Does democracy hurt or help growth in the tiger economies of Asia?

THE TAIWAN STRAIT is often described as a possible flashpoint. Across this narrow body of water, China points thousands of missiles at the country it regards as a rogue province. But for those working on Formosa 1, an offshore wind farm, the strait is something else. “It’s the best wind in the world,” said one engineer recently, looking out at a cluster of turbines on the turquoise water.

When up and running later this year, it will be Asia’s first commercial offshore wind farm outside China, and the first of many planned in the strait. Taiwan’s embrace of wind has come alongside a decision to phase out nuclear power. Many businesses fear this will leave the island low on electricity, imperilling its economy. The debate has been unruly at times: legislators have brawled in parliament. In 2017 a massive blackout enveloped the north of Taiwan. But President Tsai is sticking to her plan to create a “nuclear-free homeland” by 2025. For critics, it is a stark example of a political system easily swayed by vocal campaigners, be they environmentalists or anti-free-traders. It also highlights a perennial question: is democracy bad for prosperity?

This view is, conveniently, often heard in China. “What does Taiwan have to show for 20 years of democracy? Above all, a precipitous decline in its economy,” Zhang Weiwei, a Chinese...

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