There are various incentives for governments to work in the interest of the people. Actually they are the same kinds of incentives like doing anything while cooperating with others.
But before we start, why are they valid incentives? An election works because it is enforced. If we could enforce something random, that also happens to be good for the people, it is an incentive. One of the most obvious thing is, someone else let you work for the people and specifically design a way to evaluate. This sounds like dictatorship. But actually, if we don't perceive the government as a single person, I suppose most people working in almost any government are hired to do some professional work. They may be evaluated in various ways, including things like firstly getting a degree at a university, which doesn't trace to a single person even if you call them a dictator or something. Only when someone become one of the top leaders of a country (or sometimes a smaller region if normally elected), this could become controversial. But that doesn't mean it is not useful to evaluate by a few person according to some rules in the big picture.
Here I call the above a political incentive. There is also the economical incentive — economical development in a free market, and the partial economical incentive — to win an election. These are usually the center of such discussions.
Recently in China, while most people don't feel exactly what happened and may credit to anything they like for the good things they know, actually a new and probably final kind of incentive has became in effect. That is, if someone is incompetent, someone in their command will likely try to interpret the situation and fix things in their own way. If the incompetent person is incompetent enough, they will fail to act in uniform, and would be very likely to cause more trouble at some point. Someone else may intervene, or at least they lose control about the situation and another mechanism may finally replace them. This always existed. But recently it became more difficult to even act like ignoring a problem and not doing anything in some cases, making this situation enforced, although a bit weakly. That is, in the ideal situation, if news reports there is a problem somewhere, and it's obvious to everyone it is actually a problem, the problem most likely advances and finally solves, or if in some rare situations that someone tries not, it quickly becomes ridiculous because of self contradiction and much more obviously a problem detectable by every means.
I may have not explained it well. But the problem is not about this kind of incentive itself, but some problems inherently should be dealt with this incentive, and now it is possible. Everyone knows the market and election are not perfect. Some calls them the least bad scheme. But at all time someone attempts to use them to solve problems that they are not the best fit. With the new way available, everything could go back to its place: if it's a political problem, solve politically; if it's an economical problem, solve economically. Educated people would think at less times it would be a good idea to divert resources for pressure on some unrelated topic, making controversy less likely to persist in the long term.
The traditional example of diverting resource for something else is the alleged story of CIA trafficking illegal drugs... I don't know how much truth it has. But if someone having strong political opinions about some other general topics thinks it's somewhat understandable for whatever reasons, it means they just give up about the complex situation, and only want to debate about some simpler minor topic. I'd say they are not in a healthy mindset, and what they say they want shouldn't be considered what they really want. The exact situation is open to interpretation. But the new incentive is linked to the great deduction of competing opinions about such situations (though nothing I know is as extreme as the example). And this improvement wouldn't show up in any survey or statistics or something like that, for the nature of its internal logic.
The list of incentives that are of the same kind of the above, and complementing each other:
- Reliability of a process, may discourage revealing of information.
- Stability of one part relative to other changes, may increase responsibility for anyone to join later and want a change.
- Scalability, may force changers to be volunteers.
- Coverage of cases, may cause participants to love the old days and keep backward things.
- Control or strive for ownership, including military threats, susceptible to the prisoner dilemma.
- Everyone understands each other and knows about how to do it, susceptible to the chicken game.
- Political incentive, or general evaluation and standards. Difficult to distinguish between foresight and corruption.
- Economical incentive, or try-error in a market. Degenerates on a monopoly, sometimes the monopoly of (partially wrong) knowledge in education.
- Cultural incentive, or let the bad things burn themselves. Confuses if knowledge is generally not applied or lost, but preserved somewhere to allow trying longer.
A higher incentive could solve the problem of lower incentives. It shouldn't be seen as a replacement, but wrapping a new level of competition outside, keeping everything else inside. By this standard, an election is independent of receiving suggestions, which should be considered for anyone wanting stability of existing parts in the long term.
Election is not one of them. Problem is, every incentive sometimes runs out of control. The lower ones up to political may cause great damage as human history shows, and the higher ones happens too often. An election on a stable base like the population, instead of the rapidly changing wealth when it is at the point of running out of control, could let people have chance to recognize it and avoid it when it is going to happen. It is an important factor to slow down other incentives. But the real knowledge about how to run a country is developed according to other incentives, say professionalism and money. (Think about it, if you lose an election, and that proves your opponent is doing the right thing, should you feel really sorry about it?) Without the other incentives, election alone tends to erase the knowledge about the losing side, which is not modern. The exact rules are usually designed for stability, not fairness. They might be relatively fair when it is first set up, if people think fairness is good at the time, but would be reluctant to match any new thoughts.
Compare election: people are unhappy about something, so they vote someone out in the next election; and the new way involving incentive 9: someone develop a technology or a way of management in a commercial company, which works for money and their customers (part of the people), and a young person saw no reason to not also do like this and finally cause the department to adopt for some reasons. (This is just an example, not covering every case and too early to assume universally available.) Election is slow and have less details. But it's possible someone will want to also slow down incentive 9 at some point, where some of the attempts, such as attributing to quotes in history, might be misinterpreted as something like nationalism but it's not the whole picture.
But while the existence of incentive 9 may have greatly improved the China government's image, it only happened shortly and doesn't match the timeframe of China's rapid development which should be the reason of anyone's question. The perceived problem of the west should be for another reason. Though incentive 9 may have let me see the problem more clearly.
The core meaning of election should be an indirect implementation of mostly incentive 8 (by productivity) and sometimes other incentives (may be more important, but not by productivity). A free market should be a full implementation of incentive 8. But they are not usually understood as such. They are usually considered a refection of the incentive 5 (ownership) in the propaganda in the west.
The idea is, a free market or election theoretically could finally provide a way to solve some problems, so we don't have to discuss how exactly to solve these problems. And this is used to actually discourage discussions of the direct solutions of such problems if they are not directly relevant.
There are many variants of this logic. Take freedom as an example. Someone wants to do something for a good reason. Someone else is unable to understand, but doesn't have the right to oppose. So the actor gives up and just say it's their "freedom" and not anything else. But if many of such people want this, or it does really hurt other people causing other people having the right to oppose, the best thing is to restart the discussion about the details, as everyone is more deeply involved and likely would try harder to understand. They group together, on incentive 6. Later go to incentive 7 and 8 in similar logic, which is crucial to setting up advantages in a market. This is the general way moving upper in incentives. Education, research, hiring by someone else, are the exceptions, used by most people but don't bring the biggest changes to the world.
But instead, they may group together on the concept of "freedom" without incentive 6, and continue to claim freedom without further details. Most people seems just satisfied by publicly requesting a kind of freedom, using "freedom" as a slogan, without finally solving the problem. We know they don't, but it seems like everyone in the west making comments should act like they do. If that's not enough, everyone tries to support them in popularity, or finally everyone directly donates money. Everyone make them satisfy in other means if they don't naturally. But the original exact problem could be kept unresolved.
In a better market, for whatever thought process and interaction with other people they would have, they should finally actually compete, with great effort for the difficulty, instead of stop at the feeling of enrichment of their spirits by adding freedom in their concern. Even for the government instead of market, every low job counts.
By people sometimes not really wanting to compete, everyone falsely assume an advanced company should and will take over all the new technology developments, for all time instead of one specific point of history when everything was new. And by not having a lot of public knowledge at incentive 6 and 7, everyone still dissatisfied by the development must always start at incentive 5, which is difficult, keeping this trend going.
This is not only an ideological problem. I've read somewhere that some US officials condemning China for having too high saving rate, which is bad, but only bad in their own economic theories, and "friendly" suggest "solutions" about it, getting ignored. (This kind of things may invite debates, because I suppose the bad parts could be isolated and dealt with separately, and the other side thinks it changes the nature of some concepts and become de facto not that problem, or even call it a disguise.) To the normal people, it's like saying, nope, you already have the freedom to buy that expensive thing if you have money. You don't have to attempt having money and actually buying it. True that most people are not going to be relatively rich anyway. But we note that the highly praised part of the mechanism of a free market is based on competition, not everyone winning it.
The exact interaction between incentives, is that a higher incentive could be used to efficiently devise and select the better knowledge about achieving lower incentives. Something on naked incentive 5 or 6 naturally should be afraid of incentive 7 not in their control, or alleged dictatorship or authoritarian system, if they ever become enemy, because it indeed has overwhelming power. But even incentive 7 is overwhelmed by incentive 8, the full capacity of a market. But on the other hand, if it is in their control, like in the same country, a lower incentive could be used to enforce the actions on higher incentives. Commercial companies could never reject the commands from politics. In the worst case they could only also fail in mass as the symptom of a political failure about disrespecting the rules of economics. That's why politics could do more damage. By disguising incentive 8 as incentive 5, I suppose it might be the US government (with incentive 7 enforceability) actually exercising the control of companies on incentive 8, perceived as incentive 5, which in turn control to some degree in the public image the entities on incentive 6 and 7, including part of the behaviors of some other government bodies. Or at least they make sure the intermediate knowledge before commercialization i.e. incentives 6 and 7 not belonging to the general public, but someone's private possession. I don't know how intentional it is and who holds the knowledge if it is, and don't make a guess. But it has left weak spots in those countries. And if there is a big country that doesn't follow this pattern, the outcome would be quite unpredictable for them.
Say copycat (on incentive 6). While intellectual property infringement is not to be defended, it turns out the more general form of copying just mean joining the competition. And the best thing for a really big company to do before creating something new is to enumerate all the possibilities already known, to get ready in case everything has links to each other, and increase the chance for new ideas. Everyone said Chinese companies were not creative, but when the Chinese companies starts copying each other and this mechanism is starting actually speeding up creativity at least in some domains it's just staggering, and everyone has to revise what they thought creativity was in mind.
But actually, a propaganda could never restrict people's real thought at least at peaceful time, in the way it appears. So the above should match the news more than an educated person's prospect, whichever you think is closer to the reality. Instead, prematurely overly awarding and disrupting incentive 5 makes the more educated people on incentive 6 feel superior than the ordinary people, and less likely pursue incentive 7. That's still far from the full capacity of market on incentive 8. And on the internet age there would be less people trying something just because they don't know how difficult or useless it is. It also makes media more likely to stay on incentive 4, to satisfy the market and make people on incentive 5 feel superior, such as arguing about the exact time order of events and attribute responsibility of coverage to the initiator, sometimes to the extent that we predicted they must have firstly decided so our first physical action isn't initiating, sometimes with manipulation. That might be why sometimes people want a strict yes or no answer about the authoritarian or even dictatorship thing even with the cost of obvious oversimplification, and even retreating from the superiority of a free market to only "other benefits" of democracy.
Many people just don't think seriously about the question itself. Let's just say, what's Fauci's incentive of doing his job, when Trump disagrees with him by that much? Is it the election, free market, or anything a normal person would think of? This just never come up to the mind for some people who want a quick and short answer about the discrepancy in their mind. One must realize that an election or something replacing an election is a kind of methodology of revising the methodology of revising the methodology of ... of doing something. It works for what it is, but quite slowly. In the end someone still has to discuss how to really do that thing. An invisible hand won't work at all if everyone maintains a status above it.
Finally, my understanding is, while China doesn't call itself exactly capitalism, the capitalism part alone has caused the economical development most known by the world. The west probably just did it wrong. The other parts only caused other improvements or changes that is not so well known, and mostly irrelevant in most discussions. Actually, China is still inept in some area crucial to the market, such as making standards and enforcing quality control. And the per capita numbers aren't good. In the west, the market and the blocking of someone's own way and vision may have alarmed themselves, and some kind of labels helped them relieved it a bit. I don't comment much on the non-economical aspects of China in this part. But I must say most things are also new to China despite some similarity with historical references that are sometimes tagged nationalism.