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Comparison Between Democracy Vs. Dictatorship


This paper revolves around a major comparative topic that is the analysis of two different political regimes: Democracy and Dictatorship. Since the day human beings began to form communities, a system of governance became inevitable to manage and organize their living standards and to set certain rules and regulations for their welfare. There are various systems of government, however, the two most popular ones have been democracy and dictatorship. The paper will analyze how democracy and dictatorship affect the economic prosperity and growth within a state under its control and what are the main similarities and differences between the two political systems. Looking at the broader picture, a democratic government is considered to be more sustainable in the long run, and it is believed that an authoritarian system of government will either collapse or badly affect the GDP of a country. Different researchers have worked over this particular topic to reach a reliable conclusion and contributing to the field of political science. Some of the invaluable references would be unfolded further throughout the paper.


Democracy and Autocracy or dictatorship are two distinct forms of governance with different characteristics yet slight similarities. Many scholars have argued that democracy is a prerequisite for attaining a positive economic development in a state and that it has proven to be a better form of government since it unleashes many economic prospects,  and the matter is still not conclusive and involves many debatable points of discussion. There are definite links between the socio-economic development of a country, its GDP, and its political system. Many research works have explored the relationship between these two forms of government, along with analyzing their impacts on economic growth. If seen from a theoretical lens, it can be claimed that economic growth can take place under both democratic as well as the autocratic system of governance. For example, a noticeable economic growth is possible in a dictatorship if the governing personnel is concerned about the betterment and economic wellbeing of the territory that lies under his control (Olson, 1993). Similarly, a leader in a democratic setup can have the same interests regarding his domain. Thus the economic prosperity depends highly on the governing official rather than the system itself. Leaders and their tenure of governance can also prove to be a nightmare for the future of the states. They can make the economy of a state dwindle in balance by filling their own coffers for their personal interests rather than the general interests of the state.

Democracy Vs. Dictatorship

Democracy Versus Dictatorship

Democracy is said to be a system that can keep a check on the governing bodies as the ultimate authority lies not only with the leader, and instead democracy is considered the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. Therefore the chances of social upheavals reduce democracy to a great extent. The political parties in a democracy can’t monopolize the system because of the check from the public (Sen et al., 2016). Therefore the economic opportunities can’t be eradicated in a democratic setup. Contrary to the aforementioned scenario, Autocracy or dictatorship is the rule of a dictator. Single governing personnel aims to run the state in a totalitarian manner. The governing system of Russia and the UK are still being run by the monarchy. The public has a lesser say in the scheme of things when it comes to discussing autocratic rule or dictatorship. An autocrat’s short tenure can cast adverse effects on the economic growth of a state as in a short time span, and he is likely to favor his own interests to secure his future endeavors. In doing so, he is more likely to abrogate any signed contracts or may refuse to return the borrowed money after the end of his rule. In a democratic system, a distortionary redistribution can also lead to a similar scenario. Rather, it has been claimed that the interest groups’ politics are more rampant in a democratic system of governance rather than autocracy. The presence and prevalence of such menace can even lead to the economic stagnation of a state (Olson, 1993). Relevant sources of literature have supported the fact that the more years a country spends under the democratic rule, the higher are its chances of economic growth. Data collected from 175 states between the years 1960 and 2010 showed that democracy cast a robust effect on the economy of a state. Moreover, it was claimed that if a country switches from autocracy or any other form of government to democracy, there are clear chances that it would achieve a rise in its GDP.

There is a hypothesis developed by researchers that party-based monarchies are more likely to enhance and accelerate the economic growth of a state rather than the monarchies influenced by the military regimes or the ones that are personalized in nature. Usually, in dictatorship or autocracy, there are no definite checks on the definite power of the dictator or his authoritarian rule (Sen et al., 2016). At the same time, it has been maintained that the democratic regime is always under a check of the people, and therefore, it prevents the state from undergoing huge economic losses or other developmental issues. There have not been large economic collapses under democratic governance systems. However, various episodes of economic growth deceleration do occur during the autocratic regimes, mainly due to the authoritarian and self-centered approach of the monarchs or dictators.

Economic Growth in a Democratic Government

Every government tries to bring forward and implement economic models during its tenure to ensure a better state of economic affairs in the country. Literature has unveiled a staunch relationship that exists between democracy and the economy of a government. The studies clearly show that a democratic government aims to cast a change in a state’s financial amelioration. The models to achieve this rise in the economy are either dynamic or static in nature. According to the research, the most prominent and positive concatenation between economy and democracy is a credit guarantee. Scholars such as Tabillinie and Persson are of the view that abandoning a democratic system of government can bring negative impacts on the economy of a nation. However, it has also been widely claimed that both quality of institutions as well as the quality of democratic governance matter when it comes to enhancing the economic circumstances of a country in the long-run. The objectives of a democratic government need to be strong and reliable in order to bring a positive change in the GDP.  For example, In Taiwan and South Korea, the government-controlled the institutions efficiently by allocating a healthy amount of budget to them and, in return, unleashing an improvement in the GDP. It was, therefore, shown that mobilizing human rights and democracy for implementing effective strategies can lead to the successful economic growth of a country (Sen et al., 2016). The countries that followed this model experienced a sky-rocketing increase in economic growth. This is mainly because the citizens were persuaded by the government to focus on the economic affairs of the country and that they marked it justified if a person’s personal freedom was sacrificed in doing so.

Democracy, along with bringing a positive change in the economic graph of a state, can also bring positive socio-economic changes in society. A democratic government can facilitate development in various ways. Moreover, it is said that political freedom could foster economic growth. It is stated theoretically that a democratic state is more likely to experience economic development and political freedom than a state which is governed by autocrats or dictators (Carden and James, 2013). This is because the rulers in autocratic states are more predatory and are less likely to adhere to any property rights or dispensation of political freedom in a country. Therefore, a democratic system has always worked better for the socio-economic development of a region.  

In contrast to this viewpoint, some scholars have shown that in an autocratic system of governance, the states are less influenced by the interest group’s pressure. Whereas, populations belonging to a democratic state are more likely to take an interest in consumption and are less likely to invest in the growth-promoting projects. However, the democratic capital, most of the time, tends to increase during the democratic years and undergoes a decrease during the autocratic years. Literature over the topic maintains that it is a virtuous circle where the democratic capital and the economic growth feed on one another. Over the long run, the states having sound economic policies and ever-increasing economic freedom tend to show rapid development and better performance.

Economic Changes in a Government Based on Dictatorship

The flip side of the coin shows the government of autocracy and the socio-economic circumstances that are likely to take place under such kind of government. The non-democratic government is considered to be challenging than the democratic system of governance. Autocrats do need the cooperation of the domestic groups to successfully complete their tenure. This cooperation reduces the threats to their rule. These cooperation groups and nominally democratic institutions assist the government in attaining economic growth. These institutions become the hub of facilitation between the political parties and the outside groups in order to promote economic growth.

The studies have shown that there are noticeable links between an autocrat’s years in office and the economic growth of the country. Data collected from around 155 countries showed that the economic growth was affected greatly during the years and after the years of autocracy.  The level of income per capita tends to decrease, and the models of generating income turn ineffective. Thus, there exists a negative relationship between the dictatorship and economic prospects of a country if previous records are taken into consideration. The dictators who stay in the office tend to find it challenging to devise effective economic policies. These economic policies are an outcome of dictator dilemma or of the dictator’s personality changes known as the winner effect. The longer the years in office, the reduced is the effect on the economy of a country. It has been shown through a study that a dictator’s log-term tenure can result in a rise in inflation. Moreover, the quality and the functioning of various institutions in a country deteriorates when a dictator tends to rule for a longer period of time. If a dictator stays in office for long and the circumstances begin to dwindle in balance both socially, economically, and politically, this scenario is termed as the dictator effect in the political terminology. The entire impact of the dictator’s effect is negative and irreversible for the masses. Literature has maintained that the state where dictator effect prevails the most are Africa and the near eastern states.

Economic growth, however, is not only a matter of democracy or dictatorship. It relies more on the attitude of the governing personnel or the ruling party. For example, many states, including Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, were able to attain tremendous economic growth under the dictator’s rule. However, history proves the fact that some of the major economic disasters also took place under the thumb of dictatorial rule, pushing the states into both long-term and short-term crises. For example, in Zaire, the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko gave way to years of theft and neglected to bring about an economic downfall in the state. Zaire was a state which was considered to be rich in resources and full of wealth back in the year 1960. It was usually compared with South Korea. It was believed that the two states could be compared to paradigmatically. But in South Korea, the economic changes were accompanied by military regimes. Many scholars have debated that certain factors such as legal systems, property rights, banking, and government really matter and contribute towards a change in economic growth. Thus there is a clear relationship between economic growth and democracy and autocracy. Exposure of community to the autocratic institutions highly matter for controlling their economic growth. The states which consistently existed under the autocratic rule were less likely to develop and enhance their human and social capital that was inevitable for their economic growth. On the other hand, the countries which existed under the democratic rule went through positive transition within the institutions and experienced positive economic development (Carden and James, 2013). Based on relative theories and experience derived from previous studies, it can be claimed that the institutions which came under the liberal market economies and where disputes were resolved rapidly as well as the property rights were right way enforced, were more likely to have a positive economic growth (Carden and James, 2013).

Similarities Between Democracy and Dictatorship

The primary requirement for a halcyon and better development of a country under both democratic or autocratic rule is political stability.  Political stability matters the most. Whether a state is governed by a democratic regime or a dictator, what matters the most is the formation and implementation of the policies which are effectively and immaculately devised by the rulers of a state. Predictability, in this regard, also plays a significant role in economic changes. If a country faces frequent military coups, there are very low chances of its economic stability or progress in the long run (Mesquita et al., 2003). This is because a charged military environment can negatively affect the functioning of the interest groups or political parties, which tend to participate in the economic exchange. Therefore, whether a state is under democratic rule or dictatorship, neither of the two regimes want the military to create upheaval or distortion within the state.

Scholars and student researchers have often tried to work on any existing similarities between democracy and dictatorship. However, only a few similarities were found out to be true or accurate to the core for the said comparison (Bates, 2017). Both the systems are prevalent systems of government, and none can be blamed as having only cons and no pros. Both democracy and dictatorship tend to invest their trust in an individual or a group of people governing them. Moreover, either it is democracy or dictatorship, both the governments can be effective or inactive depending on the kind of government personnel ruling over the state. Generally, dictatorship is said to be a weak form of governance. Yet democracy can also be poor if the system is bound with disagreements or conflicts. It has been said that true democracies are non-existent. This is because all democracies somehow carry certain traits of dictatorship (Mesquita et al., 2003). Both these governing systems, no matter how free or controlled, tend to rule over the people and impose their orders within the boundaries of the state. Though the differences are more than the similarities, the traits of the two systems can interchange with one another at any time during the rule. The famous magnum opus ‘Republic’ written by Plato praised as well as demonized both democracy and monarchy. Both have certain cons when it comes to in-depth analysis. A democratic government can be good if it is flexible in terms of allowing people’s decisions to be inculcated within the agenda of the government. But it would be similar to autocracy rather anarchy if it reacts brutally towards the people who insist that their voices must be heard. 

Differences Between Democracy and Dictatorship

The world consists of many states, and each state has its own system of governance, depending on its geographical location or political preference. Democracy, however, is hailed in many regions of the world, whereas dictatorship is disliked or loathed by most of the people. According to renowned scholars, Diamond and Marc, democracy is that system of government where all the adult citizens of a state are allowed to have a definite say in the formation of a set of rules and laws to be implemented within the state (Bates, 2017). In this way, citizens can participate in the rules which are set to affect their living standards. Democracy encapsulates certain social, economic, and cultural principles and practices that promote fair competition and ensure freedom for all living within the state. Political freedom is, however, on top of the list. Contrary to this, dictatorship can be explained as a system of government that is held up by an individual alone (Bates, 2017). Therefore, in a dictatorship, power is confined around one ruling body or small group of individuals. This kind of power is often forcefully attained.

Both democracy and dictatorship are the systems that tend to govern the state or rule over the people, and the difference, however in a democracy is that the people believe that the ruling elite has their consent to rule. There are many ways still in which democracy and the dictatorship differ from one another. Usually, the differences reside in the ways and methods of governing the state or groups of people (Mesquita et al., 2003). Both the systems have their distinct methods. An autocrat tends to devise the laws and rules which are meant to reduce competition. He usually exerts and exercises absolute power over the state and its people. The laws are formulated by the autocrat on behalf of the people. However, the case is not the same in democracy, as people’s views are involved. Through a thorough process of consultation, the decisions and views of the people are recorded and conveyed to the governing bodies for implementation. This is done to ensure that whatever has been done within the state is according to the people’s say in the varied scheme of things and is being done for their betterment and prosperity. Therefore people have the choice to make or amend decisions that are taken by the government and alter them according to their will.

In an autocratic system of governance, many kinds of freedom are suppressed, such as freedom of civil society, media, rights of citizens and institutions. The citizens are not expected to pose their decisions or to say what they consider is better for them (Bates, 2017). Contrarily, in a democratic system of government, the media, civil society, and organizations have the liberty to set any initiative in order to be an effective change in society.


 Though both democracy and dictatorship are the systems of government that are existent in the modern era, yet they differ in many ways, particularly when it comes to the dispensation of rights of the people in a state and the freedom to have their choice in the decision-making process. The economic effects of democracy are somehow observed to be positive as compared to the impacts of dictatorship on the economic set up of a country. The political institutions cast a direct impact on the economic institutions, and therefore, the kind of government can affect economic growth either positively or negatively. More important is the sustenance and the maintenance of the human and social capital that exists within a country. This must be enhanced rather than deteriorated during the rule. Over the long term of an autocratic regime, the economies begin to shatter and deteriorate altogether. This is because of the lack of open access to political and economic institutions. However, the time outside of the dictatorial regime can help to recuperate and revive the economic losses if the policies are rightly devised to mitigate the effects of economic recession. It mainly depends on the governing body that what kind of economic changes have been brought up since the tenure began. Most of the time, even democracies fail to produce the desired results and turn out to be ‘elected dictatorship’ for the masses rather than democratic governance. In such cases, the social circumstances can deteriorate to a great extent, let alone the economic prospects.

  • Bates, C. (2017). Book Review: Larry Diamond and Marc F Plattner, Democracy in Decline?and Larry Diamond, Marc F Plattner and Christopher Walker (eds), Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy. Political Studies Review15(4), 641-642. https://doi.org/10.1177/1478929917718667
  • CARDEN, A., & JAMES, H. (2011). TIME UNDER AUTOCRATIC RULE AND ECONOMIC   GROWTH. Contemporary Economic Policy31(1), 44-61. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1465-7287.2011.00287.x
  • Mesquita, B., Smith, A., Siverson, R., & Morrow, J. (2003). The Logic of Political Survival. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/4292.001.0001
  • Olson, M. (1993). ‘Dictatorship, democracy and development’, American Political Science Review, 87(3): 567-576.
  • Sen, Kunal & Pritchett, Lant & Kar, Sabyasachi & Raihan, Selim. (2016). “Democracy Versus Dictatorship? The Political Determinants of Growth Episodes,” Working Paper Series rwp17-009, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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