Friday, August 14, 2009

Thought Control in China

Chris Blattman offers his reflections on China, noting how remarkable it is that even well-educated Chinese do not think democracy would be good for China at present.

One small critique: his post was culturally very american. He takes it as self-evident that democracy is better than the alternative. He faults his hosts for not noticing that democracy works perfectly well in other large, diverse countries such as India, Indonesia, or Brazil. Here's the problem with that argument though: Chinese economic policy is better than Indian, Indonesian, or Brazilian economic policy. For that matter, it's better than America's economic policy in a wide variety of respects -- it's trying to reinstate universal health care, and it didn't have to have a bunch of halfwits in the Congress to sign off on it to get it. And its fiscal stimulus was much larger and quicker than ours, preventing a recession. And China has been able to pull way ahead of India despite having started out way behind after Mao's craziness through the 70s, which held China back for so long.

Here's one concrete policy where China leads India: throughout China, the government forces the students to learn in, and speak in Mandarin in schools. China has (had!) every bit of the linguistic diversity of India, but Democratic India will never vote to banish any of its regional languages. From a cultural point of view, of course, it's quite sad to see so many languages go by the wayside in China. I can't see why this isn't really smart economic policy, however... I'd say China's One-Child policy is another example of an absolutely brilliant development policy that could never have passed in a democracy. And one (fairly large) reason why India and Bangladesh are so poor today has to do with their (failed) population policies, which a smart dictator would simply not have allowed. Another area where China leads India, thanks to its not having democracy, is in where "direct" trains stop. In India, the "direct" trains between large cities stop in all kinds of small towns in between, owing to politics. My sense was that China was much better...

The problem with not having democracy happens if (when?) China gets a bad leader, like Mao. But China's leaders today look, to me, more like the beneficent dictator type.

And so I suspect that Chris Blattman failed to convince his hosts that China needs democracy...


  1. I think that Gorbachev, Yeltsin et al destroyed or at least seriously damaged democracy's reputation for a lot of the world.

    I'm less admiring of China v. India than you are, though you do have a point. Veblen himself would probably say about the same as you.

    Mirowski's "Road from Mont Pelerin" shows that the Chicago School neo-liberals are crypto-anti-democrats in much the same way that the Straussians are.

    At one point the Chinese were looking at the Singapore model. I find that vaguely chilling. I do think of Pres. Lee as one of the great statement of his time, unfortunately stuck in a mini-state. Though probably he couldn't have dominated a larger state so completely.