It has become conventional wisdom that market capitalism and democracy are the ideal forms of social organisation. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1988, the dramatic differences in the standard of living between the two countries closed the book on centrally planned totalitarian control as the path to prosperity. Though the term is now a taboo, many intelligent people over the years have noted some of its advantages.
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A survey of economists done in May of 2011 by Daniel Klein found that John Maynard Keynes was the most admired man in the profession outside of its creator Adam Smith. His flagship work was "The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money." It called for governments to respond quickly in times of economic crisis by pumping money into the economy to prop up aggregate demand. Because of its need for a central organiser, Keynes remarked that his theories would be best employed by an authoritarian government.
Totalitarianism can allow detailed social planning that may not be possible in a democracy where politicians are always leaving office. Cuba is one of the last remaining communistic countries on earth, and it provides an interesting example of these benefits. According to the International Epidemiological Association, its Gross National Product per capita is £3,250, putting it in the bottom half of countries in the world. But its health care system has produced some of the lowest infant mortality rates and longest lifespans of any country in the world, and its organisation is largely socialised.
Because a totalitarian government has more decision-making authority, it can afford to divert more resources to the military. MIT professor Daron Acemoglu commented in May 2009 that dictatorships often arise from the interests of the military, and thus have a greater ability to mobilise large armies. This power has negative side effects, but it does allow a nation to aggressively defend its self interests with more precision than a democracy.
Though totalitarianism provides some social benefits not possible in democracy, it's important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Citizens in democracies tend to make more money, have more civil liberties and have more reliable access to the necessities of life. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen famously pointed out in 1999 that no democracy has ever experienced a famine. Why? Because the feedback loop from voters held politicians accountable and prevented kleptocratic governance. Democracies in general provide higher levels of public service.
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- "International Journal of Epidemiology": Health In Cuba; Richard S. Cooper et. al, May 2006
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Theory of Military Dictatorships; Daron Acemoglu et. al; May 2009
- "New York Times": Does Democracy Avert Famine?; Michael Massing, March 2003