to deliver development to the people than a democracy. If an authoritarian state does not develop economically, and the people's standard of living does not increase, if and when the government is overthrown, the party's members could literally lose their heads. Individual leaders or politicians will not be blamed. The complete party will be blamed. If China somehow implodes, the current generation will shoulder the blame for all to economic retardation, environmental degradation, and human rights abuses and executions that have occurred in China since before the Cultural Revolution. The authoritarian government actually has a whip snapping at it, forcing it to deliver economic development and more personal wealth and pride to the people. Even corruption is tempered--internally--since siphoned money could be used for further development and if news breaks out and the government defeated, more politician deaths could follow. China has notably executed several Communist Party officials for corruption.

Again ironically, a democracy does not have this pressure to succeed. If a democracy does not develop in a short number of years under a party's leadership, then the party will simply be voted out of office, and a new inept government can be voted in its place. No deaths and hangings. Individual politicians who fail to deliver will merely lose their jobs, not their heads. India and the Philippines have huge amounts of corruption, yet corrupt politicians don't even get put in jail, much less executed for treason. Because the effort for development is so spread out, among both parties and individuals, the blame is shared by many, not one.


There are notable cases where authoritarian governments have failed: North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, for instance. However, notably all these countries do not receive large amounts of foreign investment, either because of government-imposed sanctions or bad business environment (Zimbabwe--why would non-'black' investors invest in a country where their business could be seized as part of a 'black empowerment' initiative?). Those countries also usually have either idiotic or greedy individual leaders (as opposed to one-party rule made up of a group of people). Almost all authoritarian governments where capitalism is permitted to run fairly unhindered, have generally been more-or-less impressive in terms of their economic development, especially in comparison to their fellow developing country democracies. Laos could be an exception.

The list is sizable and getting longer. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are all newly developed or approaching developed status (Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are a bit behind). Each of those countries had or have a de facto authoritarian government. Even Japan, had a de facto and strange democratic authoritarian government because the populace was wise enough to pick a party and stick with that government long term.

Take into account that the United States and Western Europe (and other members of the developed West) also endured an authoritarian phase which promoted either unity or road/etc. development, just that that happened at an earlier stage than the modern era. At some point, authoritarian countries should turn democratic, but only after development and after they attain developed status.

Not only is democracy bad for the economic development of a country, but could actually doom a country to permanent 'developing' status. There seems to be some barrier--related to the ability to lay down roads, electrical grids, etc.? fast and wide enough; or the unity issue?--which can only be breached by an authoritarian government, because a democracy is just to weak to do the job. Such unfortunately seems to be the case for democratic, even Venezuela, Latin America, which seems fated to be permanent developing countries. And could be the fate of democracies such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and India. Once a country becomes democratic, it's difficult to revert to authoritarianism, either officially/legally or socially/culturally. And without authoritarianism pushing a country beyond a point, there's no developed status for such a country.

If developing, 'third world' countries are to succeed in becoming modern, advanced, developed and independent states, they will need to follow the path of authoritarianism. Democracy is a poison for the economic development of developing countries, and a luxury which their peoples cannot afford. Only after reaching developed status should those countries consider democratization, and then the now wiser peoples of the newly-developed countries can have the luxury of freedom with the sole pragmatic advantage of democracy: a diversity of ideas of an informed electorate which will able to come up with greater decisions than the ideas of a smaller, informed, one-party state.

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Found this article interesting? Check out:
History: The Roadmap to the Future.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Africa.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Asia.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Europe.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Latin America.

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