The classic ‘Western’ trajectory of modernization characterized by democracy and individual liberty is no longer seen as a reliable route to prosperity by many states.
In a new book, “Defeating the Dictators: How Democracy Can Prevail in the Age of the Strongman“, the Asia Group’s Charles Dunst outlines a plan of action to restore the tarnished reputation of the democratic model. When combined with effective governance, it still provides a far better future for humanity than any alternative, he tells Bloomberg’s David Westin.
During the 1990s, many policymakers believed that as countries become richer and more educated, they would inexorably become more democratic, note analysts Daron Acemoğlu and Simon Johnson. Similarly, it has been assumed that the technological innovativeness of democracies will ensure they triumph against autocracies. But social media and the internet have proved to be tools in the hands of autocracies intent on surveillance, censorship, and oppression, they write in a preview of their forthcoming book, Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity:
It’s time to wake up. Providing autocrats with advanced technology does not make them more peace-loving, better behaved, or mellow in any way. Autocrats stay in power by fragmenting society and by fomenting nationalist messages – to counteract the demonstration effects created by Western success. Drawing on either a religious or secular basis, autocratic rulers tell their people: we are special, we are threatened, it is us against the world, and if we allow the West to ‘prevail’, they will destroy us, our way of life, our culture, and so on.
All of this is nonsense, but it can be sold to people through cleverly designed information filters, millions of internet bots, and well-funded official media. Autocratic oppression is like a bicycle – the people on top fear that if they don’t keep peddling lies, they are likely to fall off.
Will there be a further emergence of aggressive autocrats, using AI from China, drones from Iran, and mercenaries from Russia? What happens next in Ukraine is of paramount importance, they ask.
This column is taken from a new CEPR eBook, Supporting Ukraine: More critical than ever, available to download here.