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Welcome to the freedom recession

Opinion: Authoritarian states' knack for capitalism has let them buy credibility while reducing political freedoms.

Similarly, all of them practice capitalism of one flavor or another, seeking its advantages (free trade, access to Western-founded clubs like the World Trade Organization and the IMF) without the transparency or accountability that should come with such membership.

Most disturbing of all for Western policymakers, however, are the echoes of Cold War aid policies. This “authoritarian aid” has drawn worldwide attention in recent years, particularly China’s practice of cutting deals for mineral rights with dictatorial regimes. At a time when Western Europe, Japan, and the United States suffer from the self-inflicted wounds of bubble finance, keeping up with these anti-democratic rivals in the dispersal of largesse may prove impossible.

It is worth remembering that only 20 years ago, such practices were standard procedure in Washington (and in Paris, London and other European capitals). Looking the other way as dictators brutalized their own was a Cold War staple, a policy meant to stave off the advance of Soviet influence, which continued even as the wheels began to fly off the big Red truck. To the West’s great credit, such policies were quickly phased out as the Cold War drew to a close, and old retainers like Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Jean “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti and Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko suddenly found their American Express cards no longer worked.

But those practices, never completely eliminated, have been embraced with new vigor by the “new authoritarians.”

“This unconditional assistance — devoid of the human rights riders and financial safeguards required by democratic donors, international institutions, and private lenders — is tilting the scales toward less accountable and more corrupt governance across a wide swath of the developing world,” the report says.

Michael Moran, foreign affairs columnist for GlobalPost, is a member of the communications advisory board of Human Rights Watch.

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