Dictatorship is not all bad

I only ever got to hear my grandfather speak publicly once, at the CMC Athaneum in Claremont, during college. One of the things he talked about was the odd lack of linkage between political and economic freedom, which was a bit of a puzzle to someone who is in favor of both. The freest economies of the twentieth century, he pointed out, were places like Hong Kong and Singapore that had no political freedom.

One of the points I've been trying to make since the beginning of the Iraq invasion is that benevolent despots are not all bad, and depending on the population, democracy can be worse. Specifically, Saddam Hussein, although a power-hungry dictator who happily murdered his political opponents, was not in any way a Muslim fundamentalist. Quite the opposite, in fact, and his Iraq was (compared to other countries in the region) a pretty good place for education, women's rights, gay rights, etc. Today's Iraq, on the other hand, is much more dominated by religious interests.

This interview w/ Jared Polis provides some evidence for my point:

NL: What did you take back from your trip to Iraq?

JP: It was really interesting and very educational for me. I spent several days in Baghdad and several days in Amman, Jordan. In addition to meeting with many different Iraqis and members of our military off-duty and NGO relief workers, I also got the opportunity to talk to several gay and lesbian Iraqis, too, who have a particular plight.

Under the administration of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was one of the more tolerant Arab countries. It's a relatively low bar, but certainly gays and lesbians weren't openly hunted or killed. It was much like it was in Jordan today, where there is a somewhat thriving underground gay and lesbian community that was officially tolerated. But now, really, every gay and lesbian that could flee Iraq has fled Iraq. Anybody who's known, or even suspected, to be gay or lesbian is hunted down and frequently killed by some of the fundamentalist militias there. Most Iraqi gays and lesbians have fled to Jordan. There are a few remaining in Iraq, and a few safehouses do exist, but that only really reemphasized the need, including in this country, to include gender identity protections, because the first to be hunted down in Iraq are those who defy the gender stereotypes--men who are effeminate, or women who are masculine or otherwise suspected of being gay or lesbian.

It's a very real human rights issue that hasn't gotten as much attention as it deserves.

I'm not saying that the democratization of Iraq was a net negative for its citizens (although that may be the case, when you count the costs of war damage). But when you tot up the costs and benefits, you need to include things like this - areas where freedom has, ironically, been reduced by democracy.

Democracy reducing freedom is very counterintuitive to most of us, I think. We've been brainwashed from birth to believe that democracy is the greatest safeguard of human rights, and dictatorships are purely horrible things that ban all free expression. But that viewpoint is naive - some demoses are worse than some dictators in some ways - perhaps even overall.

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It's hard to argue that the

It's hard to argue that the relatively minor freedoms that gays and lesbians enjoyed under Saddam Hussein's regime are more important than mass murder. In particular, the Anfal campaign pretty much shreds that argument. And Anfal's been conveniently forgotten by all too many people.

Let's not forget the Iran-Iraq war, too, which was entirely Saddam's fault. Knocking him out of power and preventing further such atrocities more than offsets the loss of freedom by gays and lesbians in Iraq.

That's an emotionally cold argument, I know, but that's what you're talking about here.

Yeah, the Iran-Iraq war is

Yeah, the Iran-Iraq war is definitely a huge cost due to Saddam's dictatorship.

a sunk cost!

a sunk cost!

mass murder

Mass murder. . .


That's an emotionally cold argument, I know, but that's what you're talking about here.

Actually, I don't think that's what Patri is talking about here. Evaluating the Iraq War is a lot more complicated than weighing Iraqis' gay rights against Hussein's mass murder.

Capitalism and Freedom

I should add that Milton Friedman touches on the relationship between political and economic freedom in Capitalism and Freedom:


reasonable claim; lousy example

Maybe it's true that democracy requires coalitions which produce ingroup-outgroup dynamics, in particular intolerance, but I don't think Iraq is much evidence for it: the coalitions are para-military, not electoral!

I'm pretty sure that religion as the ingroup is a Schelling point whose relevance was path-dependent: if people hadn't needed to join gangs, they wouldn't have cared so much about religion. (but maybe homophobia would have come out in many situations)

Iraq is certainly an example of a despot being a local maximum, but I don't think this has much to do with democracy or religion. Transitions of power are usually expensive; eg, Saddam was much more violent early in his career.


http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=342 has a neat graphic and analysis.

political freedom and economic freedom

I think you are onto something very interesting here, although I do not see Iraq as very relevant. I heard Margaret Thatcher talk once, she talked about how democracy and capitalism had to go hand in hand, one brought along the other. She mentioned China where no one votes but they have capitalism, and Russia where people vote -- this was in the Yeltsin era -- but little or no capitalism. She believed both nations would head towards having both. But I am not sure how clear that is. While I believe the Chinese will ultimately get the vote, it could be a long, long time.

They will get it sooner in the UAE, which is a great case of "dictatorship" or "monarchy" fostering a free economy.

Under Deng, the still communist China vastly outperformed (in GDP growth) the fully democratic (but socialist) India. India finally started heading capitalist, but it took a long time, and perhaps letting all those poor people vote retarded its arrival????

(Indira Ghandi passed laws (the MTRP) in 1969 which remained intact until 1991 which effectively banned corporate growth and innovation. See pages 168-170 of "India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das.)

South Korea was perhaps the most successful example of a rise from third world status in the 20th century, most of that growth coming under tight political control from the top. Thailand has also prospered under military rule. The list could go on.

I'm not saying that dictatorship is a great thing, and I am certainly a believer in democracy. But capitalism and free markets seem to be a more important, and perhaps independent factor, in making people happier and healthier and richer in the broadest sense.

(By the way, I am a former student of Milton Friedman, George Stigler, and Robert Fogel.)

Gary Hoover, Austin, Texas

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Let's not forget the

Let's not forget the Iran-Iraq war, too, which was entirely Saddam's fault. Knocking him out of power and preventing further such atrocities more than offsets the loss of freedom by gays and lesbians in Iraq.