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« Golden era of the Philadelphia Phillies | Main | Boris Yeltsin regretted his support for Vladimir Putin »

October 26, 2009


jj mollo

Well, I don't think it's necessary to accept that apparently inevitable social collision. I hope that with some understanding of game theory and some innovative strategic planning we could design an incremental procedure for moving from dictatorship to democracy. You know it has been done without leading to extreme violence, in particular, for Chile and Eastern Europe. I think it requires good will on the part of the ruler and the opposition, but normalized freedom may be feasible.

Frank Warner

Chile wasn't a totalitarian state, so its dictator Pinochet was much more vulnerable. He also had the U.S. breathing down his neck to go with the yes-no plebiscite, and he went along with it. It happened remarkably fast.

Eastern Europe was at the mercy of the Soviet dictator. As soon as Gorbachev signaled the Red Army would no longer run backup for the Berlin Wall or any other Eastern bloc regime, the jig was up. It happened fast. No freedom one day. Freedom the next.

No one has figured out a step-by-step transition for a long-entrenched dictator. If one group promised clemency to a dictator, another probably would nullify that agreement. Without heavy pressure, dictators won't take that risk. They know the punishment they're due.

jj mollo

There are things that can be done. If a dictator is allowed an easy escape to another country where guaranteed protection is available, there is a chance for reduced violence in the transition. I remember discussion on that idea coming up when people were trying to get rid of Idi Amin. The Saudis ended up harboring him and paying him to stay out of trouble. The US hustled Aristide out of Haiti to prevent a collapse of democracy. Sometimes it works.

National unity governments, as in Zimbabwe and Kenya, make for possible transition paths. Freakonomics has some discussion about how entrenched kleptocracies are less destructive than transient ones because they have more incentive to preserve the economic base. Those are the kinds of thoughts I think we need to explore to develop a more comprehensive transitional strategy.

I believe that the PRC is embarked on precisely the step-by-step course that I refer to -- whether consciously or not. They have learned that suppression of markets does not work. They have allowed a measure of economic freedom to the Chinese people, and even more so to the people of Hong Kong. They have learned that complete suppression of information doesn't work, so they just control what they consider the excesses and try to censor a narrow band of taboo subjects. China today does not look anything like Mao's China. How did it change?

There is also a great variety among degree of suppression from one place to another. What makes that difference and how can it be manipulated? If we want to do something about freedom rather than just standing on a soapbox, then I think we have to do a better job of understanding what it is and where it comes from.

For instance, the curse of wealth is one phenomenon that seems to rob people of their freedom. Oil producing countries and countries that export illegal drugs all seem to be cursed. To a lesser extent, any concentrated resources, such as mineral wealth, diamonds, lumber, plantations, seem to make society unequal, unfair and less free. This is why Jefferson pushed the family farm concept. He didn't like the industrialists and bankers and merchants of the North.

If people don't think about these things from the POV that it might actually be possible, then they will never make any progress. And we have made progress, but just not on a systematic basis.

Frank Warner

Liberal progress does happen. But you won't get it from a Castro.

jj mollo

My question is how can we change things so that we do get progress from people like Castro. What should we really be doing in Nicaragua and Honduras? Is the mere presence of people like Ortega an automatic death sentence for democracy? Is it necessary to intervene militarily at some point? If democracy is actually a stable, workable system that will protect itself once it is sufficiently established, then what carrots and sticks are necessary to get it there. I don't think the answer can be that we should just shrug and say that's the way people are. We need to look deeper.

Frank Warner

One thing we could do is to add term limits to our own constitution, as an example.

Not only do term limits reduce corruption and dictatorial impulses, term limits build democratic habits. I firmly believe no democracy is really a democracy until it has had at least three peaceful changes of party power at the top. Term limits would speed those changes of power and let the new democracies exercise their muscles of tolerance and free debate.

As far as Fidel Castro, the Cubans are prisoners of his crimes. He's not going to allow his brother Raul to free Cuba when liberation could cost him his freedom and his access to doctors from Spain.

The forces of democracy could go in a remove him from outside, but since 1991 it has seemed sensible to wait for biology to do the job. Of course, this assumes democrats will fill the vacuum when he dies. We'll see.

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