The assertion that democracy is better than autocracy at facilitating the move into prosperity butts up against the theory that authoritarianism is more conducive to rapid economic growth (as in Singapore, Chile, South Korea and China) is addressed in Steven Radelet’s new book. Mr. Radelet argues that autocratic regimes are more likely to empower malign leaders and hence less likely to achieve growth or sustain it, notes Mark Moyar, a visiting scholar at the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the author of “Aid for Elites: Building Partner Nations and Ending Poverty With Human Capital”:
Radelet is also at odds with the familiar claim that the integrity and openness of a nation’s institutions—its bureaucracies, legal systems, electoral processes and the like—drive its development, Moyar writes for The Wall Street Journal:
“Existing institutions, on their own, do not dictate outcomes,” he observes. The reason why some poor nations have advanced and others have not, he says, is leadership. Progress came about “because of the choices, decisions, and actions of the people in those countries.” He cites the achievements of leaders like Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, who chose democracy over perpetual dictatorship and capitalism over state control. Meanwhile, in such nations as Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe, corrupt heads of state stole elections and state resources at the expense of their people.
Research does not find support for the idea that aid as a general matter undermines democracy or keeps autocrats in power, notes Radelet, author of a must-read essay on The Rise of the World’s Poorest Countries in a recent issue of The Journal of Democracy, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy.