Why Autocrats Destroy their Countries: the Chinese, Russian, Turkish and Venezuelan Similitudes

The emergence of autocrats in the last decennia, including populists who do not apply the rules of democracy, has led, in one form or another to the destruction of their countries.

These leaders are moved by megalomania or ideology (or both), but they have one characteristic in common: their country’s populations are largely oppressed, and they ignore their people. The fact that such leaders are elected is no proof of democracy. In many cases, they were elected legitimately the first time and ringed the elections afterwards, including the incarceration and/or elimination of opponents.

The selection of these four countries is not arbitrary: each have natural resources and wealth that are meaningful, and each could have acted in an autocratic way without destroying their own economies. Many autocratic traits can be found in duly elected leaders want exercise their power by abusing law.

I Cry for You, Venezuela

[1]

At the beginning of my career, I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with Venezuela at a time when they had access to capital markets. . back in those days, the country was not yet an oil exporter of any real significance but was a net exporter of agricultural products. Over time, the various political regimes have neglected agriculture, its rural population, and a unique resource in today’s context. Now, the people of Venezuela are facing a food shortage close to a famine.

It is the Bolivian Revolution of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro that created the biggest racket on oil and natural resources. Like many autocrats, they utilized torture, military, and corruption to rule and plunged what should be a flourishing economy into an unmitigated disaster.

In Caracas, I discovered the country’s remarkable capabilities including academic excellence, and artistic and cultural richness. The Venezuelan people deserve our admiration. The youth that have risked and lost their lives in demonstration, deserve our respect.

The rejection of the political situation, as it often happens, put Venezuela in the hands of Russia and Cuba. When Venezuela defaulted on its foreign debt, Russia was paid at face value. It was the beginning of the fall of the GDP below the level of … 1985. In ten years, despite the increase of the price of oil, the GDP per capita fell from $ 12,000 to 1,600.

The Stalinization of Russia

This headline of the Economist is accompanied by the subtitle, “As it sinks in that he cannot win in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is resorting to repression at home.”[3]

What drives Vladimir Putin is nothing short of megalomania to restore the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin is using the script of Joseph Stalin by comparing Ukrainians to Nazis. Unable to keep peace in his own country, Putin fights wars abroad in Syria, Georgia and now in Ukraine. His main military policy is the “terre brulée” (burnt earth). What cannot be conquered, must be destroyed.

However, this invasion under fallacious pretexts is slowly but surely destroying his home country. Each month, Putin’s resources diminish, and he is forced to give discounts to sell Russian oil.

In a previous blog, I discussed the four wars Putin cannot win.[4] The decline of Russia as an economic power has already begun. He may occupy Donbass, but his country will be surrounded by nations that will exclude him politically and more importantly, that are slowly but surely suffocating Russia’s ability to export to other countries at international prices. Putin has become an embarrassment, even to his allies, and only aggravates his own insulation. The revitalization of NATO is the worst result Putin could have achieved.

Over and above the tens of thousands of dead soldiers and civilians, the biggest casualty of the Ukraine invasion is the massive destruction of Russia’s military capabilities. Many of the military’s equipment needs are unavailable for purchase as such components are from either Europe and/or the United States. It is only a matter of time before half of Russia’s outdated military equipment will either stop functioning or be destroyed by Ukraine or aiding NATO countries.

The poisoning, torturing and execution of opponents make Russian elections a farce. A bloody self-destruction. This month, Russia’s Alexei Navalny who survived Putin’s poisoning faced an additional fifteen years in jail for ‘extremism’ claims Political foe of Russian president Vladimir Putin was already sentenced to nine-year term earlier this year. [5]

The Collapse of the Turkish Economy by Erdogan

[6]

I met President Erdogan in 2014, the year of his appointment as President in Davos. At that time, he was expressing a desire to see Turkey join the European Union. It was, however, clear that Erdogan would never abide by the principles of democracy enshrined in the EU treaties.

Crushing the so called “coup d’état” in 2016, refusing the reality of the millions of slaughtered Armenians by the Turkish Army, and fighting the Kurds, are only some of the playbooks Erdogan applied. He turned his back on the principles of Turkish democracy established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who had previously created a modern state that would grow under his successors into a viable democracy.[7] Erdogan is driven by a dream of restoring the Ottoman Empire.

His economic leadership culminated in 70% inflation and the destruction of the country and its currency. Erdogan singled handedly managed to refuse any form of monetary or fiscal policy and could not care less about the situation of the people. The Turkish Lira lost 95% of its value.

In an effort to avoid criticism and opposition and to push the Turkish people into ignorance, Erdogan eliminated all intellectuals, journalists, professors from the country — filling jails with thousands of peaceful opponents. Once again, it is the Army that uses the resources and the people are disposable.

The Great Fall of China

.[8]

.

[9]

The first salvo was the collapse of Evergrande, the large real estate group that is now, virtually bankrupt under the weight of $305 billion of debt. This collapse affected millions of Chinese citizens, and the leadership was confronted with scandal and fraud that had been covered up for years.

However, it is the ideology of the zero Covid cases that would put the population of China in the streets, fighting against the white uniformed special forces. The denial that the COVID 19 was originating in China was ideological. The omicron did the rest.

One million Uighurs are treated like prisoners in secluded camps, a fact that has been denied by Beijing. The recent damning BBC program evidencing the torture and rape of Uighurs does not leave any doubt to a terrible reality denied by Beijing. [10]. Such methods and scale are reminiscent of the WWII concentration camps.

In China, there is no need to rig the elections because there are no elections. There is no appearance of democracy. Corruption and the denial of basic human rights complete a picture of an authoritarian regime.

A Few Thoughts About Autocratic Leadership

The four leaders I mentioned in this blog are not alone. However, they are the most powerful autocrats of today and their countries’ economies are bleeding.

At the core of these examples, we can recognize consistent traits straight out of the Autocrat playbook:

· They are convinced that they’re capable of overturning the basic rules of economy — an inflated ego. They do not listen to central bankers or ministers of finance who execute their orders.

· They want to restore the dream of historic dimension: The Ottoman Empire, the Greater Russia in the Soviet Union, the One-China and the Bolivarian Revolution.

· They need and attempt to imprison, torture and/or execute the educated population. Free thinking is an enemy that needs to be eliminated.

· Their personal enrichment is obscene. The fury of Putin and Erdogan alongside the photos of their palaces says it all. They all amass fortunes.

· In the middle of an economic or financial crisis, they are incapable of restoring stability.

· Their ideology ignores science, facts and proof by pretending that the enemy is abroad.

· They are deaf to any serious conversation on the future of their countries: They know everything.

· The geopolitical consequences of the “objective alliance” between autocratic countries will redefine the post-World War II equilibrium.

We need to abandon any illusions that anyone or anything will “improve” the behaviors of such leaders. They are who they are, driven by egos and ideology. When such leaders attack, democracies must (as they did in Ukraine), counterattack. Autocracies are destructive to the wellbeing of their people.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/01/magazine/venezuela-inflation-economics.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/15/books/review/things-are-never-so-bad-that-they-cant-get-worse-venezuela-william-neuman.html

[3] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/03/12/the-stalinisation-of-russia

[4] https://gugeux.medium.com/putin-unleashed-five-wars-russia-cannot-win-b29c358c2958

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/31/russia-alexei-navalny-faces-extra-15-years-jail

[6] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2013/06/08/democrat-or-sultan

[7] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kemal-Ataturk/The-nationalist-movement-and-the-war-for-independence

[8] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2004/05/13/the-great-fall-of-china

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/13/business/china-covid-zero-shanghai.html

[10] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037

[11] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/06/01/statement-by-president-joe-biden-on-additional-security-assistance-to-ukraine-2/

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CEO at Galileo Global Advisors and Adjunct professor Columbia Law School.

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Georges Ugeux

Georges Ugeux

CEO at Galileo Global Advisors and Adjunct professor Columbia Law School.

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