While we in the "free" world like to believe our capitalistic, democratic way is better than the tight-fisted communist approach in, say, China, the situation is not really so clear cut.
The Chinese government has full control to make changes to nearly everything in the country. Yes, sometimes this power is used to awful ends, such as human rights violations and the great firewall of China.
But then, this same unilateral power can lead to great progress, overnight. For example, China plans to add a 5% tax on oil and gas consumption (plus other "raw materials"). The US, in contrast, has for a very long time offered massive tax breaks to the oil companies (this is why the price of our gasoline is horribly low compared to nearly every other country, encouraging us to buy massive, awfully fuel inefficient cars and trucks).
Another example: a few years back, China suddenly required that all cell phone chargers adopt the same standard, so that when people buy new phones the do not need a new charger, thus eliminating a big source of electronics waste. In contrast, in the US with our "new every 2", we have to throw away our chargers every time we upgrade since they rarely interoperate.
A third example is fuel economy standards: China has for a long time had far more stringent requirements than the US.
In contrast, accomplishing these excellent improvements in the US is nearly impossible: each small change requires a tremendous battle through our congress, many members of which are rather blatantly corrupt, accepting all sorts of creative bribes (campaign contributions) from corporations, to buy their vote. And corporate influence got even stronger thanks the recent Supreme Court landmark decision giving corporations much more freedom to influence elections. Finally, congress members, especially these days, seem to vote almost always along party lines rather than what's actually best for our country's future.
Don't get me wrong: net/net I'm quite happy I live in the US, given all the tradeoffs. But, still, we can and should do better, and copying some of China's recent changes would be a great start.