Guest Post: The Faulty Economic Development Model Behind America’s Support for Dictators (Instead of Democracies)

Washington’s Blog

America has a long-standing pattern of supporting dictators, instead of democracies, in developing countries.


Is it simply – as Noam Chomsky asserts – that America supports strong men who will ensure that their country acts as a “client state” to the U.S., and moves to crush countries which refuse to act as satellites to the U.S.?


But – as usual – faulty economic models are part of the problem.

Specifically, Morton Halperin, Joe Siegel and Michael Weinstein co-wrote a book called The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace, published by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2005, which provides insight into the economic model used to justify America’s historic support for dictators.

Halperin is no outsider, being a high-level adviser in the Clinton, Nixon and Johnson administrations and to the Council on Foreign Relations. In the Johnson Administration, he worked in the Department of Defense where he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs), responsible for political-military planning and arms control. During the first nine months of the Nixon administration, Halperin was a Senior Staff member of the National Security Council staff with responsibility for National Security Planning. In the Clinton administration, he served Director of the Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State, the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy at the National Security Council, and consultant to the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. He was nominated by the President for the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Democracy and Peacekeeping.

Halperin, Siegel and Weinstein gave a speech at the Carnegie Foundation in 2005 explaining their research findings.

Halperin noted:

Successive American presidents have said, particularly since the end of the Cold War, that a major goal of American foreign policy was to spread or enlarge or enhance democracy, and that our foreign policy was geared to supporting those who were struggling to establish and maintain democratic regimes.

Yet if you look at development assistance from the United States, from the international financial institutions, and even from the Europeans and the European Community, you find that there is no democracy advantage. That is, democratic countries, in fact, receive less development assistance than do non-democratic countries. You also find in the rhetoric, and even the charters, of development agencies a belief that democracy is not their business. They increasingly talk about good governance as one aspect of development, but not about democracy. The people who run USAID believe that their job is to promote development, and not democracy. That permits them to consider good-governance issues, but not to ask the fundamental question: Is this a democratic society that we want to support?

Indeed, the international financial institutions have, with one exception, charters which require them not to take account of whether a country is a democracy, or as it is referred to in the charters, its political criteria.

Underlying this policy of governments and international financial institutions is a belief about how democracy relates to development. There is a widely held view that poor countries need to delay democracy until they develop. Back when I was in college, this was the Scandinavian view of democracy, that only Scandinavian countries were capable of being democratic, and that you needed to have a solid middle class before you could contemplate democracy. The argument went—as presented in the writings of Samuel Huntington and Seymour Martin Lipset —that if a poor country became democratic, because of the pressures in a democracy to respond to the interests of the people, they would borrow too much, they would spend the money in ways that did not advance development—arguments that the current president of Mexico is making about his possible successor. These poor decisions would mean that development would not occur; and because people would then be disappointed, they would return to a dictatorship.

Therefore, the prescription was, get yourself a benign dictator—it was never quite explained how you would make sure you had a dictator that spent the money to develop the country rather than ship it off to a Swiss bank account—wait until that produces development, which produces a middle class, and then, inevitably, the middle class will demand freedom, and you will have a democratic government.

That proposition was wrong.

Siegel picked up from there. Siegel is a Senior Research Scholar at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, and an expert on the political economy of democratic transitions , who has contributed articles to leading policy journals and newspapers including Foreign Affairs , Harvard International Review , Georgetown Journal for International Affairs, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Newsweek International, Wall Street Journal, and The International Herald Tribune. Siegel was also a high-level researcher for the CFR.

Siegel told the Carnegie Foundation:

In the last forty-five years of actual performance, there is no evidence that poor authoritarian countries have grown any more rapidly than poor democracies. If you leave out East Asia, you see that poor democracies have grown 50 percent more rapidly, on average, during this period. The Baltic countries, Botswana, Costa Rica, Ghana, and Senegal have grown more rapidly than the Angolas, the Syrias, the Uzbekistans, and the Zimbabwes of the world.


Social dimensions of development … are even more starkly divergent. For example, in terms of life expectancy, poor democracies typically enjoy life expectancies that are nine years longer than poor autocracies. Opportunities of finishing secondary school are 40 percent higher. Infant mortality rates are 25 percent lower. Agricultural yields are about 25 percent higher, on average, in poor democracies than in poor autocracies—an important fact, given that 70 percent of the population in poor countries is often rural-based.

There are many reasons for this …. One characteristic that seems particularly prominent is that democracies do a far better job at avoiding catastrophes of all types. If we look at financial catastrophes for each of the last four decades and look at the twenty worst performers over each of those decades, we find that of eighty cases, only five are democracies. Similarly, if you look at a 10 percent contraction in GDP per capita on an annual basis, you find that poor democracies are half as likely to experience this sort of acute recession as are autocracies.

We see similar patterns with regard to humanitarian issues. Refugee crises are almost invariably a result of the politics in authoritarian systems.


Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, famously noted that no democracy with a free press has experienced a major famine.

One of the immediate assumptions made is that this is because of the populist pressures that democracies face; therefore, they are investing much more in their health and education sectors, leading to other macroeconomic problems. In fact, that is not true. To our surprise, poor democracies don’t spend any more on their health and education sectors as a percentage of GDP than do poor autocracies, nor do they get higher levels of foreign assistance. They don’t run up higher levels of budget deficits. They simply manage the resources that they have more effectively.


Let me move on to the second assumption, the notion that once autocratic countries reach a middle-income range, they will make the transition to democracy. Given the limited growth that we have seen under authoritarian systems, relatively few authoritarian countries actually reach this middle-income range. In fact, since 1960, only sixteen autocratic countries have reached a per capita base above $2,000 a year.

Fareed Zakaria’s book argues, in a repostulation of the Lipset and Huntington theses, that we shouldn’t be pushing democracy until these countries reach per capita incomes of $6,000 a year. If we were to do that, of today’s eighty-seven democratizers, only four would qualify as being ready. That would exclude the Baltics, Costa Rica, Poland, South Africa, and many others.


However, even among those poor autocracies that have grown, they are no more likely to make the transition to democracy once they have grown or once they have reached a middle-income status than they were when they were poorer.


The third and final assumption is the notion that premature democratization is a recipe for instability. We find empirically no strong basis for this reasonable hypothesis. What we do see, borne out in much of the conflict literature of the last fifteen years, is that the prevailing factor that influences conflict—and today most conflict is civil conflict—is poverty….

When you control for that and you look at countries that are going through political transition, you find that democratizers are no more likely to be vulnerable to conflict than are other poor countries.


In sum, the three core assumptions that have underpinned the authoritarian advantage thesis over the years aren’t borne out through our empirical analysis. What we find is that the form of government that is in place in the developing world has a huge difference on the development performance realized, and that by holding onto these notions that we should defer democracy until some later point, we are, in effect, perpetuating underdevelopment and higher levels of political and sectarian conflict, as well as deferring the point at which people can govern themselves.

Michael Weinstein – former chairman of the Department of Economics at Haverford College and a former economist columnist and editorial board member for The New York Times – then provided some recommendations:

Whether aid is bilateral, multilateral, quadrilateral, let’s give it to the democracies and democratizers, and not to poor autocracies.


Development policies have been anti-democratic. They have trampled on the incipient groups, such as civil groups inside poor countries, anmd run roughshod over them to force countries to follow policies drawn up by Washington D.C., and not by the countries involved. Democracy can be a victim in lots of silent ways.


Democracy … is so clearly connected to growth and prosperity that we say, highlight it, so that whenever a government like the United States, an agency like USAID, a bilateral or multilateral organization begins to contemplate aid policy, it would issue a democracy impact statement. Give us a good prediction of how the policy as proposed and implemented will trample on democratic forces within the poor countries to receive the aid.

In a question and answer following their speech, Halperin, Siegel and Weinstein gave some additional insights.

Halperin noted that the foregoing discussion applies to Muslim as well as Western countries:

I see nothing to suggest that Muslim culture or religion stands in the way of democracy.

The current debate is over whether the people in the streets of Lebanon are the same as those in the streets of Ukraine. We know, from many anecdotes, that the people in Lebanon watched the people in Ukraine on their television. Free Arab television was much more important in exposing them to Ukraine than it was to events in the Middle East. The Lebanese believe that they are doing what the people of Ukraine did, and out of the same passions and convictions

Siegel pointed out several reasons why democratic countries are more prosperous than autocratic regimes:

When there is more symmetry on all sides of a market, buyers and sellers, you usually get more efficiency, more willingness for people to participate. That doesn’t happen if people are unsure if they have all of the facts on the table.

Openness also contributes to higher levels of transparency and lower levels of corruption. Data show that corruption cuts heavily into GDP growth on an annual basis.

The third point is adaptability. Democracies not only have a self-correcting mechanism, but also mechanisms for a systematic means of changing ineffective leadership. This allows for a stable transition to a new policy framework that might allow for a more effective process of addressing the problems that a country is facing, one that is appropriate for its particular circumstances. Because of this process of succession, you don’t have the same instability in democracies that heavily cuts into growth in other systems, either because of the political uncertainty or the civil conflict that results.


One of the problems and barriers to growth is when you have both the political and economic monopolization of power in a single set of hands. This is often one of the characteristic traits of authoritarian systems. To the extent that you can separate economic opportunity from political authority, you will be in a better position to develop. By channeling all of our assistance through central governments, we tend to perpetuate the consolidation. That undercuts the opportunities for development.

And Weinstein gave another reason:

Democracies don’t fall off the edge of the cliff and hit bottom in the way autocracies do.

Afterword: It’s not just America. As Chapter 1 of The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace notes:

Today, it is politically incorrect to extol publicly the virtues of autocracies—
countries where leaders are not popularly elected nor subject to
meaningful checks and balances. Nonetheless, the view that these governments
do a better job of promoting economic growth and stability among
poor countries remains firmly entrenched in the minds of many world leaders, economists, national security advisors, business executives, political scientists, and international civil servants. According to this perspective,
promoting democracy in poor countries is naïve and potentially dangerous.

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  1. attempter

    Therefore, the prescription was, get yourself a benign dictator—it was never quite explained how you would make sure you had a dictator that spent the money to develop the country rather than ship it off to a Swiss bank account—wait until that produces development, which produces a middle class, and then, inevitably, the middle class will demand freedom, and you will have a democratic government.

    That proposition was wrong.

    That’s nothing but another version of trickle-down, and just as much of a fraud.

    It’s also plagiarized from the 1930s, when it was all the rage to favorably compare and contrast the decadent and sclerotic Western systems with the sleek, efficient new fascist model.

    The modern Big Lie, and evidently the misconception among these commentators, is that the US government ever cared about democracy at all, or that in these contexts “democracy” was ever anything but a code word for economic license and domination for big corporate actors.

    From the point of view of globalization, the only democracy is to be democracy for corporations and the rich. It’s the same as the way the trend in the US itself is to increase corporate “rights”, wipe out corporate responsibilities, add new burdens and obligations for non-rich actual human beings, while stripping them of rights. It’s the concept of sovereignty and citizenship turned exactly upside down. Thanks in large part to the long-term systematic subversion of the Constitution by the SCOTUS, we now have a ruling system which is illegitimate and anti-sovereign in every sense.

    So we can see what the term and concept democracy means to such cadres. Coming from them, it’s nothing but corporatist tyranny, embellished by phony elections.

    It’s the same as the way “libertarians” use the word “freedom”, or the term “free trade”. These are all Orwellian terms used to obscure the real nature of today’s allegedly more efficient model of economic fascism and political anti-democracy, neoliberalism.

    The studies cited in the piece demonstrate that even where it comes to pseudo-democracy, the better the integrity of the forms, the better the results are for the people.

    Imagine the difference once we end globalization and purge the earth of corporations.

    1. DownSouth

      attempter said:

      It’s the same as the way “libertarians” use the word “freedom”, or the term “free trade”. These are all Orwellian terms used to obscure the real nature of today’s allegedly more efficient model of economic fascism and political anti-democracy, neoliberalism.

      Ah yes, the perversion of language. It’s an old trick.

      None of the various “language rules,” carefully contrived to deceive and to camouflage, had a more decisive effect on the mentality of the killers than this first war decree of Hitler, in which the word for “murder” was replaced by the phrase “to grant a mercy death.” Eichmann, asked by the police examiner if the directive to avoid “unnecessary hardships” was not a bit ironic, in view of the fact that the destination of these people was certain death anyhow, did not even understand the question, so firmly it still anchored in his mind that the unforgivable sin was not to kill people but to cause unnecessary pain.. [A]nd it was not the accusation of having sent millions of people to their death that ever caused him real agitation but only the accusation (dismissed by the court) of one witness that he had once beaten a Jewish boy to death. To be sure he had also sent people into the area of the Einsatzgruppen, who did not “grant a mercy death” but killed by shooting, but he was probably relieved when, in the later stages of the operation, this became unnecessary because of the ever-growing capacity of the gas chambers. He must also have thought that the new method indicated a decisive improvement in the Nazi government’s attitude toward the Jews, since at the beginning of the gassing program it had been expressly stated that the benefits of euthanasia were to be reserved for true Germans. As the war progressed, with violent and horrible death raging all around—-on the front in Russia, in the deserts of Africa, in Italy, on the beaches of France, in the ruins of the German cities—-the gassing centers in Auschwitz and Chelmno, in Majdanek and Belzek, in Treblinka and Sobibor, must actually have appeared the “Charitable Foundations for Institutional Care” that the experts in mercy death called them. Moreover, from January, 1942, on, there were euthanasia teams operating in the East to “help the wounded in ice and snow,” and though this killing of wounded soldiers was also “top secret,” it was known to many, certainly to the executors of the Final Solution.
      –Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

      1. attempter

        That reminds me of this post

        about the contrast of the brutal, gory illegal violence of the US elites’ system, vs. how finicky they are about the legalistic death penalty.

        Eichmann must have considered the euthanasia of wounded soldiers to be a big improvement over the way their comrades would often have to grant their agonized, screaming pleas to be shot and put out of their misery (according to a war memoir I read, written by a German who had been a private on the Russian Front).

        Would it be an improvement over the way today’s Republicans and Democrats want to let veterans die of wasting away in sickness and hunger, rather than fund the VA? Would it be an improvement over leaving them at the mercy of the likes of JPMorgan’s foreclosure squad?

        The final logic of all these is enslavement and death.

    2. DownSouth


      Along these same lines is this from today’s “Links”:

      Today, words like ‘Progress’ and ‘Development’ have become interchangeable with economic ‘Reforms’, Deregulation and Privatization. ‘Freedom’ has come to mean ‘choice’. It has less to do with the human spirit than it does with different brands of deodorant. ‘Market’
      no longer means a place where you go to buy provisions. The ‘Market’ is a de-territorialized space where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling ‘futures’. ‘Justice’ has come to mean ‘human rights’ (and of those, as they say, ‘a few will do’). This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language in which to voice their critique and dismiss them as being ‘anti-progress’, ‘anti-development’, ‘anti-reform’ and of course ‘antinational’— negativists of the worst sort. Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and
      they say, ‘Don’t you believe in Progress?’ To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs and whose homes are being bulldozed they say, ‘Do you have an alternative
      development model?’ To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education, healthcare and social security, they say, ‘You’re against the Market.’ And who except a cretin could be against a Market?

      As writers we spend our lives trying to minimize the distance between thought and expression, trying to give form to our intimate, most inchoate thoughts. This new
      Development language does the opposite. It is designed to deceive, to mask intent.

      This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.

    3. Paul Repstock

      It is all in the motivations Rus;
      One of Siegel’s after comments is telling:
      “Openness also contributes to higher levels of transparency and lower levels of corruption. Data show that corruption cuts heavily into GDP growth on an annual basis.”

      My view is that a democracy would inhibit the payolla schemes of the US ‘Military Industrial Complex’. It is so difficult to convince a democratic government that they need fighter aircraft and APC’s more than irrigation pumps.

      1. attempter

        You bet. To whatever extent democratic preferences could be measured, the people have always, everywhere, rejected neoliberalism and corporatism. That’s why capitalism has always had to be so corrupt and savagely violent, and that’s why the Shock Doctrine had to be invented as a premeditated strategy.

        Criminal advocates who tell the Big Lie about capitalism representing “freedom” have never been able to explain why this alleged freedom requires so much tyranny in practice.

  2. Psychoanalystus

    There is so much misrepresentation in the sources provided in this post, I would not know where to begin to debunk them. To begin with, the entire premise that the US promotes democracy, or that the US is a democracy are so far off the base, it is useless to even talk about them.

    As such, I will just make a brief description of what this “exporter of democracy” really is all about:

    By “good governance” I assume is meant “stability”. And by stability it simply means a state willing and able to, over a long period of time, either allow US military bases on its territory under dismal terms to the host country, or, if the former is not possible, to at least purchase large volumes of useless US-made weapons even if these are financed with so-called American “aid” money (another way to defraud the American taxpaying chumps for the benefit of the death-industrial-complex). If the country in question had any desirable resources (oil, minerals, etc), then the Exxons, Bechtels, and Halliburtons type criminal corporations are expected to be given free reign. This is where a dictator provides “stability”, thus from America’s perspective, a dictator is desirable over a democratic leader.

    As far as the “international financial institutions” are concerned, I would like to see one – just one – country where the IMF or the World Bank were involved with less than disastrous consequences for the country in question. There was never any true development under those institutions. Just corruption of the worst kind, enslavement of the governments of those nations, and impoverishment of their populations. Fortunately, with Asia amassing such huge financial reserves, the IMF and the World Band (and the US Treasury along with them) are soon to become irrelevant, very much like the US has become.

    One must understand that the United States is little more than a banana republic with nukes and other expensive useless weaponry. That is all that this nation has, and that is all that it can and wants to sell to others. However, this weaponry junk, because that is what it is, commands a high price from various dictators interested in arming themselves to the teeth in order to be able to defend their illegitimate regimes from revolutionary masses. So the idea is to sell these weapons to these dictators so they can prevent their own overthrow. And, if they cannot pay, no problem, we’ll just send them a few billions dollars in “aid”.

    That is the economic model of the United States today. That is what this laughable country amounts to today. For how much longer does anybody guess this will continue? Six months? A year? Two years? I don’t see how it can go on for much longer.


  3. Richard Kline

    Regarding who the US choses to support,’it’s the policies, stupid.’ US policies. Rhetoric is just that and no more, for US foreign policy is resolutely pragmatic (another American characteristic): the American power elite and the government they constitute for themselves support who furthers our (i.e. their) percieved interests. I say ‘perceived’ interests because whatever is the current flavor of interest may in fact be positively inimical to the actual interests of American power to say nothing of the interests of the citizenry. —And this is why the US tends to support dictators and autocrats since American power interests typically are contrary to the interests of people in other places. Thus those people would not voluntarily support said interests. Thus it takes a dictator to force their polities to comply with those interests. This isn’t simply about military bases, or terms of trade, or ‘support our friends,’ all though it is often any or all of those things. It’s about getting our way, and the the bloody hell with the interests, aspirations, of physical persons of others in other places.

    The US government is quite willing to deal with democracies who give us our way, and in my observation generall prefers dealing with such quasi-or actual democracies. Why? Dictators are expensive, we have to buy them. Their regimes tend to end explosively. We get blowback from backing them. And they are often so (necessarily) concerned with their own survival that they don’t execute American policy interests all that well (see Gen. Pervasive Myselfishness in Pakistan). But those are minor flaws. What matters is whether or not the American whim, fantasy, program, or strategy is supported or not. Since we can’t get that from most democracies, we are perfectly willing to back any bloody thug from Saddam on down if he gives us a policy handjob on a regular basis.

    American governmental ‘aid’: that’s a misnomer the size of Gozilla’s arse. Most of our ‘aid’ is either armaments (a US gov kickback to our arms industry) or vendor financing for US products. The US shouldn’t be in the ‘aid’ business at all because our government granted aid is corrupt on every level imaginable. So we shouldn’t be giving ‘aid’ to democracies either. Supporting them politically, yes; giving them our financial and military heroin-equivalents, no. —But of course this is a central tenet of American policy, that we give bribes that corrupt factions rake off and want to stay close to the US policy so as to continue to receive. Any genuine investment in another country is out because that might benefit individuals and factions not tied to US policy, or worse opposed to it. And we wouldn’t want that, would we? (Who’s ‘we’?)

    And then there is the expanded argument of Seigal, that democracies in poor states actually have fewer econo-financial crashes, and as Sen says _no_ famines. That is a function of accountability, on two levels. A princpal drival of economic instability is a lack of accountability. Behaviors which are questionable meet little or no resistance, and can accelerate into the rephrehensible. Behaviors which are criminal meet slight resistance, and go viral because they pay so well (and are so much fun for those who benefit). Democratic states are somewht more accountable; not perfect, not one to one, but more accountable. There are ‘opposition factions’ if nothing else who would like to get power, and will call attention to failings as the route to the top, even if entirely selfishly. So point one, economic instability and accountability are inversely proportional (though context varries so the relationship is not absolute). Dictatorships by definition are based upon the absence of accountability. If government is in any way answerable to its populace, it’s less than a dictatorship. Most peoples don’t like autocrats (except in instances of extreme insecurity, but typically not even then). So autocrats have to physically prevent the possibility of any accountability to their citizenry. Once that principle is laid down, it’s not even a baby step to a lack of accountability in other matters. Rig this deal; demand this bribe or that set of slaves; enforce this worship; stigmatize that group: whatever. Autocratic systems are shot through _at the top_ with a lack of accountability, while concentrating most power and money in the same location. Is it any surprise that econo-financial crashes and non-development as opposed to thieving off rents occurs?

    Huntington and Lipset’s kinds of arguments didn’t originate with them: they are the position of aristocracies for millennia. Seriously; dust off your texts of the classics, and one will find this argument made anywhere some are rich and privileged and most are not. The rich will always tell you that the poor are not only undeserving but are further more incapable. That is all that Huntington and Lipset, and any other handmaiden of an aristocracy has to say; just variations on a theme. And the ‘stability’ meme is purest propaganda. The kind of ‘development’ intended by those talking about ‘stability’ is penetration of financial and commercial foreign interests with the penetrated in a permanent and structurally affixed subordination. No ‘development’ that might be distinct from First World moneypower is envisioned, or voluntarily tolerated where it occurs naturally. This is again why Anglo-American moneypower aligns naturally with dicatators; not because it loves them necessarily but because the majority elsewhere have no love for said moneypower so dictators are backed by default. —But because UK-US power elites back dicators by default, we prove (seemingly) surprisingly fickle toward them. Just as in the present interest we didn’t work up one bead of sweat to save Mubarak and his mukhabarat regime. We don’t like him and his ilk, they’re just (perceived to be) necessary tools, to be discarded when they go blunt or start shocking the hand that holds them once their structural insulation is shot. America discards its tools so frequently I’m amazed that any of the idjits still grovel to us. All of these arguments about ‘stability’ or ‘better development’ are simply post facto self-deception for obviously odious practices. Every so often someone in power has a snootful and says the truth: they’re our sonsabitches, and that is the only reason we back them, because nobody else would debase themselves to be ‘ours.’

  4. bill wilson

    “If you leave out East Asia, you see that poor democracies have grown 50 percent more rapidly, on average, during this period.”

    Yikes – if you leave out the evidence that does not support your point then all the evidence supports you!

    C’mon this is a load of crap.

    The key point is missed. There is economic freedom and there is political freedom. For development, economic freedom is far more important (the poster child being China). Benevolent dictators that promote economic progress, with not too much corruption, are the superior option at early levels of development.

    Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines and the list goes on of countries that got democratic political reforms (over economic ones), and have not turned out so well.

    Look at Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore as countries that eventually got political freedoms, long after they got economic freedoms.

    I would submit that even in Egypt that it was the lack of economic freedom that drove the protests, not the lack of political freedom. It was the corruption they faced in daily life, as they tried to make a living, that was the real driver.

  5. Sufferin' Succotash

    So I suppose all those people in Tahrir Square were just kidding us with those demands for political reform.
    Economic and political freedoms don’t exist on different planets. People who constantly have to pay off public officials in order to make a living are the victims of both political and economic oppression. That’s particularly the case when any complaining about corruption could easily land them in the slammer. It seems that the primitive child-like Egyptians were capable of connecting the dots between the lack of civil liberties and the abridgment of economic opportunities.
    I wonder if the people who advocate economic development first-democracy later ever bother to look at, well, American history. The US wasn’t exactly an economic powerhouse when the Constitution was enacted–far from it.
    But somehow this country managed to become a leading industrial nation despite putting the cart before the horse by widening the suffrage and democratizing the political system in the early 19th century. That’s what happens when you don’t read your Huntington & Lipset.

  6. Dan Duncan

    The underlying premise of this piece of garbage is GW’s opening line: “America has a long-standing pattern of supporting dictators, instead of democracies, in developing countries.”

    And what does our esteemed blogger offer as support for this assertion?

    A link back to his own freaking blog.

    And what lurks in GW’s own blog to actually underpin his assertion? A headline–written by GW– that Israel, Saudi and US leaders say Arabs aren’t ready for democracy.

    That’s it.

    This guy is such a joke.

    Hey George do you have anything–any support beyond a reference back to something else you wrote–to advance this incredibly broad, ill-defined statement that the US supports dictators INSTEAD of democracies? [Not “in addition” to democracies, but “instead of”]

    Can you reconcile your position that the “US should only support democracies” with US involvement in the UN? By your rationale, the US should withdraw support to the UN because the majority of UN members are neither politically nor economically “free”. []

    Should the UN boot non-democracies from its membership? Or is your position that only the US that should not be supporting non-democracies…but it’s perfectly OK for Germany, France, Canada, etc., etc…?

    While were on the subject: Did you know that since 2000 about 95 percent of U.N. member states that receive U.S. assistance have voted AGAINST the United States most of the time in the U.N. General Assembly on non-consensus votes? That seems inconsistent with your overall position that the US is primarily in the business of supporting dictators that will only advance US interests. What gives? And why do you invoke the UN as a valid source of international law, when the UN Security Council is comprised of such Democratic luminaries like China, Russia and Nigeria?

    1. Birch

      I’m no expert, but I know there’s a lot of evidence out there if you’re interested in looking. Chile and Nicaragua pop into my head as simple examples where the U.S. was key in deposing a democratically elected local government and replacing it with a military dictatorship.

    2. Funny-Uncle Sam

      The world trusts Russia more than the US because it’s Russia standing up for the UN Charter, supreme law of the land in America, when the US breaks it and commits an act of aggression in Iraq. It’s Iran fighting executive impunity while the US is trying to destroy the ICC. God Bless America is a pariah state, buying friends as their money runs out, killing all the wogs they can’t buy, pissing away the last of their influence. The civilized world outnumbers you. It’s democracy, get over it.

    3. Paul Repstock

      Actually Dan, you bring up a good point. Perhaps the UN should be examined, as should the US position within it. Since the formation of the UN, the United States has held a disproportionate influence over that body, and has in recent times refused to fund it’s share of the UN budget???

      The US has set the policies of this body by bribing or threatening member states, (remember the Coalition of the Willing)and “You are either with ‘us’ or against ‘us’. And the “Axis of Evil”, and economic sanctions.

      If as you clain 95% of the UN members voted against the US positions, how did the American policies always get implemented. It sounds like the UN is not itself a “Democratic organization”.

  7. Birch

    The idea that democracy is only plausible when people start getting wealthy is pretty twisted. I guess it goes along with the concept of democracy as (mis)representative democracy that we know too well. Democracy, particularly direct demorcracy, works better according to how equally wealth is distributed. If everybody is poor, this is arguably where democracy has the most potential. By allowing (perhaps even encouraging) a system of direct democracy in an impoverished state, instead of creating and funding a central elite to guarantee inequality, you would see a general improvement in global social and economic structure.

    But elites like other elites to fraternize with. What is the intent of ‘western’ foreign policy? Do they actually have any desire to improve the economic or social well-being of their ‘third world’ economic colonies? Do they even want to improve the ‘third world’ within their own nations? The real story is in their action, not their rhetoric. Their existance depends upon inequality.

  8. rd

    In general, I believe GW’s assertion, although there is a lot of scatter as there would be in any large data set.

    Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are two key anecdotes in the Western Hemisphere. They have both been reasonable democracies for 15 years or more and can be benchmarked against immediately adjacent countries that have not been true democracies (most totalitarian regimes always have elections). The differences are striking, nothing more so that Dominican Republic and Haiti on the same island subject to the same natural events.

    Unfortunately, I think that the big geo-political games that the US tries to play often backfire after several decades. Initially it was against communist regimes after WWII and then switched over to Islamic regimes over the past 30 years. The US has been locking in authroitarian regimes but over time those become unstable. Historically, when they blow the “enemy” is often the only really organized group with external funding who can step in an fill the breach like Iran in 1979.

    Somehow, we need to figure out how to have our purported “values” enshrined in the Constitution exported to these other countries. Mere words don’t do it while we are arming the forces supporting the totalitarian states.

    I hope that Egypt can come out of this with something like a democratic, generally secular system. Hopefully, the US trained militiary will allow and help guide this process instead of simply positioning another strongman who can them battel against radical Islamicists instead of having an overall society innoculated against extremism.

  9. nonclassical

    ..reading Perkins’ book, “Confessions of An Economic Hit Man” provides most answers…also, Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine-The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, and the TRUE historical CIA documentation by William Blum, “Killing

    those of us who poly-sci’d our way through 70’s and 80’s learned the lesson from Central and South America exploitation..original “Sept. 11th”, 1973=Anaconda Copper.

  10. Sufferin' Succotash

    Is there any need really to export democratic “values”, however defined?
    It’s not as if countries like Egypt or Iran are totally innocent of what goes to make up a democracy. Egyptians and Iranians can read, after all, and both countries have had free elections and periods of political liberty on previous occasions. The development of democracy around the world over the past two centuries isn’t just about us.
    Maybe it’s more of a question of refraining from exporting the means of repression, eh? No more SAVAKs, no more tear-gas canisters stamped Made In USA, etc..

  11. Deus-DJ

    Dear LORD that’s another book I need to get….this thesis actually falls straight in line with the concept of regulation(it is a FUNCTION! of democracy) and thus INHERENTLY describes issues of equity. Thus development and democracy ARE! inherently linked.

  12. Paul Repstock

    Is the name of Cuba so taboo, it cannot even be mentioned here? On the surface Cuba would seem to be counter supporting evidence for some of the ‘anti dictator’ argument. However, this evidence needs to be examined in context. Cuba without Fidel Castro would have immediatly reverted to an American colony. The somewhat limited sucesses of Cuba are remarkable considering the virtual blockade the have enjoyed since the revolution.

  13. Jimbo

    Halperin says, “arguments that the current president of Mexico is making about his possible successor. These poor decisions would mean that development would not occur”

    Well, that president was Fox, and he was referring to AMLO, who the Mexican oligarchy fraudulently deprived of the presidency in 2006.

    And what is this development they speak of? Since 1982, when Mexico embraced an economic agenda that would make the GOP blush, GDP/Capita has grown at an annual clip of 0.5%.

    0.5% a year is what Halperin is defending.

    1. Paul Repstock

      Yep! And if you remove; corn turned into ethanol instead of tortillas, Foreign mineral exploitation, and drug wars, GDP would probably have shrunk by 10%??

  14. Brian

    To be the less academic, USA supports American capitalist enterprise in countries at the point of military intervention whether or not democracies. USA awaits to prepare the bogus situation in Canada to invade western Canada for its rich oil and gas resources.

    1. Psychoanalystus

      The US tried numerous times in the past to invade Canada, and got its ass kicked every time. This country is not only completely bankrupt financially and morally, but it is also little more than a paper tiger militarily. Our military is so weak, our “heroes” so high on drugs and narcissism, our state of the art weapons so useless and malfunctioning, we would not be able to conquer Easter Island if called upon. Canada would kick our ass so bad, we would not know what happened to us… but I am sure the corporate media would spin it as to appear like a glorious victory.


      1. Paul Repstock

        Sadly Psycho; Canada has a legacy of politician who may be even more corrupt than yours. It is probably no even necessary to “invade Canada” note that I still capitalize the name for sentimental reasons. However, we have been sold for little more than 30 pieces of silver. Sadly, most Canadians are either oblivious or in denial…:(

  15. Schofield

    As Deng Xiaoping ought to have said:-

    “When foxes are allowed to design hen-houses the common good is never wrought large.”

    Instead of:-

    “Does it matter what color the cat is as long as it catches mice?”

  16. katie

    the US supports dictatorships because dictatorships will *always* funnel monetized profits upwards to the top, where the other global elites can share in the booty, either through tax haven pirate banking arrangements, provision of escape routes and hideouts as needed, and business opportunities for the dictator’s family and cronies.

  17. nonclassical could postulate Cuba voided U.S. exploitation, and as such (since end of Russian influence at least) has been an experiment..not a totally unsuccessful one, given where they
    were prior. Venezuela-Chavez might be a better model today-
    especially after Bushit attempted destabilization, which continues.

    Reading Perkin’s book, we find no less than 4 South American
    democratically elected leaders gotten rid of, dictators implanted. I concur with Richard Kline and Psychoanalytus,
    who properly delineate William Blum’s work, and Perkins’ analysis-“Killing Hope”-“Confessions of An Economic Hit Man”.

    But as many here have commented recently, Naomi Klein’s model in “The Shock Doctrine”, of destabilization obviously
    is at work today, inside the U.S. as well as Middle-East.
    We should all realize from Bush I, who told us he would not
    depose Saddam, as that would destabilize the Middle-East…he could have gone on to state destabilization of U.S. as well…but as Kevin Phillips shows in “American Dynasty”, Bush I was not comfortable with family transition
    to “finance” economics…(from military-industrial complex)

  18. Deus-DJ

    Actually let me give some insight on this economic model that supports dictators. I mentioned it in my earlier comment, but the basic mode of analysis that makes this even more explicit is academic economics and its contempt for democracy. The entire point of the public choice theory of regulation was to say that price should be the sole mechanism to determine everything. What’s even more dangerous about this than just your standard neoclassical argument is that it’s also an argument against regulation(its answer is that regulation picks winners and losers, and thus regulation always does the opposite of what it is supposed to do).

    The most essential thing to realize when listening to this theory is that regulation has historically been a function of democracy. Thus, democracies try to deal with problems moreso than dictatorships. That this answer to this problem is then responded to with a “regulation is bad” argument shows the true analysis at work: democracy is bad. That there are constant forces at work to undermine the rule of law and regulation in general shows that neoclassical economics is inherently anti-democratic and pro-dictator(as long as that dictator allows a “free market”.

    Professor Bill Black could give a more clear argument(in article form) effectively showing this. I may ask him to write one.

  19. scharfy

    GW posts on Chemtrails, links Alex Jones, cites himself multiple times, rants about shortages of bumble bee’s, the military changing the weather, and generally every far-left loon conspiracy theory under the sun. He also is a rank truther.

    Is he paying for posting privileges?

  20. eric

    This analysis makes a lot of sense to me in theory, but I am made more than a little uneasy by the offhand ignoring of East Asia. I mean, come on… How can you just ignore the most significant example of the past couple of hundred years?

  21. Paul Jurczak

    “… we shouldn’t be pushing democracy until these countries reach per capita incomes of $6,000 a year. If we were to do that, of today’s eighty-seven democratizers, only four would qualify as being ready. That would exclude the Baltics, Costa Rica, Poland, South Africa, and many others.”

    This is not consistent with facts. Per capita GDPs (2010):
    Estonia $14,400
    Poland $12,300
    Lithuania $11,600
    Latvia $11,300
    South Africa $6,710
    Costa Rica $6,400

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