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Putin: Another dictator having a bad year | Business

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, in a meeting in Moscow in 2019.
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, in a meeting in Moscow in 2019.Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images)

The term “dictator” comes from ancient Rome, where it was used to refer to a man to whom the republic temporarily granted absolute authority during crises. The advantages of unfettered power in times of crisis are obvious. A dictator can act quickly, without having to spend months negotiating laws or fighting legal hurdles. And he can impose necessary but unpopular measures. So there are times when autocratic rule can seem more effective than the mess of rule-of-law democracies.

However, dictatorship begins to look much less attractive if it continues for some time. Of course, the most important argument against autocracy is a moral one: Very few people can wield absolute power for years without becoming brutal tyrants. But apart from that, an autocratic regime is, in the long run, less effective than an open society that allows dissent and debate. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the advantages of having a strong man who can tell everyone what he has to do are more than offset by the absence of free discussion and independent thought.

Then he was talking about Vladimir Putin, whose decision to invade a neighboring country seems more disastrous with each passing day. Clearly, no one dared tell him that Russia’s military might was overrated, that the Ukrainians were more patriotic and the West less decadent than he supposed, and that Russia remained extremely vulnerable to economic sanctions. But while the war in Ukraine rightly obsesses us all – I’m trying to limit my Ukraine reading to 13 hours a day – it’s important to note that a seemingly very different but deeply related debacle is taking place in the another great autocracy in the world: China, which is currently experiencing a resounding failure of its anticovid policy.

I know in the West we’re all supposed to be over Covid, even though it’s still killing 1,200 Americans a day and infections are on the rise again in Europe, likely heralding another surge in the US. But China clearly has not overcome it. Hong Kong, which for a long time seemed practically unscathed, is registering hundreds of deaths daily, a catastrophe reminiscent of the one in early 2020 in New York, when there were no vaccines and we did not know very well how to limit transmission. Major Chinese cities such as Shenzhen, one of the world’s leading manufacturing hubs, have returned to lockdown. And it is not at all clear when or how the new health crisis in the country will end.

All this represents a huge setback of fortune. For much of 2020, China’s “zero Covid” policy — draconian lockdowns whenever and wherever new cases appear — was hailed by many as a political triumph. Some analysts, not all Chinese, went so far as to cite China’s success against Covid as evidence that global leadership was shifting from the United States and its allies to the rising Asian superpower.

Then three things went very, very wrong. First of all, while much of the world opted for messenger RNA vaccines – a new technique adapted with miraculous speed to covid – China insisted on using its own, based on older technology and which have turned out to be much less effective. effective, especially against the omicron variant of the coronavirus. And not only did he insist on using inferior but domestically developed sera, but he tried to dissuade the adoption of Western vaccines by spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories.

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Second, the rate of vaccination among China’s elderly—the most vulnerable group—has slackened. This may be in part because misinformation about messenger RNA technology has not only deterred people from getting the most effective vaccines, but has led to mistrust of vaccinations in general. It may also reflect a broader mistrust of government; China’s leaders continually lie to their people, so why believe them when they say get vaccinated?

Finally, the zero covid strategy is extremely problematic when it comes to variants as contagious as omicron, especially considering the weak protection provided by Chinese vaccines. The point is that all of these failures, like Putin’s in the Ukraine, ultimately stem from the inherent weakness of autocratic rule.

When it comes to vaccines, China has succumbed to the myopic nationalism so prevalent in authoritarian regimes. Who would want to be the health official who told Xi Jinping that his vaunted serums were far inferior to Western alternatives, especially after the president’s henchmen had bent over backwards to claim otherwise?

In the case of the zero covid policy, who would want to be the economic official to tell Xi that the cost of draconian lockdowns, a policy China is so proud of, was becoming unsustainable? And, as I’ve already said, a government that lies all the time finds it difficult to get people to listen to it even when it tells the truth. With this I do not want to fall into Western triumphalism. Vaccine refusal is also a big problem in the United States. And I am concerned that we are rushing to remove anticovid restrictions. But China, like Russia, is now teaching us a lesson about the usefulness of having an open society, in which strong men cannot invent their own reality.

Paul Krugman He is a Nobel laureate in economics. © The New York Times, 2022. Translation of News Clips

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