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Authoritarian Growth Models


Interesting finding on reports of economic growth under authoritarian governments vs. alternative methods of evaluating growth:

In a peer-reviewed article that will be published this month, Luis Martinez, an economist, investigated dictators’ gdp-growth figures. To do so, he first obtained data on the brightness of countries’ lights at night, as measured by satellites, a well-known proxy for gdp. He combined it with data from Freedom House, a think-tank, on countries’ political systems. Assuming that the most democratic countries reported growth figures accurately, he then used the satellite data to estimate if other countries under- or over-stated theirs.

The data showed that dictators’ reported gdp tended to grow much faster than satellite images of their countries would suggest. This could not be explained by their economies being based on different industries from other countries, or that people there had lower average incomes.

There’s more (paywall but you may be able to get it through trial), and there are a few imaginable drawbacks to the methodology but it does help answer a lot of questions about mis-reporting in authoritarian countries. I’d add that in some cases the mis-reporting is probably less a top-down decision than a result of decisions lower in the hierarchy to pad the numbers of their own locality (this is definitely an issue in China). I certainly think it’s important to have a clearer picture of the actual economic (and military) performance of authoritarian states, if only because New Wave Right Authoritarianism tends to carry an implicit assumption that authoritarian countries are good at economics (less wasteful redistribution, stronger property rights et al) and at war (anti-woke or some such nonsense). To be sure this isn’t the whole story; I think that comparative accounts of Chinese and Indian growth models that accord at least some weight to the obstacles presented by the latter’s democratic system are hard to seriously dent, but again they’re only part of the story.

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