The reason that I think democratic societies have lower corruption indices is that democratic societies tend to be richer and also tend to have working administrative systems and bureaucracies. This means that there is the wealth available to prevent corruption and the systems in place to prevent corruption.
Also, curiously I don’t think that the average person in the United States has more control over their lives than the average person in China, and I don’t think that power in the United States is more evenly distributed than in China. In both societies, the number of people that actually run things is in the neighborhood of two to three thousand people.
However, people in the US have the *belief* that they have more control, and that matters a lot. There are lots of processes and rituals in the United States system of government designed to give people the belief that what they think really matters, even when it doesn’t.
In your typical mid-term House election, about 90% of the seats have already been decided, and the remaining 10% you are choosing between two parties that agree on about 90% of the issues. Senate elections are more open, but that is because the larger districts allow more campaign spending. Your chances of getting elected to Congress are nil unless you have money and connections.
But still it is a much better system than China’s, for a number of reasons, not the least of which it is that is more stable. If something really bad happens in the US, and the Republicans are in power, they get blamed, voted out, and the Democrats come to power, and vice versa. Whatever happens, the system as a whole doesn’t collapse or really change in a fundamental way.
Yes, you need money and connections to get elected to anything, but it is not impossibly difficult to get money and connections, and in the process of getting money and connections, you have to agree to play by some rules. This means that people who seek to challenge the system get absorbed by it and end up strengthening it.
In China, if something really bad were to happen, people get angry, they can’t take their anger out by “voting the bums out” and so they get even more angry. This makes the system unstable. Also because there are isn’t a firm system of rules, it sometimes becomes difficult to absorb challengers into the system. This also makes the system unstable.
Having the power elite in the United States maintain control by “manufacturing consent” (lawyers, lobbyists, and media consultants) is a lot better than maintaining control via using tanks and torture, and also more effective in the long run.
The more the Communist Party of China relies on “effective propaganda” (I’m thinking here of Fox News and CNN) and less on brute force, then better things are……
There is a weird sort of “doublethink” that some people have when it comes to democracy. On the one hand, people promote “democracy” but what they have in mind is a not a real system but some imaginary ideal system that doesn’t exist, and quite possibly can’t practically exist. I’m not interested in imposing a theoretical ideal system. I want to see real political systems in action.