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August 31, 2011

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"Is there any meaning in that pattern"

I'd say, it supports the claims in the original post, even if I was a bit sloppy in counting. Even within the two remaining categories, the trend is clearly down. One-party government, usually with an individual strongman, was (by definition) universal in Communist countries, and close to universal in Africa.

And, contrary to a bunch of commentary suggesting that this form of government is in some sense resurgent, the list suggests the opposite - these are countries that are at the back of the international pack in just about every respect you could name.


"The trend is clearly down"

-- not seeing it. The number of sub-Saharan African dictatorships has stayed pretty stable over the last decade. Communist / ex Communist, even more so -- that number hasn't changed at all in the last 15 years.

The trend /was/ clearly down from the mid-20th century until... oh, some point around 2000 or a little before. Since then, the number of dictatorships has been roughly stable. The Arab Spring has caused a sudden downturn -- but it's not that big a decline (from ~27 to ~24), nor is it likely to be sustained. A one-off is not a trend.

"contrary to a bunch of commentary suggesting that this form of government is in some sense resurgent"

-- Not my argument. I'm claiming it now appears to be in a state of rough equilibrium. Dictatorships will disappear, but new ones will come into existence at very roughly the same rate.

Looking at the list above, I see one brand new dictatorship (South Sudan) plus three or four countries that have drifted from authoritarian rule to full-blown dictatorship over the last decade or so (Djibouti, Tajikistan, Uganda, arguably the Rep. Congo). So, new dictatorships are still coming into existence. This doesn't mean dictatorship is undergoing a resurgence -- it isn't -- but it's entirely consistent with the equilibrium hypothesis: they come, they go, the total number remains around the same.


"These are countries that are at the back of the international pack"

-- Actually, several of them (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan) are middle-income. Kazakhstan is well above the current cutoff for EU membership.

But let that bide. Yes, most are pretty low-income. What exactly is your point? The charitable interpretation is that you're subscribing to some vaguely Whiggish notion that there's some sort of arrow of development which points toward greater liberty. The less charitable one is that you think countries at the back of the pack don't matter somehow.


Doug M.

"What exactly is your point? The charitable interpretation is that you're subscribing to some vaguely Whiggish notion that there's some sort of arrow of development which points toward greater liberty. The less charitable one is that you think countries at the back of the pack don't matter somehow."

My point is not the Whiggish one, in the sense of presupposing a given, or even a positive, direction of development. It's merely saying that there are directions that can be discerned and an institution that only survives in the least developed countries is unlikely to endure.

I imagine you could say the same thing about the extended family (I haven't checked the data). That is, if the extended family survives as an important form of social organisation only in some very poor countries, it is unlikely to survive for long.

You've omitted Yemen, by the way.

Countries that were dictatorships in 2000 and aren't now include (as well as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya), Kyrgztan (sp?), Iraq, Liberia, Pakistan. I lack your encyclopedic knowledge on this, so I suspect there are more, but in any case this group is larger in number, and even more in population than the additions (South Sudan didn't add anyone, of course).

Yemen is excluded for two reasons. The proximate one is that it's in a civil war, which by definition means it's not a stable dictatorship. The real one is that even before the balloon went up, Saleh's authority was highly circumscribed, against the tribes, against the Shia, and against other political factions. He wasn't a democrat, but he also wasn't much of a tyrant; no comparison with Mubarak or Assad.

"this group is larger in number,"

Er, no it's not. Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Liberia and Pakistan: that's four. (At most four, because Pakistan's pretty dubious. If we're excluding current-day Algeria, Burma, and Fiji, it's hard to see how we can bring in Musharraf.) I listed five new dictatorships over that same time period.

Include the Arab Spring and it becomes 7-5. Go freedom... but it's not exactly an overwhelming preponderance, is it. And even then, you're looking at 10+ years of stability or a small increase, followed by a one-time drop that seems unlikely to be repeated.

The number of dictators in 2010 was almost exactly the same number as in the late 1990s. That's not a "clearly downward" trend by any reasonable standard.

"I suspect there are more"

Bhutan! But that was a royal dictatorship, and we've excluded them.

"I lack your encyclopedic knowledge on this,"

Ugh. John, I haven't written anything that's not easily findable with a few moments of easy online research. There's been nothing in this discussion that's particularly obscure or arcane; I haven't even alluded to the academic literature.

Claiming ignorance, even relative ignorance, is just... unseemly. This isn't that hard. I'm sure you can keep up.


Doug M.

OK then, Yemen should be counted as a transition out of dictatorship since 2000. I agree Saleh was no Assad, but he still met your criteria until the Spring.

But the real question is whether 2000 represented a structural break in the downward trend clearly evident before that.

To maintain this view (let alone the "authoritarianism resurgent" line that was popular until recently), you need your claim that the Arab Spring will not be sustained, by which I assume you mean that some or all of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen will return to dictatorship. I agree that, if this happened, it would be good support for your view. Conversely, if it doesn't, it's support for mine



Dude. Noel just spelled out why Saleh probably never qualified. You're now saying "okay, so he qualified." The hey?

It's fine if you disagree with Noel. But then explain why. Don't blithely ignore him; that's just bad manners.

"by which I assume you mean that some or all of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen will return to dictatorship"

I have no idea why you would assume that. It isn't remotely supported by anything I've said.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, assume you're not trying to construct a very silly straw man, and spell out my position using short, clear words. I think Libya, Egypt and Tunisia probably will /not/ return to dictatorship. On the other hand, I don't think the Arab Spring will spread to topple more dictators.

That was what our bet was about. Remember our bet? I said Assad would probably still be in power six months from now. You said you wanted a year, since these things take time. I said okay, fine, a year -- he'll still be in power on August 31, 2012. You never responded. Do we have a bet on that, or not?

As for "authoritarianism resurgent", that's a separate and much more fraught question. Just because classic dictatorships aren't coming back doesn't mean that liberal democracy is conquering all. But that's a question for another post.


Doug M.

I thought your acceptance sealed the bet, since I had stated the terms I wanted.

Since we are both getting bad-tempered about this, I'll leave it at that and get back to you in August 2012 (or earlier if Assad falls in time for me to win).

Doug and I have a bet about the longevity of the eurozone. Loser either flies out to the land of the winner (or, if schedules don't permit, pays the winner to fly out to them) and then buys them a lot of steak, cigars, and good well-aged port.

I would be delighted to make such a bet about Assad! You on, sir? Admittedly, you've probably been to Boston, whereas I've never been to Australia, so the upside is larger for me.

I actually like this one better, because I'll be happy if I win.

Assad going down will have all sorts of complicated and unpredictable effects, but it's likely to be a net positive in the long run. One interesting knock-on: it would deprive Iran of its best and most reliable ally. (Iran is, of course, giving Assad all reasonable support. They just replaced their ambassador to Damascus with a hard-line Revolutionary Guard type.)

That said, I think Assad's chances look pretty good right now. He hasn't been able to suppress the protests, but neither have the protesters been able to make much progress against the regime.


Doug M.

"I actually like this one better, because I'll be happy if I win. "

I hope that's a typo for "lose"! Also, I think Oscar is a spambot

Noel, I'm happy to take the same side bet as with Doug ($50 to charity of choice). I'm in DC at present but will be back in Brisbane before the bet expires, and it's a long way to Boston from there.

Actually, several of them (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan) are middle-income. Kazakhstan is well above the current cutoff for EU membership.

All of these three get most of their (relative) wealth from oil or gas production. They don't really have well-rounded modern economies, except maybe Kazakhstan to some extent.

Happy if I /lose/, yes. My bad.

Doug M.

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