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Why Political Freedom and Prosperity Go Hand in Hand


Published April 20, 2021

Socialism’s failure to protect political and economic freedoms has repeatedly led to some of humanity’s worst catastrophes. North Korea’s socialism is an illustrative example of the effects of state control. History shows us that political and economic freedom is the foundation for enduringly successful nations. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is a democracy better equipped than a socialist society to handle violations of civil, political, and property rights?
  2. What historical human catastrophes have resulted from decreased political and economic freedom?

Additional Resources:

  • To learn more, read “Political Freedom and Human Prosperity,” by Larry Diamond. Available here.
  • Listen to “Democracy and Authoritarianism,” with Larry Diamond and Elizabeth Economy. Available here.
  • Read “Honor the World’s Hopes,” by Larry Diamond. Available here.
View Transcript

Why don’t socialist countries achieve the same level of prosperity as countries that embrace free markets?

Historically, one of socialism’s key differences from free markets has been its catastrophic failure to protect political and economic freedoms.

You only need to look to the experiences of North and South Korea to see the results.

At the end of the Korean War, South Korea was only about 30%  richer than North Korea. Four decades later, South Korea’s economy was 14 times as large as North Korea’s economy. Today, it’s 50 times larger.

What happened? South Korea developed into a democracy that protected the rule of law and created a regulatory environment that encouraged innovation. North Korea succumbed to state control and socialism.

The 20th century is full of examples of countries rejecting open political and ideological competition. In their absence, governments inevitably harm their people and violate their civil, political, and property rights.

This decreased political freedom leads to disaster. From famines in Stalin’s Russia to mass murders in Cambodia, history’s worst instances of human catastrophe have occurred in regimes that put the state before the individual.

Though some socialist countries have managed to provide brief periods of prosperity, democracy’s promise of political and economic freedom remains the indispensable foundation for enduringly successful nations.