Degenerate Autocrats

Degenerate Autocrats, Econospeak

by Barkley Rosser

 Yesterday, I had Konstantin Sonin present a seminar at JMU, “The Degenerate Autocrat: Origins and Consequences of the Russia-Ukraine War.” Sonin is a former Vice-Rector of the Higher Economic School in Moscow who left suddenly in March due to his critical remarks about the regime. He has since been fired from the faculty there. Sonin is a Dewey Distinguished Service Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at U. of Chicago and has coauthored with Daron Acemoglu. Daron might get the Nobel on Monday.

Anyway, his argument being longtime full autocrats become incompetent as their regimes degenerate because they increasingly appoint incompetent sycophants who give them bad information and do not warn them of problems with the bad policy decisions they make. Autocrats accumulate these bad advisers, often from old longtime cronies who become increasingly corrupt as well, because they are afraid anybody competent might move to overthrow them.  Putin in Russia with his stupid decision to invade Ukraine is the current leading example. He had others from the past to follow including Nicholas II’s decision to join WW I, Hitler’s decision to invade USSR, Mao’s decision to carry out the Great Leap Forward, and Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Kuwait. 

So far post-Mao China has avoided this slide into incompetent degenerate autocracy. China’s system was set up to where leaders would step aside after serving for ten years avoiding this problem. Now it looks like Xi Jinping is making the move to go to a new system by taking a third five-year term as leader, with no clear successor in sight.  This is a dangerous situation, with a number of recent decisions looking somewhat questionable and the economy slowing down. Although, there still continues to be some forward-looking decisions and actions being made.  But the longer-term prospects from this move do not look good.

Barkley Rosser