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August 10, 2015


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Man, I wrote a bunch of wrong stuff, saw this is obvious, and had to read that original post to see what you meant as dictator. The exclusion of GCC leadership is somewhat suspect. For example, some of the kings operate with substantially less legitimacy than others. Bahrain and Jordan are distinctly different situations from Oman or Morocco.

That being said, hey...Thailand?! That junta doesn't seem to be going away, and it's doubtful that the structure will change when the "constitutional monarch" is due and the succession happens. I know junta isn't supposed to be considered a dictatorship, but it doesn't feel as power is as dispersed as the Myanmar junta was. Egypt the same as Thailand...

I'd also include pull out Bangladesh from the oligarchy pool, since it's something of a dual power structure sort of place.

I was sincerely wondering whether people would click through to the original post!

I agree that the exclusion of monarchies is slightly arbitrary. That said, I do see at least one key difference: monarchies generally have a fixed set of rules for succession, and they operate regardless of whether the successor wants power or is good at wielding it. Jordan's current King has his points, but one has the strong impression he'd have been happier as a minor Hollywood actor with a specialty in genre films.

Also, monarchies tend to have heirs apparent. That's true even in appointive monarchies where the incumbent chooses from a pool of eligible male relatives. And this is in contrast to most dictatorships; dictators generally do not anoint successors before they die.

Juntas and oligarchies are their own interesting thing. Thailand seems to be locked in a cycle of elite -> populist -> elite/military rule that's faintly reminiscent of Latin America a generation or two back. (Or of Pakistan, if you want to get depressed.) Egypt, there's a common pattern where one guy starts out as _primus inter pares_ and consolidates power over time; I don't know if Egypt will go that way but I won't be at all surprised.

I don't think Myanmar was actually that dispersed -- more like the top guy was shy, and happy to run things from behind the scenes. It's in a state of flux at the moment, sure.

Doug M.

What got worse in Fiji from 2011 to 2015 to move it out of the borderline column? I was of the understanding it had moved from being openly a military dictatorship to having (not entirely free or fair) elections. Then again, the international press being no more willing to treat Bainimarama like a dictator than the domestic press might have thrown me off.

Also, something seriously depressing about two of the three incidents of change being the result of civil wars where many of the rebel factions seem no more enthused about democracy than the incumbent.

In the case of Fiji, the obviousness of the theft of the last election. "Not entirely free or fair" is a bit of an understatement.

That said, I do still think Fiji is an edge case. It's just an edge case that in the last few years has (IMO) moved from "not quite" to "just barely". But if I had to lose one off the list, yeah, I'd probably pick Fiji.

Doug M.

Myanmar's military got rid of a couple of insolent politicals yesterday, so feeling the burning relevance in this post.

If we're using "does not anoint successor" as a factor it works against some otherwise clear cases like NK and Cuba. That doesn't sound right.

Hmm -- I don't think Doug proposed that a succession mechanism was a separating characteristic. He merely observed that "most dictatorships" don't pick the successor dictator, which is true.

Moreover, the succession in dictatorships is almost never institutionalized. Even in Assad's case, there was an ad hockery to the succession, with his son needing to take a long time to build support within the regime.

What makes the Cuban and North Korean examples closer to the monarchies than to the other remaining dictatorships is that they possess an ideology that legitimizes unelected rule. I'm not sure how important it is to have a legitimizing ideology -- neither Marxism-Leninism nor monarchism is a particularly powerful meme these days --- but it is ironically a similarity between the Communists and the monarchists.

(Let's not mention Baathism; that ship sailed a while ago.)

Tried to post this before, but it didn't work.

Putin is the important case here. He's the kind of Bonapartist leader I had in mind in my original post, and Russia is big and important enough that a return to dictatorship there would be much more significant than changes to the rest of the list.

I'm still not convinced he has reached dictator status. In particular, he hasn't needed to, since AFAICT he has always had enough genuine popular support to win elections. This might change if the economy sours badly and people get sick of distractions like Ukraine.

As regards the other countries on the list, my reading (which may be disproved by Putin) would be that personal dictatorship is now just a variety of failed state.

"Could win an election" is not really a relevant indicator-- which is why it's not on our original list. Many dictators could win fair elections.

I really don't know what you mean by "failed state"; could you explain? Many dictatorships are in poor countries, but that's something else again. Ethiopia, Cuba, Belarus and Kazakhstan have a lot of problems, but nobody could plausibly call them "failed states".

Doug M.

John might mean that none of the countries on the list look to making the jump to high-income status anytime soon. The problem with that, of course, is that very few countries of any political stripe have made that leap. Portugal and Spain, of course, closed most of their gap with the high-income core under personal dictatorships, as did South Korea.

On the other hand, several of the world's fastest-growing countries are on that list.

Doug M.

True that. I was just responding on behalf of Professor Quiggin, considering that I suspect he himself has gone AWOL from this thread.

But to continuing channeling what I think he would say, until he shows up, the response would be that few observers think that the rapidly-growing countries in the above list are going to make it to high-income status. Some are riding oil booms, while others are still enjoying the easy stage of early economic growth, where all the government needs to do is stop doing silly things and allow the population to take advantage of technologies long-invented elsewhere.

It's not a terrible rebuttal, but here's hoping that he comes back to explain what he meant himself. Y'know, I'm still a little weirded out by how he ignored me on the original thread. But then again, I'm a weak and sensitive soul.

Well, four years ago he pointed out that most of these are relatively poor and unimportant countries. True-ish, but that's a long way from "failed state".

Doug M.

I'm considering indicators like hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, state-induced famine in North Korea, collapse into civil war in several countries on the list, and general absence of any positive prospects.

Perhaps you want to define "failed state" more narrowly. But (module Russia) there is still a huge difference between this list and the one you could have drawn up in, say, the 1970s, when dictatorship was common in middle income countries in Western Europe, Asia and Latin America.

"modulo" not "module"

I would agree that most of these countries are poor, and many of them are deeply troubled. I would further agree that there are a lot fewer middle income countries on the list than there were 40 years ago. However, the original question was whether dictatorship was disappearing. The available evidence is that, no, it isn't. As we discussed back when, there was a downward crash in the number of dictatorships in the 1990s, but after that jolt it has stayed roughly stable since the turn of the century.

I would also note that while most of the list is indeed poor, there are several middle-income dictatorships: Kazakhstan, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan all have per capita GDPs (PPP adjusted) in excess of $10,000 per year. Kazakhstan in particular is an upper-middle income country that is richer than half a dozen EU members.

I must sharply disagree about positive prospects. As noted above, the list includes some of the fastest growing GDPs in the world. Ethiopia, for instance, has been showing Asian-tiger levels of hothouse growth -- over 10% pa, sustained for about a decade now. Per capita income has nearly tripled. Yes, that just means they've moved from "desperately poor" to "very poor". But OTOH that's actually a huge difference, and the Ethiopians themselves are very aware of it.

More generally, if you look at that list's growth rates over the last four years -- weighting for population if you really want to be diligent about it -- I'm pretty sure it would be higher than the world's average growth rate over the same period, even with disaster cases like Syria and South Sudan weighing it down. I'm doing a project cost-benefit analysis this week, but if anyone else wants to check this, have at it.

Doug M.

" However, the original question was whether dictatorship was disappearing."

Not really. My original post began and ended with the observation that this form of government had declined sharply since the 1960s, a point on which we agree, I think. The secondary point of disagreement is whether the trend is still downwards.

...your original post began by saying the the fall of Qaddafi was "pretty close to being the end of tyranny, in the historical sense of absolute rule by an individual who has seized power". That's the very first sentence. If you want to call it a secondary point, okay, that's fine.

Back in the comments thread, I predicted that the number of dictators in the world would be pretty much the same in 2020 as it was in 2011. That's looking pretty good, unfortunately.

Doug M.

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