China’s Dream World

Press censorship, repression of dissent, and the absence of organized opposition allow autocratic rulers everywhere to promise whatever they want, with no political consequences for failing to deliver. China has perfected this form of government over the last decade, as President Xi Jinping's first months in power have shown.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – Ruling elites almost everywhere – whether in democracies or in authoritarian regimes – believe that clever sloganeering can inspire their people and legitimize their power. There are, of course, crucial differences. In functioning democracies, government leaders can be held accountable for their promises: the press can scrutinize their policies, opposition parties are motivated to show that the party in power lies and cheats. As a result, incumbents are frequently forced to carry out at least some of their promises.