Has authoritarianism ever done better than democracy?

This is actually a two parter, but there wasn’t enough room in the subject line. Several of the recent threads on the Soviet Union and Russia led me to think about the more general topic of authoritarianism (whether fascist or otherwise :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:) vs democracy. It seems to me, just by looking at how well off the people of various countries around the world are, that democratic governments are a better choice. Sure, there’s a few places, like Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, that are wealthy despite having authoritarian governments. Of course they also have to deal with severe social restrictions compared to the democracies. Despite all that, a large number of people around the world, including many in places that are currently democracies, seem to believe that they would be better off under an authoritarian regime. Given that, the debate is two parts.

  1. Have authoritarian governments ever done a better job in creating better outcomes for the happiness of their people than the democracies?

  2. If the answer to the first is no, then why do so many people, especially those who were raised in a democracy, want to go with an authoritarian government? Don’t they realize that life would be worse for them if they got their wish?

Depends on who “their people” are. If you mean the people of the country, then overal, no. If you mean their supporters at the expense of the others in the country, then sometimes yes.

Because they think that they will be the ones on top.

“The democracies” is quite a wide term. So if the question is if any authoritarian regime managed better than each and every of them, then the answer is obviously no. However, one might argue that PRC is making a fairly good job to provide at least material wealth to a fairly large portion of its citizens, as compared to some democracies.

The appeal of fascism is letting people think they are/would be in the “in” group.

China ~'80 was appallingly poor.

Any system would improve matters over the medieval BS that was going on before.

To claim the average Chinese citizen is better off than others living in a democracy. You’d have to find a couple of countries with a largely agricultural population that has been a democracy.

When compared to Japan or Korea, the Chinese economic progress doesn’t look too fantastic to me.

Democracy is better at producing happiness.
Authoritarianism is better at surviving a crisis.

“We can’t wait for the legislature to pass a strongly-worded resolution! The army must control the invasion NOW!”

"We can’t wait for the recession to run its course! We must punish the capitalists NOW!

Do you have any examples of two comparable countries suffering comparable crisis?

Would you rather be standing next to your collapsed home in Turkey or in Syria?

I didn’t see any totalitarian states performing significantly better curing COVID for example – I did see some wannabee dictators fucking shit up in democracies.

There have been some extremely unstable democracies that have dissolved into anarchy (e.g. Somalia). Arguably they might have been better off not having a weak democracy in the first place.

Compare China and India. They had roughly the same GDP per capita in the 1980s; now, China has roughly 2 1/2 (purchasing power parity) to 5 1/2 (nominal) times as much. Between 1961 and 2020, the Chinese GDP grew by more than 10% over a third of the time (22 years); India never did. Chinese per capita disposable income is estimated to have been roughly $5100 (USD) in 2021, a bit over twice the Indian figure.

That growth has come at massive costs, of course, but the average Chinese is doing better than the average Indian today. (And South Korea was an authoritarian state, mostly a military dictatorship, until the late 1980s, during the period when the country became one of the East Asian tiger economies.)

OK: totalitarian China beats nominally democratic India. (unless you are Uygur)

Now do Portugal, Spain, Greece, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela: They all performed much better as a democracy, vs. their relative performance as a totalitarian state.

Singapore, while being nominally democratic, is actually a bit authoritarian in practice, but is overall doing quite well for itself. Size probably matters in this, though, it being a literal city-state means it faces different challenges than those of geographically larger states.

In the short term, authoritarianism can work well over democracy (however it is defined). Very famously, Rome thought along these lines and instituted such a system.

Though ending authoritarianism and going back to democracy is sometimes an issue, as Rome again very famously showed.

If we’re measuring by economics then whether it’s a democracy or some flavor of authoritarianism matters a LOT less than how corrupt it is. There can be reasonably non-corrupt autocracies and there can be horrendously corrupt democracies. And how corrupt a government of whatever form is often has more to do with the multi-century culture of the place than it does with the form of government du jour. That’s “often”, not “always”.

Here’s another way to view the problem.

The populace of a country that’s both poor and under autocratic rule probably wants their country to become both middle-class-to-rich and also democratic. So which problem does the public at large try to fix first? And in countries where “civil society” is weak and the public is largely powerless short of a spontaneous mass uprising, which problem is more likely to be addressed first by the autocratic government for its own ends?

I will suggest that whether it’s led from the bottom or the top, addressing the economy and the total wealth in society will be tackled first.

In places with dead (more like killed-off) civil society, economics is the one and only outlet of the masses. Whether they’re moving from subsistence farming to urban pushcart salesmen or from pushcart to tin shack or from tin shack to rented mall space, it’s the allure of economic security and the power of human labor that will move the economy forward. Meantime, the local fatcats, even if they’re pretty minor players compared to more wealthy countries will have the same desires, just on a different scale. And yes, they can often harness the autocratic government to help them deprive the lower classes of much of the fruits of their labors. But large or small, part of the government or not, they’re all trying to get rich(er).

Right now between, say, WWII and 2100 a vast slice of the world is embarked on the “get rich now” program. Will they arrive at the “get democracy later” place? Some already have. E.g. South Korea. Some are a work in progress now. E.g. eastern Europe. Some may never, e.g. Afghanistan, Russia.

The rest will each have their opportunity at some point unless something else intervenes first. Be that economic catastrophe, global warming / sea level rise, hostile invasion, pandemic disease, a very deeply rooted kleptocracy taking hold, etc.

Democracy really is a luxury of the socially secure and the economically comfortable. For those people and countries born into that circumstance democracy feels kinda like air and gravity; it’s just there for free in inexhaustible supply ready to be used by everyone everywhere for everything. That’s far from a realistic appraisal of the actual situation though.

Even some of those have had some periods of relatively good times under autocracy. In the early years of Chavez’s reign in Venezuela, for example, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recognized achievements in reducing poverty and illiteracy, spreading access to health care, agrarian land reform, etc. Those achievements were largely funded by oil revenues, and falling oil revenues (and corruption in the oil sector–see @LSLGuy’s post above) meant those achievements could not be sustained, but if you were a peasant or smallholder or urban slum-dweller in 2005 or so, the Bolivarian Revolution looked pretty good compared to what had come before. (If you were middle-class or wealthy, it didn’t look so good, and the years since have destroyed most or all of the gains for most Venezuelans.)

It seems to me that most people were raised under authoritarianism, in the sense that, as children, they had people in authority over them (parents, teachers, etc.). And often, though not always, that “autoritarian regime” (the family or classroom or sports team or whatever) worked pretty well, and the authority figure wielded their power benevolently and competently.

The OP seems to be talking just about authoritarianism vs. democracy on a national level, but I wonder whether the way people feel about that is connected to their experiences with “authoritarianism” on a smaller scale (though my wondering is, at this point, idle speculation that doesn’t even rise the the level of a WAG).

Russia is an interesting example. It always seems to end up with an authoritarian government.

We are lucky here in N. America - no one has successfully invaded N. America in the last couple centuries. Not so for Russia (e.g. the Mongols, Napoleon, the Nazis). Maybe that’s why Russia always ends up with an authoritarian government. I don’t think the US will ever go authoritarian (even with Trump still around).

There’s already a push by a large segment of your population to get rid of the separation of church and state, and declare their version of Christianity as the fundamental region of the nation. At that point, it would be very hard to avoid authoritarianism, as political opposition to the government will be seen as blasphemy.

It’s not a guarantee, but it’s certainly a possibility. And once you’re there, getting back to here will be very difficult. At least with the Nazis taking over Germany, the non-Nazi Germans had the rest of the world in place to bomb Germany enough to get rid of the Nazis. Who could do that to the United States these days?

I presume you mean Donald Trump, who lost the next election, and Boris Johnson, who was forced to resign.

Did any real dictators lose power because of COVID?

Bolsenaro was somewhere on that list.

I don’t think you understand “large segment” in the context of a country with a 332 million population.

The US is worse than Nazi Germany? Yeah, the US has its problems, but most of us still wave at our neighbors and smile at strangers. How much time have you spent in the US?