Home > Politics (general) > What have the Romans ever done for us?*

What have the Romans ever done for us?*

February 22nd, 2008

Most long-lived dictatorships have at least some positive achievements, and, the world being what it is, most dictators have some unattractive enemies. These facts have generated a couple of marathon threads at Crooked Timber, following Chris Bertrams post’ on Castro and mine on Suharto** , not to mention vast numbers on Saddam.

What are the implications of these facts, both for the policies we should support and for the moral judgements we should offer? I have a couple of fairly obvious points to make about policy, and some less clear thoughts about moral judgements.

First, up it is sometimes necessary to deal with dictators in order to defeat their even worse enemies, the most obvious case being the alliance with Stalin in World War II. But, as on other points, relying on precedents set in that worst of extreme cases is likely to take you wrong. Most of the time, cutting a deal with the lesser evil is a mistake. Today’s lesser evil (Saddam or bin Laden in the 1980s) may turn out to be tomorrow’s greater. More importantly, complicity in the crimes of a dictator throws away many of the moral advantages of democracy, advantages that have repeatedly outweighed temporary gains in military effectiveness.

Second, while the end of dictatorship is desirable, it’s not true that there is nothing worse than a dictatorship. A dictator can be replaced by an even worse successor or by chaos in which the positive achievements of the regime are lost and nothing is gained. Given a choice between a dictatorship and a democratic alternative with a plausible chance of success, there’s no alternative but to support democracy. But a decision to smash an existing regime in the hope that something better will turn up (as Robespierre put it, to export liberty at bayonet point) is usually a mistake, if not a crime.

On moral judgements, I’m pretty much an absolutist. Dictators may do some good, but on average less good than democracy, with all its faults. Unless there’s a strong reason to believe otherwise, I’m going to put better-than-average performances under dictatorship down to luck rather than dictatorial merit. And while it’s tempting to give a pass to a dictator who is willing to impose some policy program that seems good to you, but not to the inhabitants of the country concerned, none of us has the kind of infallibility required to justify this.

So, even though unappealing people will be celebrating for the wrong reasons, I’m glad to see Castro go. I hope that his brother won’t outlast him long and that Cubans rather than external enemies will be the ones who bring an end to his government. I hope they will be as lucky with their next government as the Indonesians have been with those that replaced the Suharto dictatorship.

* I was just settling down to type this title when it appeared 310 comments into the thread on Chris’ post on Castro

** Actually, it was about post-Suharto Indonesia, but the comments thread was rapidly derailed.

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  1. kriss
    February 22nd, 2008 at 08:10 | #1

    While I have concerns over many of the aspects of the Cuban regieme I dont think the achivements of Cuba can be written off as ‘better than average’ performance. The health and education outcomes alone in comparison to the USA not to mention a range of Central American provide much for thought. While it is easy (and wrong)to try to defend dictatorship by pointing to the unremitting assualt on Cuba’s independence and economic prosperity by the USA equally it is as easy to critise Cuba without any attempt to place the regeime in the context of that fully public ‘war’. If one looks to the performance of Haiti and the outcomes for the people of that island then the conclusion for all except the most blind must arrive is a significant improvement on ‘better than average’. If one also looks to the death rates and political repression associated with the Central American republics then Cuba also achives a ‘better than average’ performance rating.

  2. February 22nd, 2008 at 08:52 | #2

    Funny, when I saw the title of this post I thought it was going to look at what minimal benefits Australia has ever got from our special relationship with the New Roman Emperors in Washington.

    Oh, but they are a Democracy (TM) not a dictatorship! Aren’t they???

    It’s not only the worst excesses of dictators to which we comfortably turn a blind eye. It’s only when things go pear-shaped that we see our “friends” for what they are.

    What we tend to ignore is that this also reveals who WE are. Human nature can be infinitely disappointing, even our own.

  3. February 22nd, 2008 at 08:59 | #3

    I suppose the new “Bolivaran revolution” in Chavez’ Venezuela might be a good indication of “what could have been” in Cuba if the USA had not been so relentless in its opposition to Castro.

    Chavez seems to be operating without undue restrictions from Washington, thanks largely to Bush’s (welcome) neglect of Latin America. His dictatorial tendencies seem to stem from a personality that is not too dissimilar from Castro in his younger days.

  4. February 22nd, 2008 at 09:01 | #4

    Actually, when I saw the title of this post I thought it was going to look at what minimal benefits Australia has ever got from our special relationship with the New Roman Emperors in Washington.

    Oh, but they are a Democracy (TM) not a dictatorship! Aren’t they???

    It’s not only the worst excesses of dictators to which we comfortably turn a blind eye. It’s only when things go pear-shaped that we see our “friends” for what they are.

    What we tend to ignore is that this also reveals who WE are. Human nature can be infinitely disappointing, even our own.

  5. February 22nd, 2008 at 09:08 | #5

    Rome wasn’t always a dictatorship. It brought roads, often lowered taxes and most importantly it applied the rule of law. Of course some places that Rome conquered already had those things.

    I think democracy is an important step but it is minor compared to the rule of law. The rule of law matters more. Invading a country that has a working system of law in the hope that democracy can be imposed is folly. It is better to use soft power (but not economic sanctions).

    The only time we should invade a nation is when they attack us or our allies or when they harbour those that attack us or our allies. And in such instances we should go in, cut off the head of those at the top (ie kill them) and then get out. If the new leadership that emerges does the same again then repeat the process. Putting leaders on trial (like the US did with Saddam) just politicises the court system (war is about flexing physical power not due process). You might vary this strategy where you lack military supremecy but so long as we are buddies with the USA that seems unlikely. Military giants should not occupy foreign lands any longer than is absolutely necessary. They should aim for respect not love but they should not linger so long that respect turns to widespread resentment.

    Dictatorship is a natural form of government. No nation goes from anarchy to democracy without some sort of dictator to organise the process. This is both a criticism of dictators (true anarchy has it’s merits) and a commendation of dictators (true democracy has it’s merits). If you want democracy then first you need a benevolent dictator, foreign or local. The tradgedy is that those with the necessary ability in military command and control are often unsuited to the pursuit of a liberal agenda. Through history usually it falls to their sons or grandsons to make the transition, although often through weakness and horse trading rather than great wisdom or generosity.

    In summary the US should not have made the decision to invade Iraq. However once they did they should have gone in and slayed Saddam and his boys and his goons. They should then have turned the tanks around and left much as the serious neo-cons intended. There would have been civil war but they pretty much got the same with occupation anyway.

  6. wilful
    February 22nd, 2008 at 09:19 | #6

    Doesn’t Castro fall into your second point? There has been no real suggestion or attempt to create a genuine democracy in Cuba, and the USA’s history in south and central America indicates they quite like supporting dictators over democracies.

    Comparisons between Castro’s Cuba and Jamaica, or Haiti, or the Batista regime, are still valid to make.

  7. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    February 22nd, 2008 at 09:41 | #7

    One conundrum with dictators is that the longer they stay in the worse they become, the more they have to lose if they let go of power (end up hanging from a lamppost, or up before some UN court), so the worse they become and the more dissidents they torture and kill …

    Presumably Castro only has weeks to live to there’s little chance of any changes his brother bringing leading to a rotten end for him.

    The guy in Zimbabwe (forget name) who is running for president and offering to guarantee Mugabe a peaceful retirement may be on to something. Although these guarantees can never be 100% solid.

  8. February 22nd, 2008 at 10:42 | #8

    terje, which democracy was the gift of a benevolent dictator?

  9. David Allen
    February 22nd, 2008 at 11:01 | #9

    My concern for Castro’s departure isn’t that Cuba might climb the hill to a shiny beacon of democracy but all that is currently good in Cuba will be washed away under the ultra-extreme predatory capitalism that is exported from the USA. Shock therapy is the mandated action in all cases so that shiny elusive beacon lies though the conditions in Iraq or Haiti.

  10. O6
    February 22nd, 2008 at 11:17 | #10

    Terje, imperial Rome was a state built on slavery. It had to keep expanding to get new slaves to provide the bread & circuses back home. One it had overreached the limits of communication and organization, it was dead. Slavery is not stable, never mind the ethics.

  11. February 22nd, 2008 at 12:03 | #11

    1. an awful lot of cubans give castro a ‘pass’ or better.

    2.what you would call a ‘democracy’ carpet bombed laotian rice farmers, poison dusted vietnam, conducted large and small scale murder in vietnam with guns and bombs, conspired with saddam to poison gas kurds and make war on iran, and is currently in iraq for reasons now known to be utterly and purposely false. are you sure castro isn’t a better person than nixon, or lbj, or bush1, or bush2?

    3. on the subject of moral absolutism, would you play golf with o j simpson? would you sit down to dinner with g w bush? would you sign a contract to shoot bush’s enemies in return for a big wheat contract? would you agree to be ‘best mates’ with a nation that has used murder as a tool of foreign policy throughout it’s history?

    4. i’m not a moral absolutist myself, but i get nervous standing near murderers- you never know when retribution is going to show up and be as unconcerned about collateral damage as the yanks.

  12. February 22nd, 2008 at 12:37 | #12

    gandhi,
    Venezuela is only an(other) example of how rampant corruption and (less rampant) oppression can be made palatable with massive amounts of oil money.
    This example has been proven many times, so to prove it again is a pointless exercise. It has no lessons for Cuba as they do not have substantial oil reserves to plunder.
    .
    al loomis – if you were right, Castro would have little to fear from a genuine exercise of democracy. The fact it has never occurred despite his promises to hold elections under the (very democratic) 1940 Constitution shows him for the fraud he is. He has always feared the people, as do all dictators.

  13. February 22nd, 2008 at 12:51 | #13

    If anyone doubts just how bad Castro was economically I would point them to homer’s (copied) summary over at LP. To me, it says it all. He was just another incompetent dictator, and only his words in support of “socialism” has endeared him to generations of deluded supporters.

  14. jimbirch
    February 22nd, 2008 at 13:02 | #14

    The idea that democracy can be exported or imposed seems to me to belong in ideological fairlyland. The functioning of democracy is based on a number of shared myths, for example, that your vote counts, that your should participate in community decision making, that the people voted for the loosing party continue to matter, etc. These aren’t testable truths, they’re just assumptions, which are, on simplistic decision theory at least, counter rational, and often completely counterfactual as well.

    I’m not against these crazy ideas, in fact I’m quite supportive, but I know it’s just me/us. In European culture the underlying idea of an inherently valuable generic individual has been around for a long time so it’s part of our modern thinking, permeating us deeply.

    Elsewhere, in place and time, you would likely end up dead believing this kind of stuff. The better strategy has consistently been to align yourself with the successful local clan leader or warlord and do something useful for them. I’m an individual = Kill me now. This way of thinking has been around a lot longer than democracy and I’d guess it has a stronger biological basis.

    Democracy is desirable but it won’t pop out of thin air, it needs a lot of cultural infrastructure. Building this is horrendously complex from a theoretical point of view but there are a lot of well known milestones that we can work on that both aid the process and anyway have enormous inherent benefits anyway. I am talking about things like food security, medicine, the rule of law, education, prosperity and so on. By some divine accident, or perhaps structurally, these things also appear to slowly and erratically produce an environment where democracy may make sense.

  15. February 22nd, 2008 at 13:35 | #15

    #6

    I can’t think of a democracy that wasn’t previously a dictatorship assuming a broad interpretation of the term. Even Iraq which is now notionally a democracy was handed that opportunity by an occupying force. Even democractic revolutions entail a leader with authority that then hands over to new institutions. Logically any emergent democracy was preceded by something that was not democracy.

    I suppose there is some semantics to this. One could claim that China is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship. Or perhaps the communist party is the dictator, but leadership within the party is notionally democratic.

    I’ll concede the point if it helps. I was merely saying that the path to democracy is paved with less ideal forms of government. If you want the purity of democracy you need to stomach some impurity to get there. It is not a form of government that seems to emerge spontaneously whilst dictatorship generally can and does.

  16. February 22nd, 2008 at 13:43 | #16

    #8.

    OS, I have no significant disagreement with your point. The nature of empire is generally parasitic. However so are other forms of government. Clearly slavery is a moral travesty but given it’s long history over thousands of year it is clearly a durable institution. Based on the evidence of history one could more reasonably argue that liberty is not stable.

  17. February 22nd, 2008 at 13:51 | #17

    Andrew Reynolds,

    I think we all appreciate how stridently rightwing you are, but thanks for the reminder.

    Prof Q’s post and my comment were actually a bit more nuanced than your response might indicate. I’m sure there are some other blogs with “CASTRO: GOOD OR BAD?” discussions going…

    Maybe it’s lucky that the Prof’s wordpress software (again!) swallowed my other comment, which was about those other Romans in Washington, and what they have ever done for us….

    We wouldn’t want a blog thread to descend into complete farce, like Federal Parliament today. Would we?

  18. David
    February 22nd, 2008 at 14:26 | #18

    Terje @ 3 – You claim that rule of law is more important than democracy. While that’s true (kind of), you will never get rule-of-law under a dictatorship. In the USSR under Stalin, for instance, there was a veneer of law over the show trials, but at root they were about the arbitrary exercise of power.

    You can’t have one without the other.

  19. February 22nd, 2008 at 15:04 | #19

    somebody took the trouble to get actual number comparisons of what castro has done with cuba. before you cross him off as just another dictator, have a look at ‘farewell fidel’ on forum.

    terje, you’re right about one thing- democracy ain’t the natural state of humanity. in fact, only switzerland comes close to democracy, although scandinavians and dutch have bent their parliamentary societies towards democracy somewhat.

  20. SJ
    February 22nd, 2008 at 17:12 | #20

    Andrew, Brad’s post (the one copied by homer that you refer to at #11 is silly. That’s unusual for Brad, but still.

    It pretends that Cuba in 1957 was a developed nation that would have turned into something like today’s Japan or Italy if it weren’t for that dictator Castro.

    The reality was that Cuba in 1957 was already a dictatorship under Batista, and that although the GDP may have been fairly high, most of that money was going into the pockets of Batista, a few US corporations and the US mafia.

    So sure, if Batista had suddenly decided that he wanted to end that cosy situation and call some elections, things may have worked out great. But how likely was that to happen?

    Brad’s counterfactual is impossible.

    It’s like saying “Cuba would be a rich country, if only Castro had managed to discover oil there, but he didn’t, so he should have stepped aside and let someone else discover it.”

  21. February 22nd, 2008 at 17:15 | #21

    I seem to have been “right about one thing” a few times this week. I’ll have to be more cautious lest I end up being right about everything. ;-)

  22. SJ
    February 22nd, 2008 at 17:35 | #22

    Terje Says:

    I seem to have been “right about one thing� a few times this week. I’ll have to be more cautious lest I end up being right about everything.

    Terje, I’ve generally given up responding to, or even reading the stuff you write, but it’s starting to look like you’ve given up reading what you write as well.

    You start off with: “Rome wasn’t always a dictatorship. It brought roads, often lowered taxes and most importantly it applied the rule of law. Of course some places that Rome conquered already had those things.”

    Then: “Dictatorship is a natural form of government. No nation goes from anarchy to democracy without some sort of dictator to organise the process.”

    Then: “I can’t think of a democracy that wasn’t previously a dictatorship assuming a broad interpretation of the term.”

    In what universe does any of this make sense? Does it not occur to you to look up anything at all about the topics you choose to opine about?

    When you say “Rome wasn’t always a dictatorship“, does it not occur to you to find out what it was before that? Look it up for me.

    When you say “I can’t think of a democracy that wasn’t previously a dictatorship“, there’s a blindingly obvious answer that doesn’t allow you to draw any useful conclusions from your inability to think of something?

    While you’re at it, try to find out what “damning with faint praise” means.

  23. Terje (say tay-a)
    February 22nd, 2008 at 18:12 | #23

    I think you might have missed my smiley face or else missed it’s intent. I know what being damned with faint praise is.

    Rome was at times a democratic republic all be it with significant restrictions on who could vote. At other times it was not. Is that a controversial claim?

    I’ve already conceded that my point about democracies always being preceeded by dictatorships overgeneralised the term dictatorship. If it helps I’ll admit it a second time. And a third. And a forth.

  24. SJ
    February 22nd, 2008 at 18:27 | #24

    OK. Sorry.

  25. February 22nd, 2008 at 19:04 | #25

    Hey how come no-one’s made the obvious comment about Life Of Brian, which is where the quote is from??

    What do the Peoples Front Of Judea have to say (not the Popular Front)?

    The answer, by the way, is something along the lines of wine, irrigation, public health, restored law and order etc etc

    … and brought peace!

  26. SJ
    February 22nd, 2008 at 19:29 | #26

    SJ Says:

    Andrew, Brad’s post (the one copied by homer that you refer to at #11) is silly. That’s unusual for Brad, but still.

    I retract that. Brad seems to have some elaborate joke going on. He’s criticising the US wingnuts who think they’ll now be able to go in and loot the place.

  27. SJ
    February 22nd, 2008 at 19:33 | #27

    Then again, I could be mistaken. Either way, Brad’s post is wrong, whether by intention or not.

  28. wmmbb
    February 22nd, 2008 at 23:03 | #28

    These discussions sometimes suffer from a lack of definition. Would Singapore, for example, qualify as a democracy or a dictatorship? How democratic is the government of the United States, given the power of the vested interests of global capitalism?

    My working hypothesis is that a essential defining feature of a democracy is that the citizens have the ability, if they have the inclination, to develop movements for social change. There are many examples. One example was the Civil Rights Movement which widened the franchise, making the possibility today for a President to be elected with an Afro-American heritage.

    Peace is a second condition for the development of democracy. Peace is about means and ends, or as Kennedy “a process to solve problems”. Any society, democracy or not, when confronted with an external threat, will necessarily and predictably become more hierarchical and authoritarian.

    The reality of an external threat partly explains the Cuban Dictatorship. Another part of the picture is that in Cuba violent means were used to overthrow a dictatorship maintained by external support. The Cold War context is also relevant, and spheres of influence to protect vital national interests.

    The problem for me is how are dictatorships be removed? I seem to remember that Adam Smith and others have thought that commerce is a good basis, but that does not seem to be working with Saudi Arabia.

  29. February 22nd, 2008 at 23:59 | #29

    gandhi,
    Good to see you are completely failing to live up to your namesake’s ideals. He, at least, had some clarity on the nature of dictatorship and its strong tendency towards violence. Perhaps you should read up on him.
    I agree that PrQ’s post was nuanced. I could not say the same thing about your comment. You are clearly blaming US policy for the economic basket case that Cuba is – a point that PrQ (correctly) does not make.

  30. February 23rd, 2008 at 01:00 | #30

    The following post to an Online Opinion discussion about Cuba in response to the article “Farewell Fidel” bears repeating:

    According to the UN Human Development Index, Cuba ranks 51st out of 177 countries. The US ranks 12th.

    * On GDP per capita (in international dollars) it ranks 94th ($6000 per head). The US is 2nd ($41,890)

    * On average life expectancy at birth it is 32nd (77.7 years). The US is 31st (77.9 years).

    * On literacy of the adult population it is 2nd (99.8% of the population. (US no data).

    * On combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio it is 35th (87.6%). The US is 19th (93.3)

    * On the Gender Development Index, which measures female life expectancy, adult literacy and combined enrolment as a percentage of the male figure, Cuba ranks 2nd out of 156 countries. The US is 107th (down there with the UAE, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe).

    * On the Human Poverty Index, Cuba ranks 6th out of 108 developing countries – it is ahead of Singapore (GDP p.c of $29,663 – not clear why they call that a developing country since it’s income is higher than Germany’s!). The US has no data.

    In other words, on about one seventh of the US average income Cuba managed to produce health and educational outcomes that are equal to or very close to those of the USA. Compare with the Dominican Republic (HDI rank 79, GDP p.c. $8,217) or El Salvador (rank 89, GDP p.c $5,180)

  31. February 23rd, 2008 at 01:05 | #31

    Good to see you are completely failing to live up to your namesake’s ideals.

    I get that a lot these days. It’s a hard road to hoe. Maybe I should get a new monniker.

    Can I ask you to just go back and read my comment #2 again WITHOUT the blinkers? I have no idea how you inferred what you have from what I wrote, so it’s rather hard to continue discussion.

    I’m not sure what will happen in Venezuela. I did say that Chavez has dictatorial qualities, but I didn’t bother mentioning that I abhor that. It’s still an operational Democracy for now, and quite a vibrant one. Let’s all hope it keeps moving along nicely!

    You seem to be implying that the Cuban economy did not suffer massively because of US sanctions. Is that really your stance?

  32. mugwump
    February 23rd, 2008 at 02:36 | #32

    In other words, on about one seventh of the US average income Cuba managed to produce health and educational outcomes that are equal to or very close to those of the USA.

    If you call “literacy” education. I know very few internationally renowned cuban scientists, technologists, or companies. In other words, it is not hard to educate your population to minimal standards of literacy. It is a heck of a lot more difficult to educate them well enough to make a significant contribution to the global economy.

    Your average Cuban can read, is relatively healthy, but can’t actually buy anything. Doesn’t sound like much of a social system to me.

  33. February 23rd, 2008 at 03:36 | #33

    Taiwan is an interesting case.

    Under various nations until 1949 when it was taken over by the KMT from the mainland (about 2 million of them) it had a military dictatorship, along with secret police and murders and disapearing of political opponeents, up until 1992 when partial democracy peeped through.

    It now has a pretty good functioning democracy at national, and county / city level by anyones standards, all in 10 – 15 years without much pressure from outside at all.

    There are laws preventing discrimination based on sexuality and in 2003 legislation granting marriages and adoption to same-sex couples was proposed however it faced opposition, stalled, and was not voted on. Should the law pass, Taiwan would be the first country in Asia to permit same-sex marriage.

    Not to mention exporting Bubble Cup and Ang Lee and Giant bikes to the world. Most importantly there is now a Taiwanese Wiggles – with a girl member!

  34. February 23rd, 2008 at 09:00 | #34

    mugwump wrote, “I know very few internationally renowned cuban scientists, technologists, or companies.”

    I have to say that’s an original way to attempt to diminish the impressive achievements of the Cuban Government which are attested to by <a href=”http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2008/02/22/what-have-the-romans-ever-done-for-us/#comment-206723″these statistics. However, measures of what is ‘internationally renowned’ must be highly subjective.

    If what you are implying can be considered correct, it may be because the Cubans have focussed more on technology intended to meet more basic human needs, rather than glamorous and expensive research at the frontiers of science.

    One most impressive achievement of the Cuban government was the reorganisation of their society, particularly their agricultural in the 1990′s to cope with the sudden dramatic reduction in the imports of petroleum and gas from the former USSR.

    I would be amazed if any free-market based system could manage such a relatively smooth transition.

    mugwump wrote: “Your average Cuban can read, is relatively healthy, but can’t actually buy anything.”

    They have shelter and all their basic needs met and appear to live in harmonious functional communities, which is much more than can be said for many of the people in surrounding free market societies.

    There are limits to what a society, with such limited natural resources, facing an economic blockade and a military threat from the most powerful nation on earth, can achieve.

    The discussion of December 2006 of December 2006, in response to Professor Quiggin’s article “Castro and Pinochet”, may also be of interest.

  35. melanie
    February 23rd, 2008 at 19:11 | #35

    daggett #30,
    What a wondrous thing the internets are! This is the first time I’ve ever been plagiarized, or at least discovered a case: http://angel80.livejournal.com/459145.html

  36. melanie
    February 23rd, 2008 at 19:25 | #36

    Aside from Singapore where the citizens don’t exactly get a choice, there are also South Korea and Taiwan, both of which have only shifted to more democratic systems within the last couple of decades.

    I think part of the problem lies in the method of static comparison. We would do better to look at path dependency and the opportunities/constraints imposed by it.

  37. February 24th, 2008 at 03:16 | #37

    gandhi,
    I was looking at your #3, not your #2.

  38. mugwump
    February 24th, 2008 at 04:24 | #38

    mugwump wrote: “Your average Cuban can read, is relatively healthy, but can’t actually buy anything.�
    They have shelter and all their basic needs met and appear to live in harmonious functional communities, which is much more than can be said for many of the people in surrounding free market societies.

    That must be why the citizens of those surrunding free market societies are emigrating to Cuba in such large numbers.

    *snigger*

  39. February 24th, 2008 at 07:26 | #39

    Andrew Reynolds,

    As I noted as 17, WordPress chewed up that #2 comment and #4 as well! I am surprised to see it here now: it wasn’t there last time I commented at #31. So my apologies for any confusion. Next time my comments get swallowed I will just ping the prof and wait (it does happen rather too often for my liking).

    Back to your comments, I don’t see how this sort of “what if?” argument can be resolved.

    Obviously the Cuban economy did suffer massively because of US sanctions. Arguing about what sort of state they might be in without those sanctions is a bit like arguing what shape Iraq might be in now if the USA had just removed Saddam and left town.

    But if you want to talk about “rampant corruption and (less rampant) oppression” you could certainly point to Washington as a corrupt system where money washes away many serious problems. Look at how GWB got elected. Look at Gitmo, phone-tapping, the Padilla case, etc. Where is the US media? In the GOP’s pocket. Where is the Dept Of Justice? In the other pocket. Where are Bush and Cheney? In Big Oil’s pocket. Etc.

    Prof Q’s original point was that “while it’s tempting to give a pass to a dictator who is willing to impose some policy program that seems good to you, but not to the inhabitants of the country concerned, none of us has the kind of infallibility required to justify this.

    My point is that it’s not only dictators to whom we give such “passes”. I think it’s a fair point.

  40. melanie
    February 24th, 2008 at 09:49 | #40

    #39, no mugwump, they’re emigrating to where streets are paved with gold.

    *snigger*

  41. pat donnelly brisbane
    February 27th, 2008 at 22:59 | #41

    government is always a dictatorship. even when the rule of law applies. who make the laws? the privileged do. they are selected. the media support the privileged to election. interests become vested. and defended. if need be, to the death. when it s done in accordance with accepted custom, it is a reaffirmation of government. a v dicey said uk parliament could pass laws because it was expected to do so and therefore it was obeyed. this is conditioning. saddam was cia. his position was secured by gulf war 1. gulf war 2 was due to his premature death.

  42. piglet
    February 29th, 2008 at 09:22 | #42

    “Dictators may do some good, but on average less good than democracy, with all its faults.”

    I’m sorry but that statement completely misses the point. We don’t expect dictators to do good but we constantly make the mistake of expecting democracies to do good. This is what has made some of the worst atrocities in history possible. Liberal do-gooders like Mr. Quiggin need to be reminded that imperialism, colonialism, and even slavery have reached their high points under democratic regimes, not under absolute monarchies or corrupt dictators. The Nazis notwithstanding, wars of aggression in the modern period have been most likely to be waged by democracies. This is the dilemma that we democrats must face, and your hand-waving exercises, Mr. Quiggin, don’t make it go away.

  43. piglet
    February 29th, 2008 at 09:30 | #43

    Postscript, since you mention Suharto: fi I remember correctly, Mr. Suharto committed his worst crimes with direct support from the democratic US. Other dictators, like Mobutu or Pinochet, would never have come to power without the support of Western democratic countries.

    How then shall we parse that statement “Dictators may do some good, but on average less good than democracy, with all its faultsâ€?? If Pinochet, Mobutu, Suharto etc. were acting on behalf of Western democratic powers much of the time, how do you account for the good and the bad done by them? If a democracy destroys another democracy, how does this impact the average good done by democracy?

  44. March 1st, 2008 at 03:19 | #44

    BLEH YOu GUYS DONT HAVE WHAT THE ROMAN EDUCATION HAS EVER DONE FOR US!!!!!!!!!!! STUPID PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!

  45. March 31st, 2008 at 07:31 | #45

    #33: “Taiwan is an interesting case.
    Under various nations until 1949 when it was taken over by the KMT from the mainland (about 2 million of them) it had a military dictatorship, along with secret police and murders and disapearing of political opponeents, up until 1992 when partial democracy peeped through.”

    The KMT took control of Taiwan from the Japanese in 1945.

    Martial law was lifted in 1987.

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