The Atlantic

Why the U.S. Will Outcompete China

The faith in autocratic ascendance and democratic decline is contrary to historical fact.
Source: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP / GETTY

National-security analysts see China as one of the greatest threats facing the United States and its allies. According to an emerging conventional wisdom, China has the leg up on the U.S. in part because its authoritarian government can strategically plan for the long term, unencumbered by competing branches of government, regular elections, and public opinion. Yet this faith in autocratic ascendance and democratic decline is contrary to historical fact. China may be able to put forth big, bold plans—the kinds of projects that analysts think of as long term—but the visionary projects of autocrats don’t usually pan out.

Yes, democratic governments are obligated to answer to their citizens on regular intervals and are sensitive to public opinion—that’s actually democracies’ greatest source of strength. Democratic leaders have a harder time advancing big, bold agendas, but the upside of that difficulty is that

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