Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rich autocracies won't last

Here's yet another article pondering whether China will democratize (giving me yet another excuse to throw in my two cents). Let's go back to one of the basic reasons we prefer liberal democracy in the first place: power corrupts. If we could trust in a wise, benevolent dictator, then, from a utilitarian perspective, would that not be better than to risk the population voting for ruinous policies? I believe China will eventually democratize not simply because economic growth empowers the middle and upper classes, but because eventually the corrupting effect of autocratic power will produce a period of such poor governance that the empowered classes will not tolerate it. Such intolerance of the current regime could occur as soon as China's next economic downturn, or it might be a century away, but it's coming. (There is also the slim possibility that the current regime will gradually politically liberalize.) Take a look at the Declaration of Independence: it's mainly a long list of practical complaints about British misgovernment.

2 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

I agree that this could lead to greater popular support for democracy, but that doesn't always translate into democracy itself. History is littered with revolutions both violent and peaceful that simply gave rise to new autocracies. In the Middle East, for example, many of the current dictatorships arose from the rubble of liberal uprisings against corrupt monarchies. Then too there's the state's ability to co-opt potential adversaries by letting them buy into the corrupt system and that intimdating factor of secret police and other coercive mechaisms.

10/18/2005 5:41 PM  
Blogger Dave Milovich said...

My prediction is based on an economically powerful middle class as well as an eventually intolerably corrupt regime.
The Middle East has a dearth of economic liberty, and much of its economic wealth is in nationalized oil industries. The correct counterexample to my argument is Singapore.

10/18/2005 6:01 PM  

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