How to get rid of dictators

How to get rid of dictators

Dictators come in many shapes and sizes: Some are fat, like Uganda’s Idi Amin; others skinny, like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. Some, like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, are of medium-build and without any facial hair, while others, like Adolf Hitler, are vertically challenged with a moustache. Yet others have a moustache and are taller.

But they possess a common trait: As Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes wrote in the third century B.C., “Every dictator is an enemy of freedom, an opponent of law.” Moreover, while there are a couple of notable exceptions such as Lee, dictators are almost always bad for the economy. In a recent paper I summarized in my Aug. 10 column, notable Turkish economist Daron Acemoğlu and his co-authors have established a positive link from democracy to growth.

It is, therefore, imperative to get rid of dictators, but how should one go about doing that? Different methods have been applied during the last few decades. A very common approach is simply to violently overthrow the dictator, as you would pull out a tick. After all, dictators do not usually allow free elections. Marcos, Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu and Italy’s Benito Mussolini have been disposed of this way.

However, pulling out a Crimean-Congo tick could lead to death, and similarly, it may sometimes be not only possible, but also more desirable, to get rid of dictators peacefully, as in the case of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, or simply let nature take its course by waiting for the dictator’s death – as was done in the Iberian peninsula with Spain’s Francisco Franco and Portugal’s António de Oliveira Salazar.

We may try to measure which of these two general approaches is better, at least in an economic sense.

Acemoğlu was kind enough to share with me the data and programs they used for their paper. I repeated part of their analysis, adding a dummy variable for a peaceful transition to democracy: If I decided that a shift to democracy in a particular country was nonviolent, I assigned it the value 1.

Acemoğlu & co. had found that “permanent” democratization leads to an increase of around 20 percent in GDP during the next 25 years, with investment in education and health care as well as lower social unrest accounting for the bulk of the rise. I found the increase 24 percent for peaceful transitions, but only 14 percent for violent transitions. If nothing else, nonviolent democratization is therefore better for the economy than a violent one.

Of course, none of this applies to Turkey. After all, despite being ranked in the 80s in different democracy indices, and labeled as a “hybrid regime” (between flawed democracy and authoritarian regime) like Iraq and Russia, Turkey is not an autocracy, but an advanced democracy. And despite being named as one of the new-style soft dictators by two political scientists in a paper I summarized in my March 30 column, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not an autocrat, but a democrat.

However, that doesn’t mean you should skip the ballot box on Sunday. You definitely should not, especially if you are a loyal reader of my columns. After all, I have been telling you the root cause of Turkey’s economic problems for a while now – and the only way to change that is via elections.