Do authoritarian governments work best in Asia?

Anonymous asked this question on 7/12/2000:

What are some disadvantages of authoritarian governments? Please cite examples of countries in Asia that have authoritarian gov't. and their problems because of it. How is a democratic gov't. better than an authoritarian in the Asian context? Thank You.

JesseGordon gave this response on 7/12/2000:

The basic problem that makes authoritarian governments fail is that they need to control every detail of society, and can't possibly do that.

If they try to control the economy, it eventually leads to economic collapse, because bureaucrats deciding prices and supplies is inefficient compared to the free market. That's what happened in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

If they try to control only the political aspects of society (like free speech, freedom of emigration, etc.), they eventually fail because people get tired of being controlled once they become middle-class and educated. That's a better description of what's happening in Asia.

Most Asian authoritarian governments no longer try to control the economy. The largest example is China -- they're basically capitalist, but still control people's personal lives heavily. You can read details at .

Asian countries with less political control include Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, and just about every other strong economy there. All of those countries recently had one-party systems with heavy political control. Some have now become multi-party, and with it have become less politically controlled (i.e., less authoritarian).

I have a theory that political control only lasts about 20-30 years once an educated middle-class is established -- see .
Japan was the earliest to achieve that, and their one-party system fell a few years ago. Indonesia's "strong-man" government fell dramatically last year; the rest are moving towards voting out the one-party powers. Presumably all of those governments will become less rigid in political control over time.

And that's not to say that any of those (except China) are bad places to live. Control over political life is fairly tolerable, if the people are getting richer over time. It's really control over economic life that we associate with the word "authoritarian", so really it only applies to China. The rest of them are "authoritarian democracies" or something like that -- not as free as the US or Western Europe, but pretty free economies and only limited political control. The counter-example is the Philippines, which has a vibrantly free democracy, but is not keeping up economically with its neighbors.

In answer, then, to your final question, I don't think that democratic gov't is better than authoritarian gov't in most of Asia (I detail that in the bubble.htm article too). I think when a country is poor, some political controls are ok, to speed along the process of building an educated middle class. I DON'T think that economic controls are ok, like in 1970s China or the USSR, because then the people stay poor and uneducated and there's no hope for eventual change.

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