In 4X strategy games I’ve played (like Stellaris), closed forms of government (closed oligarchy, dictatorship) seem to be overpowered when it comes to scientific output compared to the “democratic” government option. In Stellaris, the democratic space-empires inevitably fall behind the autocratic empires which have access to research edicts where the ruler(s) can decree that the country will focus its resources on technology instead of whatever the current president’s platform was when they were elected.
Of course, the game could be unbalanced, as is the struggle of making strategy games. However, the theory makes some amount of sense when you think about it. Normal people don’t really care about scientific achievement by elites off in the capital, they care about earning enough to make a living. (Think the movie Interstellar.) When we think up Nazi alternate histories, we often think of technological utopias where humans are landing on Mars by the 1970s (i.e. Man in the High Castle). In our own universe, you can argue the past 5 or 6 U.S. presidencies have all but neglected national research in favor of more immediate matters. After all, the U.S. only landed on the moon to play catch-up with the Soviets. Meanwhile autocratic China seems poised to be the world leader in AI.
In a space setting†, what could be a way that a democratic state could consistently keep ahead of its authoritarian peers?
The democracies and the autocracies have the same amount of resources. On Earth, democracies (+ the USSR) defeated Nazi Germany in WWII because they were larger. Their size also gave them access to more minds so they got the bomb faster.
Trade is limited. On Earth everyone is on about the same level because of global trade. We can assume contact between species in space will be less comprehensive.
Autocracies don’t persecute scientists for race or religion or whatever else aliens discriminate based on.
“Big technology” (i.e. spaceships) is valued more than “consumer technology” (i.e. iphones)
The autocracy is a full autocracy or a stable oligarchy, not an anocracy.
If the premise is flawed, and democracies are not intrinsically disadvantaged to autocracies, with all other factors held constant, explain why.
Possibly related mirror question: How to keep an authoritarian state from scientific stagnation?
† I only say space to imply a sparsely connected setting where the “world” isn’t tightly and thoroughly linked through trade and cultural exchange.