Have democracies failed and is authoritarianism winning? How can democracies reinvigorate themselves? Does the West need to decouple from China? These and other questions are considered in Economics Explored episode 180. Foreign affairs expert Charles Dunst talks about his new book Defeating the Dictators with show host Gene Tunny. Among other things, Charles and Gene talk about the potential benefits of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), such as Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s COVID-19 vaccine plan.
Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at email@example.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored.
You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
About Charles Dunst
Charles Dunst is deputy director of research & analytics at The Asia Group, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a contributing editor of American Purpose. He is the author of Defeating the Dictators: How Democracy Can Prevail in the Age of the Strongman (Hodder & Stoughton, February 2023).
For further information about Charles, check out https://www.charlesdunst.com/.
What’s covered in EP180
- What is the Asia Group and what does it do? [1:35]
- Is democracy no longer seen as the path to prosperity in developing economies? [5:28]
- What are the most important organizing principles for a democratic system? [11:38]
- Accountability and the lack of trust in government [16:34]
- Best practices for running a democratic country in the 21st century [21:36]
- Too much money in politics in the US [25:41]
- Does the West need to decouple from China? [27:37]
- The role of public private partnerships (PPPs) such as Operation Warp Speed [32:27]
- How will dictators be defeated if we govern ourselves better? [34:59]
- The importance of engaging in the conversation through social media and local governance [38:32]
- Inequality and the Dream Hoarders [39:00]
Links relevant to the conversation
Defeating the Dictators (Please buy the book via this link to support the show):
Matthew Engel’s FT article “The foreign states that own Britain’s railways”:
Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It
Track Nancy Pelosi’s stock portfolio:
Transcript: How to Defeat the Dictators w/ Charles Dunst, Asia Group – EP180
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:06
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show. Thanks for tuning into the show. This is episode 190 on defeating the dictators that’s the name of the new book by up and coming Foreign Affairs expert Charles danced, who joins me this episode. Charles is deputy director of research and analytics at the Asia group based in Washington, DC. I thought Charles’s book would be good to cover on the show, because the revival of authoritarianism around the world is not just a political and human rights issue. It’s an economic one, too. It has profound implications for our trading relationships with other countries. And as we’ve seen with the invasion of Ukraine, the actions of authoritarians can massively disrupt global markets. Please stick around to the end for some additional thoughts from me. Okay, let’s get into the episode. Charles danced, welcome to the programme.
Charles Dunst 01:35
Thanks for having me on.
Gene Tunny 01:36
It’s a pleasure Charles. Nicholas grew and passed on your details to me, regarding your new book, defeating the dictators and yes, very keen to chat about that. I understand you’re the deputy director of research and analytics at the Asia group. Could you just tell us a bit about the Asia group and your work there first, please.
Charles Dunst 02:00
Sure, the Azure group is a strategic risk advisor, essentially, for companies looking to do business in Asia, and we’re headquartered in Washington. But with offices in Tokyo, we have an office in Vietnam, we have an office in in New Delhi, I think we had one or one or two advisors at one point in Australia. But basically, it’s mostly companies looking to do business in Asia on things like how do I start selling cell phones in Vietnam? Or how do I start manufacturing something in India and kind of understanding those marketplaces given just challenges of doing business in those markets. And basically, people come to us looking at former US diplomats, people with longtime business experience in the region, who just need a new knee to help and we can kind of provide that expertise. And at the research team, I kind of said to denied point of the firm where I’m not super client facing in terms of on a day to day basis, I’m not necessarily engaging with, you know, X, X company or y company. It’s more so we look at pan indo-pacific issues. So we Lee, I write a daily news wire that goes to clients, that’s basically four stories from overnight, overnight us time, that happened throughout the region that matter for either business, economics or politics. So we do that we lead coverage on things like the Indo Pacific economic framework on the quad issues that don’t directly fall in one country team baskets, there’s something that’s not China’s specific or something that’s not Australia specific, we kind of handle the pan regional issues. And I handle a lot of the public facing media stuff, just given my given my own background as a journalist. So it’s a really interesting, firm really dynamic. And we just, I think our New Delhi office is now under a year old. So really, lots of lots of movement.
Gene Tunny 03:42
Raw. Yeah, absolutely. Okay. That’s very good. And depending on I mean, it’s hard to know what the right stats are. But India could well be the largest country in the world at the moment. I mean, given China’s declining population, so yes, makes sense to be boosting that Indian presence. Absolutely. Okay. Well, we better talk about your book. It’s getting some it’s got some good testimonials, is really impressive. You’ve got a testimonial from the current UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, you’ve also got one from? Is it McMaster, a former national security adviser? Yep. And then yes, yes, very good. So defeating the dictators. What motivated you to write this? Charles, why did you think this was an important book to write?
Charles Dunst 04:31
Sure. I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time living in non democracies or kind of countries on the on the cusp, as one might say. So I lived in Hungary when I was still in university. And I remember I was kind of a quasi young journalist at the time, and it was writing articles and pitching around articles about Hungary and writing academic work about Hungary. And it wasn’t getting so much attention because it was this was 2017. So kind of right before Orban became an internationally known figure, precisely because of his his illiberal ism. Ah cracy his notion of kind of setting the stage for folks who win elections legitimately come into government, and then do away with the liberal institutions within. And I basically lived in Hungary I then lived in Southeast Asia and I lived in London and I kind of travelled all throughout Eastern Europe, all throughout Southeast Asia spent a lot of time in the Middle East. And something that kept coming up, when you talk to the intelligence is of say, Hanoi, or the intelligencia. In Kabul, maybe less so Cairo, but the intelligence is certainly in the Gulf. There is this notion that democracy is no longer the path to prosperity, there is a sense that you can follow the models of the Singapore’s of the world that you can follow the model of China that you can follow the model of Saudi Arabia. And I think more and more when I travel around the developing world, that was something I heard, and particularly in our little Western bubbles, sometimes, particularly in the US and the UK, I think we don’t do such a great job of communicating the virtues of democracy, and basically answering the question why democracy for people in the developing world, because if you are Vietnamese, and you’ve seen your country’s GDP, and you’ve seen it grow so much, and you’ve seen your, your life expectancy increased so rapidly over the last 3040 50 years, it’s not entirely clear to me why you might look around and say, well, this system’s not working, we need a democracy, when you see January 6, there when you see three prime ministers in three months in the UK, so I wanted to write a book to make a very affirmative case for democracy. Because there are many books, I think, in recent years, kind of lamenting the decline, the decline of democracy and the rise of the Viktor Orban types. But I wanted to say, write something a bit more affirmative. And saying, well, here is what can be done to actually make sure democracy works once again. And when democracy works, once again, most importantly, you can keep democracy where it already exists. democracy works better in the United States. So if democracy works better in the United Kingdom, you’re going to get fewer elections of people like Trump, who may not necessarily be the biggest believers in the democratic system. And once you can kind of tamp that discontent at home, it’s my belief that democracies can serve as a better model for countries in the developing world, well, maybe this, they might not look at the United States and look at Australia, and look at the United Kingdom in five to 10 to 10 years and say, well, those systems are more innovative than the one in China that they’re more solid. I mean, that right now, I think, if you’re sitting in Vietnam, that might not appear to be the case. So I wanted to write a very affirmative case for democracy and looking how do we can advance our values and really practical ways?
Gene Tunny 07:32
Sounds? And we’ll use that affirmative case for democracy. What do you think are the key points in favour of democracy?
Charles Dunst 07:38
But key point for me is study after study still shows, despite the kind of discontent in our democracies that if you live in a liberal democratic society, or even just the democratic society, you are likely to live longer, you are likely to make more money. And I know there are no studies that can necessarily show this, but it is my belief that you’re likely to live a richer cultural life, and you are more likely to innovate, that is true as well, that the world’s best generally still comes from democracies. And this is not to say that Singapore and China cannot innovate. Of course, of course they can. And of course, great art and great movies and all that can come out of non democracies. But there is a reason why when you travel around the developing world, particularly in Asia, that the media is the the music people listen to his Japanese and Korean democracies, or the movies on TV are mostly American, maybe British, maybe Australian, but it’s not like Chinese, Chinese culture has become predominant in the developing world. And that is kind of a silly example. But it’s indicative to me, of the ways in which democracies embrace the kind of tumult and chaos of our systems and we are better for it in the long run. So it’s just about making sure that we are making sure that our systems are providing for our people, while also embracing this chaos that allows for a Jackson Pollock painting, or allows morikami to write when a cue for these are not works, that someone will be able to conceptualise in a non democracy and think that’s a very, very key point that the art and the innovations that are going to be really necessary for the future particularly think about things like climate change. Well, the Evie transition is going to be fixed by innovations that are primarily coming out of democracy, or democracies. And it’s the same thing on healthcare innovation. I mean, where did where did the COVID vaccines come from? Exclusively democracies, not only the United States, Germany as well, of course. So that was my affirmative case for democracy was starting at this point of saying, well, even the things look really messy. Right now, if you look around, you would rather be the citizen of a democracy than an autocracy bar, not
Gene Tunny 09:41
just on Vietnam, and that was an interesting point you made. Do they recognise that? I mean, a lot of their prosperity does come from embracing the market, doesn’t it from embracing the market and as someone who I mean, I’ve read a lot of Milton Friedman when I was younger, and I mean, Friedman used to make the case that the market and democracy were very closely entwined. Or that you can’t have one without the other. I think Friedman’s argument was. So the people in Vietnam recognise that the importance of the market, and then the importance of freedom more broadly,
Charles Dunst 10:17
I think not so much the notion of freedom more broadly. But I think there is a recognition of the need to have liberal ish economics, I mean, Vietnam, China, Singapore, these countries all got richer. I mean, certainly Vietnam is not rich, like Singapore is, but they all got richer by embracing liberal trade. And I think what’s really not troubling, but a little concerning if you’re in a democracy is that those countries and others have proved that you can have mostly liberal trade without liberal politics. And that is a very different scenario than with the Soviet Union, or the kind of Soviet bloc writ large, or China before dung XIAO PING, where essentially, these were the countries that were illiberal politically, and also illiberal economically, so they couldn’t really grow in any meaningful way. So those systems never had a tonne of legitimacy, because they never worked. Whereas now, I’d be hard pressed to say that the Vietnamese system has not worked, or that the Singaporean system has not worked. Clearly, you can get rich without democracy. And that’s a new relatively new point over the last 180 years. It really was this notion that the way to get rich in the post colonial era was to be a democracy. So the fact that you can actually decouple liberal values from liberal trade is definitely a concern. And part of the reason why why I wanted to write the book,
Gene Tunny 11:38
yeah, just on Singapore, you mentioned Singapore quite a few times in the book. And that’s an interesting example. And probably, I mean, that relied upon just that extraordinary figure of Lee Kuan Yew, didn’t it and someone who was, you know, almost just by his background, and by his education could be that benign dictator or authoritarian, that he was an exceptional individual and probably someone you can’t count on having another another kind countries. So I thought it was interesting. You did tackle that question of Singapore, head on in your book. So yeah, just an observation just while I remembered it on Singapore. Okay. In your book, you give a really good summary of your argument early on, and you’re talking about a No BS approach to the future, committing to our values and, and also to the practices but not buying into utopianism. I really like this, but you go that we must convince the world in practical terms why our organising principles remain preferable to those of autocracies both at home and abroad. We need to look our own failures in the eye while learning from the successes of others. You talked before about the affirmative case for democracy, but could you just restate or reiterate? What are those organising principles? What are the most important ones, Charles,
Charles Dunst 13:03
when I was talking about liberal organising principles, I’m really thinking about the things that are necessary to be a democratic system. So things like freedom of speech, things like free and fair elections, broadly open societies space for civil discourse, space for civil rights organisations, for civil society organisations, this notion that it is actually good to have a dynamic and open society where there can be really aggressive, loud debate and disagreement. And that’s not I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we can have really heated political debates. I’d rather that than the opposite of kind of no debate at all. So but I think we really do need to convince countries of well, why should I have? You know, why? If you’re Vietnamese, or your, you know, rich, Chinese rich, rich Chinese person, you turn on CNN, you’re gonna say, Well, why would I want that? Why would I want two people kind of debating angrily at each other over on TV? I mean, how is that helpful for my government? So I think we really need to say, well, here’s why. Because that loud debate tends to lead to a society that’s open enough to produce really strong innovations that’s really good, strong to produce the best kind of art. And these are all things that are vital to the future, but clearly just kind of walking around and dropping into annoyance. And well, you shouldn’t be like us, because our systems are open, and they’re so great isn’t enough, when there is a need to demonstrate very practically, well, why is the United States or why is Australia? Why do we offer a better path for prosperity broadly, than do China or Singapore? So that’s really how I how I thought about it.
Gene Tunny 14:41
Gotcha. Right. And what do you think the failure is? You talk about the failures, so we have to look at our own failures in the eye. What failures do you think are most significant?
Charles Dunst 14:53
I think honestly, one of the biggest ones that I talk about very frequently is this is more of a problem I would say in the US in the UK than Australia, but broadly kind of the mismanagement of globalisation in the sense of thinking that we could essentially export manufacturing to places like Vietnam and China without experiencing any domestic discontent at home, that people who would had who’ve had who have had these manufacturing jobs for generations are mining jobs for generations, would lose them turn around and say, I’m all good. Okay, and wouldn’t revolt in one way or another, and particularly in the US the it is this programme designed to kind of ameliorate that loss with some economic assistance, but it’s kind of a mess and doesn’t really work effectively. And that, to me is so indicative of the problem that the United States China, the UK comes through this free trade through globalisation, we all got richer, but the average person did not get as rich as their as the god the government did, or as the kind of top 1% did. So I think there’s this increased frustration, it’s saying, well, people turn against globalisation, because they turn away because they’re mad or with the way globalisation was managed. And I think really pushing back against that is really important and saying, Well, trade isn’t the problem, or liberalism isn’t the problem, the problem was the way it was managed. And that gets into the broader question of inequality, where, particularly in the United States, particularly in the United Kingdom, inequality is one of the major fuels beyond anti immigration politics beyond I would argue, kind of very strong, populist politics, that lead to things like Brexit or elections of people like Trump. So that those are kind of two big ones. And the other, I think, really, really vital. One is a relative lack of accountability and which is fueled a lack of trust. I think there was a notion if you talk to enough people in the UK or the US and even even Australia times, that there are two sets of rules that there’s a set of rules for normal people and a set of rules for everyone else, me everyone else who kind of that top 1% of rich people and rich people in the government. And that view in the US, I think about the example of the fact that there are so many Congress, people who trade stocks, I’m sure some of them are I’m sure many of them are not doing it illegally, technically. But clearly, you’re privy to some kind of information as a lawmaker with a certain type of security clearance that you probably should not be allowed to turn around and trade stocks. And even when a lawmaker is caught either not filing their stock disclosures on time, nothing seems to happen. They pay a little slap on the wrist fine, and then they’re done. And that’s fuel this notion that if that’s a normal person, that person is getting punished very severely. And I think making sure that we’re restoring accountability is key. So it’s about economics, but it is also about things like accountability, which leads to distrust in government. And when when your government lacks trust, it’s really hard to do just about anything.
Gene Tunny 17:50
Wrong. Yeah. Yeah. Good point. I’ll put a link. I think there’s a Twitter account that tracks Nancy Pelosi stock portfolio. So Pelosi has been one of the strongest performers in the Congress. And I don’t think she’s the top performer. But I’m sort of stuck fix, which is, you know, far exceeds market performance. So yes, does does raise some questions there. Charles, do you have any reflections on how democracies fared relative to autocracies during the pandemic?
Charles Dunst 18:22
Yeah, I mean, I think certainly the US performance was was quite poor. And I don’t think that’s anything intrinsic to democracy. And that’s kind of how I would approach the UK as well as there was nothing intrinsic to democracy that made them fail on the pandemic, it was more so we were just the two of those two countries, my country and then the United Kingdom, kind of had not great leaders for pandemic management when a pandemic happened. Whereas certainly, there are other democracies that did much better, certainly South Korea did much better. Certainly, Taiwan did much better. Certainly, Japan did much better for a period. And when you think about the autocracies, Vietnam had a very strong performance for a while. And again, that’s not because Vietnam was an autocracy, it’s because Vietnam had an extremely high level of social trust, that this is trust in government and social trust between one another so in the government, the government was extremely blunt, and extremely honest with its people and said, This is going to be very painful economically. But please stay home, stay off the streets, and we’ll get through it. We’ll get through it as a country and there was really smart messaging of talking about it like it was another war like the Vietnam wars, the another foreign invader was gonna be kind of overstating, but it was another war, the long line of wars against the Vietnamese people, and they banded together. And for a long time, Vietnam, controlled the pandemic extremely well, kind of until the Omicron variant showed up which no one could contain. So Vietnam performed quite well. And I think the the example people go to all the time, and I think kind of wrongly, to talk about COVID and a COVID. Management in a positive light is China where people say, well, zero COVID policy was great. And I think the irony is that The zero COVID policy was maybe very effective and could have been more effective for like a year, in the sense of if you can manage to have these strong lock downs, where you kind of say, well, you know, please stay home, whatever, whatever. And then you get vaccines and you get good vaccines, the Western vaccines and you get your way out, maybe I would sit here and say, well, that’s not a policy I would sign up for. It’s too restrictive, keeping people at home that long. I mean, as a as a democratic citizen, I am not in favour of giving your government that much power. But I do think the irony of the Chinese approach was they kind of demonstrated the efficiency kind of quote, unquote, efficiency of autocracy of saying, well, we can because we have so much power, we can shut everything down for a year, and then we’ll open up it’ll be fine. But the irony is that autocracy was then the reason she didn’t things her personal disdain for the West, was the reason why China didn’t accept the COVID vaccines from the West, that there was no way of reopening, without what models they were probably a million people who died when China reopened. And certainly that’s a lower death fold in the United States. But most of the US deaths took place before the vaccines were if it were available. So I do think at this point, it’s very hard to sit here and say, well, the autocracies managed COVID. So much better than democracy. did. I just don’t think that’s the case. I think it is. Countries with a large amount of social trust in their governments managed COVID better than others. And that’s kind of the Taiwan case. That’s the South Korea case. Those are both democracies, and they manage COVID better than most countries because, I mean, in Taiwan more so people do trust the government raw,
Gene Tunny 21:35
okay. Are they places to learn from? Are they countries and economies to learn from? You mentioned that in your book, you look at examples of good governance from everywhere past and present to detail best practices for running a democratic country in the 21st century could? What do you think those best practices are? And what examples Could you point to Charles?
Charles Dunst 21:58
Yeah, I mean, in Vietnam, I think one example, I’d point to a lot of government’s focus on winning social trust, and the focus they spend on being communicative to their people. And even in a one party state, I think there’s a recognition of what because there are not elections are not real elections, you need to win over that social trust much earlier. And you need to kind of maintain it much earlier, because there is no way at the ballot box of kind of seeing how citizens actually feel. So you need to be a little more transparent and communications at times. And some of the other examples I think about where I would like if democracies had more put on paper and more of these long term plans. People like to make fun of China’s five year plans because they are modelled off the Soviet five year plans, which of course, set these targets Soviet Union was never going to hit. But I do think the idea of democracies happening, well, maybe let’s have a 10 year critical minerals plan, or a 10 year health care plan. Because far too often, those plans are very much focused on security and defence, which are important. It’s important to have maybe a four or five year review of the state of your country’s defence infrastructure, or of your security infrastructure, what are your cybersecurity infrastructure, but I would like that apply to other things I’d like that applied to things that actually matter to normal citizens on a day to day basis. I think the idea of saying, Well, what’s our healthcare sector looking like right now? What’s our infrastructure looking like right now? On what do we want it to look like in 10 or 15 years? And I think that’s something that there are a few autocracies, particularly China and Saudi, spend a lot of time putting out these reliefs, five years to five year plans, or in Saudi Arabia, kind of the vision 2030 plan, and of course, because they’re autocracies, I would argue that they’re probably less likely to actually fulfil many of those goals. And certainly I don’t think Saudi Arabia is on perhaps the greatest trajectory. But I do think the idea of putting things on paper can be really beneficial. And one other example I don’t, I’m not gonna run through all of them. But one good one that I thought the UAE has pulled out in recent years, is they ranked every health care centre in the country, and then publish the results, and said, you know, this one in Dubai is great, this one in Sharjah is terrible. And it I really do think that’s not the worst idea, particularly in a smaller, smaller countries, you can do it state by state or city by city, where I’m from New York City, I can only imagine if New York City, the New York City government, basically brought in an unbiased agency and have them rank the New York City hospitals, and the ones that are at the bottom, clearly, you’re going to be motivated to perform better, because nothing motivates people like a fear of being embarrassed. So I do think that is this kind of odd way of being accountable and transparent. Of course, as a democracy, you can be more transparent in those rankings and and you can be more accountable than an autocracy ever could. So that was kind of the main thesis of the book was well, there may be things that autocracies put out plans or they look to build social trust, kind of in ways that I think are, are okay are kind of they’re interesting, but because democracies are a kind of a superior system, any of those reforms that we look to put in place into a liberal democratic system, I think we can do better.
Gene Tunny 25:09
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
Female speaker 25:15
If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you Frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world, you can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.
Gene Tunny 25:44
Now back to the show. Just thinking in the States, one of the things I hear a fair bit is that there’s too much money in politics in the US. And that’s related to that was at Citizens United that decision. Do you have any thoughts on that? Is that an issue that the lobbyists have too much power to sway the the people in Congress, and they’re, you know, they’re looking for donations and all of that. So do you have any concerns over that?
Charles Dunst 26:13
Yeah, I mean, I think I definitely do have concerns about it, even if at times, it’s slightly overstated. I think maybe in the media of how much power lobbyists actually have preside over the reality is perception at one point or another. And people do think that the lobbyists do have so much power in one way around that. And something I suggested in the book is to essentially, make sure you’re being much more transparent about where the money is coming from and who it’s going to where if the Supreme Court made a ruling, clearly the money is going to keep flowing. There’s no way around that at the moment. But what a government can do, what the US government can do is create a really accessible online database that very clearly demonstrates, well, where’s the money going? Who is it going to, and there are efforts to do that. But you know, the current system is so not user friendly, it’s so difficult to go online and actually look at who’s donated to who, there’s certainly some kind of dark money that doesn’t come that doesn’t isn’t clearly registered. And I think it would be very helpful just to have this transparency, it’s a way to kind of mitigate the problem. Because if you’re a politician running for Senate or running for Congress, and you know that every donation you accept from they come from a big corporation, or every lobbyist to meet with is going to be very much public, it’s going to be a very easy to access database, you might be a little bit more hesitant to take those meetings. Whereas now you do have to register those meetings, but no one knows where to find them, and no one’s actually looking. So that’s not a wholesale solution, but I think we could mitigate the problem.
Gene Tunny 27:37
Okay, a lot ask you about how do we think about and how do we deal with authoritarian countries? So at the moment, the major ones are China and Russia? I mean, obviously, we’ve cut off a lot of ties with Russia due to their invasion of Ukraine. But what about China? I mean, in the last five years, there’s this new concern about China as a strategic threat. And they’re increasingly calls to decouple to. I mean, there are some rather extreme proposals out there, almost trying to cut ourselves off from China and not trade with China. Which, you know, in Australia, we’ve actually had some retaliation from China. And that’s affected some of our exports. But I mean, China has been a major destination for our exports. So that would be very difficult for us. How do you think about that? How should we engage with these authoritarian regimes in the future?
Charles Dunst 28:38
Well, I think it’s important not to, of course, lump them all together, where I think approaching China is very different. We’re approaching Russia at the moment, where certainly, I’m in favour of the broad sanctions policy against Russia saying, Well, this is a country that invaded its neighbour, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with setting this precedent of Oh, you don’t get to evade your damper. I just kind of continued business as usual, at least with with the broader West. When it comes to China. I think the question is, how do you compete responsibly? I don’t think the idea of complete decoupling is, is really workable, if you’re the United States, if you’re the United Kingdom, if you’re Australia, because the economies are too intertwined. I mean, this is not the Soviet Union, where basically our economy didn’t really touch theirs. Whereas every basically every field is these overlap again, do I think there’s anything problematic about selling a refrigerator to China? or selling shoes to Chinese consumers? No, I that’s not a concern for me. But I do think there was a question of, well, where do you draw the line? What kind of tech is to sell what kind of goods are too sensitive to be sold to to a one party state in China, in which basically, the government does kind of oversee everything and it does seem like if you are selling some type of technology to a private firm, you could never be just how sure how private that firm actually is. And if the government could step in and kind of take that tech in one way or another. Every country is going to define a different only, but basically do I think there’s anything wrong with not selling military applicable semiconductor technology to China? No, I think that’s fine. I think basically recognising that this is a country helmed by a government that does not, frankly seem super interested in positive ties with the West. And that, of course, has been more aggressive in the broader Indo Pacific in recent years. Think about the South China Sea, you think about the drills around Taiwan, I think it makes a lot of sense to deny them certain technology. But the broad way I think about relationships with autocratic countries is just to make sure they’re in our own benefit. Where when you think about us ties with Vietnam, the current state of us Vietnam ties seemed very much in America’s interest. You know, you get a trade partner, you get, broadly a security partner, we raised human rights with them privately. I think we’ve successfully made some advancements on LGBT rights in Vietnam has been broadly kind of a success. Certainly Vietnam is not just liberal society, or is Liberal government as we would like them to be. But we don’t have the luxury of saying we’re only going to engage democracies, there are more autocracies than there are democracies today. So we do have to engage Vietnam, we do have to engage Saudi Arabia, we do have to engage Oman, and we do have to engage Rwanda. It’s just making sure that those relationships are in our benefit, and that we’re using them in our national interest, whether that’s trade, whether that’s security, and making sure that we’re not, we’re not giving the autocrats too much credit, if that makes sense. So we’re not overstating well, how important is the US, the US Saudi relationship, when I don’t think we should just sweep, sweep things under the rug, because we think that relationship is important. I think it requires a real reevaluation of well, how important is that relationship? Actually? How much how much do we actually care and it’s gonna be different for every country, it’s gonna be different. Of course, Australia has a different relationship with Vietnam, United States does, but I think that my broad sentiment is, it’s not reasonable to cut off all ties with autocracies, but it is about managing those relationships carefully.
Gene Tunny 31:59
Okay, Rod, I’ve got two more questions, if that’s okay, I’ve got a question about PPP, public private partnerships. One thing I really liked about your book is, is your openness to the potential gains from these arrangements, these cooperative arrangements between public and private sectors? Could you tell us a bit about PPS, please, Charles, and what you see is their merits?
Charles Dunst 32:27
Sure, I mean, I’m in favour of public private partnerships, only when the goals match at the beginning. And one example I talked about here very frequently, is operation warp speed in the United States, which was the development of the COVID 19 vaccines. And basically, the government gave out a pot of money to companies to develop the current vaccines as quickly as possible. And certainly, while some of these companies share, they probably had a profit motive very well. So thinking, well, this is a terrible pandemic, we need to get our vaccines out as soon as possible. And that was the government goal as well. So clearly, the goals were very meshed from the beginning. And even if the companies in the end are going to make profit, the goal was not necessarily on profit, the goal was then actually delivering. Whereas some of the examples that I’ve other people have raised, particularly when I talked to British media, as well, our our PPVs haven’t necessarily worked as well. And I would argue, well, that’s because the goals weren’t aligned from the beginning, where the government wondered one thing, and the other party was much more focused on profit than anything else. So making sure that you’re partnering with responsible private sector actors, he’s really key. I mean, he should not just be throwing money at private sector firms hoping they’re going to deliver, it needs to be a 5050 partnership goals need to be aligned. But when PPP is work at their best level, I think they serve to actually boost trust in democratic governments, because poll after poll shows that and I showed it for last three or four years, that the private sector is actually more trusted than the government. And that’s true across Europe. It’s true in the United States are basically people look at their governments think of them as sclerotic, and think of them as old and not super effective. When they look at Tim Cook and Apple, they look at the company at Tim Cook, they look at something someone like Pfizer and say this, these are great look at these great innovations they’re doing, look at the iPhone, look at the vaccines, look at the pharmaceuticals. And people do tend to trust the private sector more. And I think governments would be wise to leverage that trust in a way that also helps the government’s deliver. And I think it’s just a question of making sure you’re doing that in a responsible way. And I think there’s this irony, I raised it all the time. That’s the study from a few years ago showing that in the United States, when Americans get good public service, they actually believe that it’s coming from the private sector, because the idea of effective government service is like incomprehensible. Because our system doesn’t work. So well at times that people think, well, of course, you know, I got this, I got this great assistance, I got this homeowners assistance, or I got this vaccine, it must be from the private sector, even when it’s actually from the government. So it’s just one way of basically saying well, publicising, that cooperation, I think can actually help boost trust.
Gene Tunny 34:59
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And you mentioned that there have been failures of P PPS in Britain that have meant that people in Britain have been negative about them. And we’ve had some notable ones here in Australia too. But what I found interesting is you noted one of the great successes or most successful PPS in the book. So I’ll, I’ll put a link in the show notes to your book, Australia’s upgraded the Ballena bypass highway, completed in 1996, along with four private firms, as in conjunction with the government seven months ahead of schedule and for USD 100 million less than estimated. So that’s an impressive example. And so one I’ll probably use in the future. So yeah, good, good work finding that one. Excellent, Rado? So my final question, Charles is, I mean, how do you think this will will actually work? I mean, how, in what ways will the dictators be defeated? If if we in the democratic countries govern ourselves better? What’s the mechanism here?
Charles Dunst 35:58
I think the mechanism works twofold. Where primarily, if democracies are working better at home, you are less likely to elect people like Viktor Orban, or like Donald Trump, or like ei or Bolsonaro, who come to power through liberal democratic means, and then don’t necessarily govern in a liberal, democratic way, who have little concern, I would argue, in most cases for those liberal institutions, particularly in thinking about Orban Bolsonaro, where there’s no sense of respect for freedom of the press, there’s an effort to stack the judiciary, these are all things that can hollow out democracies from the inside. My argument is that if democracies are delivering better on economic issues on issues like the social safety net, and issues like infrastructure, if people feel optimistic about their future, which many people in democracies Do Not at the moment, they are less likely to vote for reactionary people like these that can erode democracy internally. So that is way one to defeat the dictators at home. And point to is only if you can defeat the dictators at home and prevent that autocratic impulse from taking root at home. Only then can you turn around and actually say, well look at how good we are, as a model. Look at how the United States is outperforming China or look at how Australia is outperforming Singapore, and more people in the Vietnams of the world, or people in I don’t know in a rock or in Egypt might actually look and say, well, we would like to be a democratic system. Even if we don’t agree the United States of the West, then everything. We see how well Australia is functioning, or we see how well Taiwan is functioning. Were looking at how sclerotic Saudi Arabia is their kind of messy, messy internal politics, that corruption scandals, we don’t want that. But it’s making sure that we are working well enough to fend off the autocratic impulse, and simply just that we can be the world’s model once again. Gotcha.
Gene Tunny 37:45
Okay. So showing that you’re the world’s model. Okay. Yeah. Any final thoughts? Charles, before we wrap up? Yeah,
Charles Dunst 37:55
the one thing I would just say briefly is one thing is the line, I keep using it over and over again. But I think it’s important is the lack of faith in democracy right now is really troubling to me. But something I want to say that’s positive is faith in democracy is not necessarily the problem. We all should believe in democracy and work for it. The problem is faith and democracy is automatic functioning, and the sense that everything will work without our engagement. I think the key message of the book for citizens for people who are not lawmakers, not politicians, not in government is just make sure we stay engaged. And we keep pressuring our politicians to actually make democracy work for us.
Gene Tunny 38:31
Got you. And that’s through, I suppose social media or in through, I guess, you’re engaging in the conversation? Is that what you mean?
Charles Dunst 38:40
engaging in the conversation, making sure you don’t miss elections, engaging in your local governance? I mean, it can be on a school board in the United States, you can be in your city council, you can all these local thought their town council, I think far too often we look at our messy politics or messy governments, they just write it off and stop being engaged. But I think engagement is really key to making anything work down the line.
Gene Tunny 39:01
Okay, very good. I guess one more thing, just looking back on my notes. You mentioned one of the big issues with inequality was inequality, I should ask before we go, I mean, do you have any thoughts on how that can be addressed? Or use proposing specific measures to address inequality in your book?
Charles Dunst 39:17
Yeah, one of the things I talked about was inequality in terms of education. And the notion that, basically, I think far too many democratic governments are not starting or not looking at the unequal starting points of children. And basically saying, Well, you know, once you get to university, it’s meritocratic. Its meritocratic when you get into your universities. But of course, if you are born into a lower income household, you’re less likely to have certain academic achievements that gets you into one of those schools. And if you don’t get into one of those top universities, you’re less likely to earn as much money as those who do. And I think there’s this increased need to actually look at starting points and say, Well, how do we make sure that we are doing all we can to let the talented children from lower income households actually rise? Is to top tier universities. And that’s how I think about inequality. There are certainly broader economic reforms that other folks have proposed. But I think about inequality in terms of the lack of meritocracy in the way that basically it does seem like we’re perpetuating kind of an elite with the same people and go to the same schools, their kids go to the same schools, because they have a nice starting point. But I want to make sure that we’re kind of giving more believing and more active inequality of opportunity.
Gene Tunny 40:28
Yeah, and there’s probably another episode in that, talking about how we improve that. But yeah, just wanted to check on that. Because that’s, that’s clearly one of the big issues. Yeah, but I hear about the dream hoarders Is that what you call them in the States? Of hurt? That’s one of the terms that’s been applied to your just that self perpetuating elite or whatever? Have you referred to it? So yeah,
Charles Dunst 40:52
I’ve never heard that one. But that’s a good one. Yeah,
Gene Tunny 40:54
I think that’s what yeah, I’m trying to remember who wrote that book. I’ll put a link in the show notes. So yes, it seemed a bit overly negative to me. But, but I think the data do show that the US is not as there’s not as much social mobility, as people might think, and not as much intergenerational mobility as you might like, relative to some other countries. So I think that’s an uneven in Australia, and in Britain, it’s not as high as as we would hope so. Absolutely. Good point. Okay, Charles Dance from the Asia group. Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And good luck with the book. I’m sure it will go. Well, I think the message is an important one. And I really enjoyed reading it. So thanks so much. Thank you. Okay, I hope you found that informative and enjoyable. I think Charles is someone we’ll be hearing a lot more from in future years, so I’m very glad I could interview him about his first book. I must say I was impressed by Charles’s passionate advocacy for democracy, and his call for existing democracies to provide better examples to other countries. I hope that Charles is right that we can inspire movements for freedom in non democracies by improving our democracies at home. Maybe that’s a vain hope, but at the very least our own countries will be better run. In our conversation, Charles and I touched on a few ways that democracies could be strengthened. I liked how he talked about improving our education system so that all children get the best start in life. I found a link to the book on the dream hoarders that I was reminded of while chatting with Charles and I’ll include it in the show notes. I think it’s worth having a look at. As always, feel free to email me at contact at economics explore.com. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for listening. rato thanks for listening to this episode of economics explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via contact at economicsexplored.com Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting outlets you then please write a review and leave a rating. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.
Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed the episode. For more content like this or to begin your own podcasting journey. Head on over to obsidian-productions.com
Thanks to Obsidian Productions for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au.
Full transcripts are available a few days after the episode is first published at www.economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.