I keep reading comparisons between the progress of China and India. Some say it is quite telling. It has been said that for all the advice of the ‘west’ it is the world’s largest democracy that has lagged. The recent release of health statistics makes for uncomfortable reading. Per 10,000 of population India has 6 doctors and 9 hospitable beds; China has 14 and 30 respectively. Indian GDP per capita is US$2800 and China US$5970 (OECD, 2008). Maybe democracy does have a price – but is it one worth paying?
Let me first discuss about the conclusion that a dictatorship will grow faster than a democracy. I think there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that all conditions being same, a dictatorship will definitely grow faster than a democracy. This is intuitive and can be derived from natural laws. A democracy is like a chariot with 100 horses, each of whom has an opinion and thinking about the direction that they would like to take. So what happens is that each of the horses or a set of horses with same ideas will pull the chariot in their desired direction. The result is that the chariot is acted upon by forces that are pulling it in different directions. The final direction and the speed of movement will be determined by the resultant force which is the vector sum of all the different forces.
On the other hand, a dictatorship is like a chariot with 100 horses out of which only one will make the decision about the direction the chariot has to move in and all the other 99 will pull in that direction. It is obvious that there is no tug-of-war happening here and speed at which this chariot will move will be far in excess of the first one.
The first chariot is India and the second one is China. There is no wonder that the economic growth of China has been far superior to that of India.
The next question is therefore – Is the price of democracy worth paying? Before we answer that question let us consider the following:
1. Do all dictatorships result in high economic growth rates for the concerned countries? The answer is an obvious NO. There are so many countries in the world with dictators that are really poor and economically in shambles. It therefore stands to reason that Chinese growth is not because of it not being a democracy. It also means that Chinese economic growth under a “dictatorship” is an exception. And I read somewhere that exceptions prove the rule – here the rule being dictatorships are bad for the economy in general.
2. In a way, I’ll go so far as to say that till the end of the 20th century, even India was a kind of dictatorship – it was ruled by one party for almost 50 years after independence. It means that the ideology was one with hardly any conflicting thoughts. So the chariot should have moved faster. And it did. Only thing is that it did not run in the direction of high economic growth. That brings me to my third point.
3. In case of a dictatorship, the direction of the chariot is determined by the lead horse and the speed is unbeatable. Some examples:
a. Hitler wanted Aryan rule and elimination of Jews. We know what he achieved in less than a decade.
b. The African dictators like Mubarak, Gaddafi and the likes wanted wealth for friends and family. They more than achieved it.
c. Communist party in Russia wanted everyone to be equal. They ensured that the whole mass of the country was equally poor except the handful of the ruling elite.
d. Later Gorbachev wanted to democratise Russia. He succeeded in giving all the Republics their freedom and subsequent fiefdom.
e. Genghis Khan and Alexander wanted to rule conquer and rule the world. They did.
f. The Chinese party leaders want China to be an economic superpower and they are succeeding at it.
The point I am trying to make is that in a dictatorship, it is the undisputed leader who decides where the country must go and takes it there as long as he is the leader. So if you have a ‘good’ leader, then you are in luck – but what if the leader could not care less? Do you want to take that risk?
In case of a democracy, you’ll get your chance to remove the non-performing leader and bring in a new one who you think will deliver. In case of a dictatorship you just can’t do that.
What good use the high income I earn, if:
- I do not have freedom to express my true opinion(s)?
- I am told at every step what I can consume and what I cannot?
- I am given filtered information at all points in time?
- I am told that the word Jasmine is taboo for me?
- I have to take a license to produce a child after the death of my only child in an earthquake?
- I have to toil for unending hours in a factory?
- etc, etc…
So, is slower economic growth worthy price for a democracy?
Ask this question to someone who lives in a country ruled by dictators.
Me? I’ll go with Harold Skimpole – “Butterflies are free. Surely mankind will not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to butterflies.”