Democracies and autocracies

I’ve lived in democracies throughout my life, first in Europe, then the US, and now Turkey. However, not every country is a democracy. The chart from the tweet below shows that as of 2009 over 50% of the world lives in a democracy.

Biased by the places I’ve lived, I would have thought that the percentage of people living in a democracy¬†is higher than 50%. However, this is still a big step up from the 10% figure in 1901.

What’s more interesting is to note that the percentage of the world living in an autocracy hasn’t changed a lot during the same time period. The figure was about 55% in 1901 and around 45% in 2009. I would have guessed that the decline had been much larger.

Only a small part of the increase in the share of the population living in democracies is from the decline of autocracies. The major shift has been from colonial regimes which governed 25% of the population in 1901 and which no longer exist.

Although common wisdom is that democracies are better than autocracies, this isn’t always the case. It depends on who is in charge and a country’s stage of development. Sometimes a benevolent dictator can speed up progress in a developing country. For example, most people would describe Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as an autocratic leader. While he imposed limits on freedom, he also achieved great outcomes for his people on most other dimensions including the economy and the development of the tech sector. It’s unlikely that Singapore could have made so much progress so fast if it had been run as a democracy.