NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Myth of the Benevolent Dictator

July 26, 2011

There is a real danger that the search for a benevolent dictator may become a development mantra in many countries.  Proponents of democracy should take notice and show that democracy is the path for sustainable development, and that there are no substitutes for institutional reforms in seeking growth and development, says Aleksandr Shkolnikov, director of policy reform at the Center for International Private Enterprise.

  • Rapid economic growth in some authoritarian countries has led many to believe that democracy is not necessary for prosperity and economic development.
  • Democratic governance, however, is essential for economic growth to be sustainable in the long term.
  • Strong democratic institutions, not strong leaders, are necessary for continued growth and investment.

The rise in interest of having a strong leader, often with unchecked power, rather than a democratic government is driven in part by the continued rapid economic growth of Asian tigers among the stagnation of economies in Western Europe and the United States.  History is also playing its part.

  • As Ronald J. Gilson from Stanford Law School points out in his recent paper, only a relatively small number of countries have experienced successful development since World War II and among those there are many autocratic governments that have successfully transformed their economies.
  • The perception that democracies have experienced unstable economic performance in the past decades as compared to authoritarian regimes perpetuates the myth.
  • It is only a perception, because there is no concrete evidence that autocracies outperform democracies across the board -- the data is inconclusive.

Source: Aleksandr Shkolnikov, "The Benevolent Dictator Myth: Strong Leaders versus Strong Institutions," Center for International Private Enterprise, June 15, 2011.

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