Here's my interpretation.
That's a line from a recent Tom Friedman column I came across listening to a recent EconTalk with William Easterly which critiqued (disproved?) the theory that autocrats are good for economic development. They opened with this quote of Friedman's:
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.Easterly responded none too gently:
Tom Friedman is almost too good to be true. He's like a perfect caricature of the arrogant intellectual who thinks that his ideas are the key to the success of the society that he's living in. And the reason that he likes autocrats so much is that they have no political constraints on following the advice of brilliant intellectual like Tom Friedman.Of course, as Easterly and Roberts point out, autocrats only operate without constraint in theory. Even Hitler had to change his plans for the disposition of the Jews and Poles and Soviet POWs to account for public opinion. And if Hitler couldn't do whatever he wanted, who could?