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Making sense of dictatorships and health outcomes
  1. Vincent Geloso1,
  2. Gilbert Berdine2,
  3. Benjamin Powell3
  1. 1School of Management, Economics, and Mathematics, King's University College, London, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, Texas, USA
  3. 3Free Market Institute and Rawls School of Business, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Vincent Geloso; vgeloso{at}

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Cuba is an authoritarian state and is poor even by the standards of Latin America. Yet it has managed to achieve levels of life expectancy and infant mortality that (even after adjusting for possible data manipulation)1–3 surpass those observed in advanced economies.4–8 Cuba is not the sole non-democratic regime to have achieved similar outcomes. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) also stands as a clear example of such a case where there was a rapid increase in health outcomes post-1945, which made the USSR compare favourably with Western Europe9–11 in spite of the fact that it was relatively poorer.12

While it is true that, on average, dictatorships do not seem to improve health outcomes,13 14 Cuba, the USSR, and past or current autocratic regimes in China (especially in the recent outbreak of covid-19)15 or Ethiopia16 are well-known exceptions that are often praised. This is in part due to their impressive accomplishments in spite of low levels of economic development, as argued, in the case of Cuba, by Wenham and Kittelsen8 (pp11–12, 14–15) in this edition of BMJ Global Health. Numerous policy experts and policy-makers have recommended attempting to import the ‘good’ from such regimes (ie, high-quality, cheap healthcare) and leaving behind the ‘bad’ (ie, the non-democratic institutions, repressed private sector economy, the limited respect for human rights and other restrictions imposed by the regime).4–8 17

In this editorial, we point out that such a sorting of the wheat from the chaff is impossible. First, we point out that it is unsurprising to see some dictatorships performing well with regard to health indicators due to their ability to forcibly mandate the allocation of resources towards achieving the regime’s objectives. Second, we point out that there are trade-offs associated with …

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