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Autocracies are like “rotten trees”

President Erdogan at a rally in 2018. Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty

It’s become something of a media cliché to moan about the “crisis of democracy”, says Simon Kuper in the FT. But what about the far worse crisis of autocracy? Observe the absolute “meltdowns” going on in China, Russia, Turkey and “arguably Africa’s biggest authoritarian state”, Ethiopia. We used to praise authoritarians in these places for their supposed efficiency. Their economies were growing faster than Western ones, and leaders were envied for their freedom to think long-term without having to mess around with pesky elections.

Now, the authoritarians’ troubles “dwarf ours”. Take Covid: most Western countries are fully jabbed up and free, while only half of Russians have been fully vaccinated, and the Chinese are so worried their one doesn’t work against omicron that they’ve locked up 25 million people in Shanghai since April. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin’s war is likely to knock 10% off the Russian economy this year, and “tens of thousands” of smart Russians have fled the country in the first quarter. Hong Kong is experiencing a similar “authoritarian-induced brain drain” since China binned the rule of law and free media. In Turkey, President Erdogan’s “wacky beliefs about interest rates” have seen inflation hit 70%, while in Ethiopia civil war is quickly turning into famine. In all these cases, a “lack of corrective mechanisms” is to blame when power is all in the hands of one tyrant. No wonder so few countries willingly give up democracy once they’ve tried it. These crumbling autocracies are like rotten trees, “forever threatening to topple on to our better-kept houses”.