Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did not make the trains run on time. The myth of fascist efficiency first emerged in the 1920s, but it was always propaganda. Now, as the world struggles with a global pandemic, the idea that dictatorships are somehow more efficient than democracies is re-emerging.

Has China’s coronavirus response been a success? The Chinese city of Wuhan, which recorded the first COVID-19 outbreak in the world, tested almost its entire population in a matter of weeks and found no new cases of the virus. The way China enforced its lockdown measures has been widely described as “draconian”, yet (at the time of writing) it has suffered a much lower number of deaths than many democratic European states.

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Wasim, who thinks China’s first instinct, when COVID-19 emerged, was to suppress information about what was happening. Essentially, Wasim argues that China bungled its coronavirus response because it is an authoritarian state, allowing the virus to spread internationally. Is he right? Do democracies handle crises such as pandemics better than dictatorships? Or are dictatorships more efficient?

To get a response, we put Wasim’s comment to Sheri Berman, Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University in the US and author of the book Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day. Recently, she has been writing about the differences in response to the COVID-19 pandemic from democracies and authoritarian regimes. How would she respond to Wasim’s comment?

For another perspective, we put the same comment to Anna Wojciuk, Professor of Politics at the University of Warsaw and co-author of a recent article comparing coronavirus responses from authoritarian states and democracies. How would she respond?

Are dictatorships more efficient than democracies? Did China mishandle its Covid response because it’s a dictatorship? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (c) jiawangkun

31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    No, but some states are not created for democracy. Democracy is an invention of the Western civilisation. Countries like Russia, China, Turkey, Brazil etc. are not part of the Western civilisation.

    • avatar

      I get what you mean, but not true. Europe had feudalism and absolute monarchy before democracy. I think it is more connected with individualism of mind. Also a good dictator can be benificial for a while, the problem arises when his children inherits. Democracy is a state of mind that can be taught and should grow by itself. Look at the growing democracy in Tunisia, at Taiwan, many African nations and even some South American ones as well.

    • avatar

      Europe used to have feudalism and absolute monarchy until 18th century. They don’t exist since then.

    • avatar

      By the way Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and some African countries are westernized.

    • avatar

      Japan took western ideas and technology by themselves and utilised it very effectively in their short-lived empire and subsequent impressive economy. South Korea, it is true that they were directly westernized to combat communism but they are doing great today and haven’t looked back. Taiwan is the refuge of the self-made xginese national democratic government from the CCP. The African democracies have had the problem of inheriting western colonial systems and borders, that were designed to transfer wealth to Europe, and have therefore had some growing trouble, but many are starting to get better. Democracy is messy, but it is still the least bloody way for the population to be heard.

    • avatar

      yes, which is my point, we had the same very undemocratic systems and still reinvented democracy a few times.

    • avatar

      What are you on? The only functional, healthy democracies left today *are* the Eastern democracies. Only South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore are still functional. Western democracies are totally dysfunctional.

  2. avatar

    Well am not sure that France is till a democracy.. Information is controlled Facebook is screened… Demonstration are forbidden police very violent… Laws are signed by decets without the parliament.. Most orientations are decided by EU undemocratic Commission CEHD control our justice.. We are no more free to decide anything about migration cannot Expell islamists… Yes we live in, à fascist state… Many of them are thinking to live in free countries such as Poland or Tcheckie

  3. avatar

    First we need to define what’s efficiency. And what’s democracy (the US, for example, is an oligarchy). Because we all live in a society where representative democracy is taken as the end-goal and it doesn’t necessarily have to be, not for the whole world at least. In China, for example, there’s the concept of political meritocracy, where officials are trained for years and years before occupying a position of power. It surely doesn’t promote as much plurality as having different political parties, but is it better to have populists winning people over because everybody is voting for someone they don’t know much and often without being properly informed? Because we all know who’d win more votes on a debate between Adolf Hitler and, say, António Guterres.
    I don’t really have a solution, but I think we should, at least, try two things: more direct democracy (Cuba, in fact, does it at a local level but there are other examples) and ranked-choice voting like the state of Maine in the US implemented.

    • avatar

      What merit does Xi Jinping have? The man banned Winnie the Pooh over some light-hearted jokes on the Internet, and has signed off on crackpot unproven medicines. He’s infantile and nobody can even say it to his face just because he’s a dictator. What you say about populists is true, but while I could believe in Chinese technocracy before Xi, now it looks like at least as big a joke as our “democracies” with stupid electors who vote for things they don’t understand.

  4. avatar

    no shame in questions like this? trying to normalize mumbo jumbo?

    • avatar

      Well said Stella.
      I’ve noticed often that the questions posted almost ‘bait’ and expose posters that are not in line with the ‘groupspeak’ answer that is wanted. Often the accompanying ‘introductory paragrahs’ of the ‘question’ serve as a platform to first give an ideological opinion whether political,social, moral… that ‘sets the tone’

  5. avatar

    Dictatorships are efficient, alright. But that efficiency comes at an unacceptable price.

    • avatar

      TRUE! I agree with you!

  6. avatar

    No,is no true!
    The only efficiency the dictators have is only for themselves.

  7. avatar

    Democracy as it came to be on today’s world …. Extremely well paid politicians, behind closed doors create laws and work in favour of their ex bosses not forgetting to justify their actions with some heavy words (for the good of our children ..fir our future for the greater good bla bla bla ) Majority of people without any idea of basic political thinking or judgement feeling happy to post their current complaints and thoughts on fb and Instagram occasionally small groups hit the streets to protest about their democratical rights only to be treated like disease spreading on the passive flock of citizens or even worse Dictatorship … Just replace the (democratical) elected politician’s with rulers that didn’t had the sponsors to help them or the patience to wait until they be elected

  8. avatar

    Has anyone o commented lived in a real dictatorship? Like Portugal before 1974 ou Mozambique between 1975 and 1992 or Saudi Arabia ? We can’t speak lightly about dictatorship. It’s the worst political system.

    • avatar

      Don’t forget that Hitler was elected.

  9. avatar
    Gabor Molnar

    Any government has a goal to enforce its rules and standards on all of its members/participants/citizens (call them what you like) regardless of the likings of individuals so the main goal is control over the crowds in both a dictatorship and a so-called democracy. The only difference is that a dictatorship is more honest, as it does not bother creating the illusion of freedom for the fools. Both systems use unacceptable, inhuman methods of enforcement no matter what they declare. The biggest modern so-called democracies use all the filthiest methods to achieve their goals (murder, torture, terror, sabotage, manipulation etc.) just as those that are considered to be dictatorships. So are dictatorships more efficient? I think they are, as they don’t spend effort looking good in the eyes of those snowflakes who cannot accept the reality, which is the fact, that the entire globe is under a huge dictatorship.

  10. avatar

    If you have an enlightened dictator, possibly. But as soon as the dictator is replaced by an inept idiot, there is no way out. Even a generation of progress can be undone in just a few days. Ultimately the most efficient thing is for people to be educated enough to run their own affairs effectively and rationally, through a democratic political process they take seriously and are mentally capable of participating in.

  11. avatar

    I think I read somewhere that regardless of a society being democratic or autocratic, what lead to higher compliance by citizens in following covid measures was the sense of general unity and trust in the political leaders. Within democratic countries, a sense of trust in goverment has also seemed to be important in combatting it.

    • avatar

      Trust in our institutions has been gravely eroded, and ultimately that is because our institutions have failed over and over again and continue to fail – when not malevolently (such as the invasion of Iraq over the lie of weapons of mass destruction), as a result of ineptitude (Debt crisis). Populists and certain foreign agents with a decidedly Russian sense of humour have taken advantage of that to erode trust – but if the institutions were not so corrupt and inept to begin with we would not be in this situation.
      In any case, what is absolutely clear is that democracies in which the majority of the electorate have the IQ and reading level of children are simply not sustainable. The popularity contest model of politics is very easily hijacked.

  12. avatar

    In order to compare the two – we first need to achieve at least one example of democracy, which never happened so far. And would never happen, of course. Because democracy is a made-up myth, for weak to believe they are sometning.

  13. avatar

    Well, put this way is like asking if you’d be more efficient feeding yourself with energy drinks (like BlueCow) or with healthy, complete meals. Of course on short term the efficiency in the first situation would be higher, but… with what costs…?! On long term the abused body will cease to function properly and in the end most of its functions, and as well its objectives and its reasons to be , will be perverted. In the entire history dictatorships led only to poverty, alienation, abuses, disrespect for the individual, disrespect for life, oportunism and upstart. I don’t see any reasons for which things would change these days to prove contrary.

  14. avatar

    Such a silly question! Efficient? Is efficiency a value in itself? Does people put efficiency above all? North Korea has the world most efficient regime, everybody is set to perform a certain role and it seems the country is like a perfect Swiss clock: what for? Peace, justice and happiness are the values that matter, with more or less efficiency at the end of the day these are the only values people pursue, and democracy is the only regime that is able to provide for it. And yes, as all open systems democracy is vulnerable and demands a lot of work – not just cheap comments in a social network – but it’s the unique system under which nothing is irreparable and the one that allows perfectionning it.

  15. avatar
    EU Reform-Proactive

    Yes, they are very efficient in abolishing personal freedoms!

    Can one believe it? The world is improving! Only Eritrea and North Korea hold such honors! What would we “amateur critics” do when forced to live in North Korea? Awful!

    As there are many shades of grey, so are re-lapses by democratic governments.

    • Probably no true democracies exist without pinches of totalitarianism to help it turn tight corners at times. Or is it “step by step?
    • Probably no former totalitarian regimes were ever without a hew of democratic enhancements either.

    Isn’t a new totalitarian storm blowing from overly aggressive, innovative multinational tech/analytics corps? The AI- know it all companies- like Alphabet= Google, Twitter & Facebook, who knows us better then we know ourselves?

    And- If not sure- ask “Google”! And please, lets Twitter less!

  16. avatar
    Bulgarian Turk

    I would like to say my opinion about politics.

    Sometimes a dictatorship is not necessary a bad thing. When the dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein was alive, Iraq was flourishing. There was free healthcare and education and now it is a chaos after the Americans stormed Baghdad.

    In Bulgaria, the Bulgarian people think that only there the politicians lie and steal. Bulgarians think that there are no frauds or deceits by politicians in the Western World.

    I would like to remind you that in Britain in 2014 the English manipulated the Scottish referendum of independence and the outcome was 55% for staying in Britain and 44% for leaving the UK. So there is also mischief in the west too. The English would like to have Scotland in the Union, because of the petrol in the Northern Sea.

    The British also manipulated the vote of Independence of Australia in 1999. Where is the democracy then? There is no democracy at all. The Austrian ex-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was accused of corruption, because of Ibiza gate.

    So there is corruption and violation of democracy everywhere!

  17. avatar
    Catherine Benning

    Are dictatorships more efficient than democracies?

    As we in the UK, over the last weeks, are undoubtedly in the middle of some kind of coup. I do not believe the surface problems we see daily, are at all what we are being told is the true situation. I feel the indigenous people here are possibly being set up. And set up by their collective representatives. There is no way what we see taking place on the ground could be without government consent of some sort. It is not possible the tearing down of our infrastructure, the beatings of our police force, the pulling down of our historic markers, in full view of the people as a warning to them, could not be with the tacit consent of our leaders. The attackers are simple minded, as is debate taking place in our HoC. Whilst our population die from a cruel pandemic, the economy in chaos, our kids lined up starving at food banks with no school to relieve them of idiocy, these two ‘women’ MP’s choose to discus, as a priority, the, ‘I was more abused than you with racial taunts, as I am more openly exposed than you.’ Remember, we are told our population make up is only 13% ethnic. However, we are subjected to these two unrepresentative individuals who happen to be women, who have taken over our Parliamentary activity, leaving us forced to watch humiliation of our society as it falls into the abyss with this childish rant between them as their major worry. All to show we must line up behind BLM, as second class citizens, to these top drawer topics. The word laughing stock is weak to reality.

    At the same time as this priority debate, this video is showing what is happening on our streets, and it is not a single incident. It is rampant. Note the police woman trying to persuade the onlookers not to beat her fellow officer.

    fQsQ another, there is so many I could fill the page with it.

    Our democracy is being destroyed hastily by those who came to us for ‘a better life.’

    And those two women, who made it to our centre of representation, want to take precious time arguing over who faced more rude name calling at school, in order to justify they are worthy of their seat today. Simple minded is an under statement.

    Dictatorships are often a hidden fact of government. This situation we see here in the UK may well be a very efficient form of being under such rule, but, oblivious of it being our reality.

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