A Link Worth Clicking

As you likely know, it’s very rare that we dedicate an entire post to linking something on another site. The reason for this is not that we consider our site better than anyone else’s, it’s just that we’re trying to make sure this site is primarily a source of original reading material for you. Things are more interesting that way.

That said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point you in the direction of Jeremiah’s blog, which has followed an excellent if snarky post on the National Day parade as viewed by jaded China bloggers (like us!) with a great post on cultural fears and how they effect our perceptions and expectations of government. The latter post is, I think, a must-read whether you’re Chinese or “Foreign”. Here’s a taste, but please do check out the original flavor:

I try to remind my students that the question to “What do you fear most?” looks very different from the Chinese historical experience, particularly that of the last 140 years or so.

From the Chinese perspective, particularly as written in the history textbooks used in PRC schools today, the greatest horrors have not come at the hands of the all-powerful state, but in times when the state was too weak to defend itself and the people. Think of the depradations of the European imperialist powers in the 19th century at the expense of a rapidly weakening Qing Empire. There is the starvation and disasters of the warlord period in the early 20th century, when China was for all intents and purposes Afghanistan on steroids, and the ‘central government’ consisted of a parade of military leaders in control of the 10 square blocks around the “Presidential Palace” in Beijing. Even under a period of relative prosperity in the 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek’s control never extended much past a few central provinces in the Yangzi region. Locked in struggle with the CCP, the Nanjing government lacked the political will or wherewithal to build a new society or improve the lives of China’s rural population, and soon even that gargantuan task would take a back seat to mere survival as the forces of both the KMT and the CCP were overrun by the Japanese onslaught.

Even if we look at the latter half of the 20th century, a period not covered quite so thoroughly in the PRC school curriculum, the personal experience of so many Chinese during the Cultural Revolution serves as fresh reminder as to what happens when the central government abandons order and stability in the name of “idealism.”

Bravo! And while we’re being lazy and linking other people’s stuff instead of doing our own work, this is worth reading too.

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0 thoughts on “A Link Worth Clicking”

  1. “Whether you personally agree with this interpretation or not, the salient point is that many Chinese see their history through the lens of chaos/order with the forces of the latter fighting a constant battle against the former”

    Sorry, but while I agree that this is true, it does somewhat miss the point. The ‘stability is all’ message comes from the heart of the CCP machine. The reason that most Chinese see issues through this prism is that this prism is all that has ever been presented to them. It is totalitarian propaganda – one idea that has no competition in education or the media.

    More importantly, this idea has arguably led to massive retardation in China’s development and caused much suffering. It’s been good for the CCP government, but has it been good for the people? The answer to that question is obvious; a cursory glance at the economic and political development of many of PRC’s regional neighbours since the end of WWII will tell you that. Modern China’s government has many choices, it is illusion to restrict the debate to “control/stability vs anarchy”. I really don’t know why the quoted analysis deserves a “Bravo”. Sympathy is good, but let’s not lose objectivity.

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  2. OTOH, many Westerners have a major mental block that constrains their thinking into assuming that the ’stability is all’ message is solely “totalitarian propaganda” and purely the CCP’s figment of imagination.
    Westerners drip-fed on a diet of “China=Oriental Nazis” are often so intellectually crippled that they simply cannot comprehend that this propaganda is believed because it’s it’s actuallytrue.

    economic and political development of many of PRC’s regional neighbours since the end of WWII will tell you that
    Which one are you looking at? India? Philippines? Japan which was industrialized before even WW1? Or a bunch of other midget states with populations below 20millions as a meaningful comparison with a country with 500 million people (in 1945)?
    The “massive retardation in China’s development” was a consequence of Maoist insanity. Where the hell did you ever think that Mao = “stability is all”? Mao was the pre-eminent posterboy for Chaos, Revolution and madness, aka “Hope and Change”. The present bunch of dull grey consensus-governing money grubbing free market technocrats would be the antithesis of Mao.

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  3. I have to agree with mtm here. Historically speaking — and that’s where Jeremiah is coming from — there is precedent for the importance of order above chaos in Chinese society WAY before the CCP. It is an aspect of their propaganda, but it was around before then, and it works because it isn’t just propaganda.

    And, again, which of China’s regional neighbors are you looking at, and were they starting from the same place? In 1949, China had essentially been a war-torn npn-nation for the past thirty years (first warlord rule, then Japanese invasion, then civil war). Given that starting point (i.e., pretty much no political or economic foundation), China has come a pretty long way. Who, I wonder, have they done worse than?

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  4. @ Custer,

    MTM has already written off Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and Japan because they are allegedly small (TW and ROK) or developed too early (JP) to warrant a comparison. But these countries are culturally closer to China than India or Indonesia or the Philippines and, moreover, very literally share the same history of colonization / intimidation (including by each other), world war, authoritarianism, and (to admittedly very different degrees) state-led growth. The point isn’t that China would be just like them if it liberalized politically, but that the possibility of it being like them isn’t entirely out of the question.

    Similarly, America is not the same size as Sweden and it therefore might have difficulty adopting the exact same welfare system, but ambitious health care reforms are still necessary.

    One scenario for China that I sometimes hear and that deeply disturbs me is that of so-called “Latin Americanization.” In this scenario, China would not liberalize politically, at least not in more than a superficial way. It would watch farmer and worker protests escalate, but far from exploding, the country would simmer with low-level unrest indefinitely.

    Parts would lag far, far behind the rest, yielding natural resources but not much else. Elites would grow up and sink deep roots. Some parts of China would be quite cosmopolitan and recruit their kids into a technocratic elite or send them abroad talk about the country’s unique model. In the end, tons of talent would be bottled up by a clumsy, unresponsive bureaucracy (not every Chinese official is as smooth as those that showed up at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue) and by crony capitalism. The country would continue to fear instability but stall out.

    I should read those links, though, before I blab on more…

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  5. @mtm – Your “Oriental Nazis” comment sounds extreme, but I would point out that a curious western reader has access to a multiplicity of sources and viewpoints ranging from the PRC government itself through to whatever sources might sustain the “intellectually crippled” of your imagination. Fortunately for the CCP (actually, by their design) the average Zhou here simply doesn’t get that kind of exposure (yes, I’m aware that the kids at Beida have the interweb). So your Beijing cab-driver really seems to live in fear of internal anarchy and interference by external forces (I still find this rhetoric funny and sad at the same time) and support a degree State control (you know, the kind that results in some of the sad stories covered in this blog) that he otherwise might oppose.

    Talking of Beijing cabbies – please don’t lead with the “renkou tai duo” excuse. China’s population size has been a MASSIVE advantage in attracting investment growth and extracting skills/technology transfer since the era of the concessions. That trend restarted in the mid-eighties and has been the dominant theme in China’s interaction with the rest of the world since 1992. I’m not saying that size doesn’t bring disadvantages but I don’t hear the Indians, Indonesians, Americans or Japanese complaining – there are far more important factors for ‘success’ than population size. So, let’s not artificially exclude smaller countries – after all, if we go down that road we won’t have any comparators at all will we, just the ‘China is special, only mainlanders understand’ argument. With regard to comparative economic studies since WWII: comprehensive datasets are hard to find online without subscription, but start with South Korea, then Singapore, then Taiwan (ouch). Hong Kong and Japan also. IMF, World Bank and ADB publish historical figures for various time periods from the early ’50s onwards – you can work out the CAGRs yourself.

    Re: your last para: I don’t think I ever said or implied that “Mao=stability is all”. Perhaps you misunderstood my meaning, but better not to put up strawmen – it damages credibility.

    @Custer – I agree entirely! ‘Stability is all’ is an excellent argument for feudal rulers to maintain absolute control. Just because the rulers are saying it, doesn’t mean that it’s good for the people….. And where is the evidence that “it” works? Can you think of examples where Party control in China (particularly at the local level) has been used to perpetrate horrible acts of injustice on the peasantry under the pretext of maintaining stability or harmony? Can you think of measures that could be taken to protect the rights of our PRC friends (and prevent those nasty incidents) but really wouldn’t lead to mass anarchy? Isn’t the point that stability is not everything; China can only develop by implementing changes. The ‘stability is all’ argument is used by the existing powers to perpetuate the status quo from which they benefit; not for the benefit of the people.

    Re: your second para: most East and SEast Asian countries have come a long way too. Many of those governments did not put their people through the cultural revolution or the great leap into mass starvation. The Asian Tigers and Little Dragons all had their economic miracles before the PRC and have higher productivity and standards of living. Taiwan has always hurt CCP pride because the KMT (for all its ills) showed that there was a better way: prosperity, freedom and STABILITY could go hand in hand. Of course, Hong Kong and Singapore are other uncomfortable examples of what might happen when Chinese get the the rule of law, not the rule of the Party.

    @Tales retold – I have to agree: your Latin Americanisation scenario is depressing, and depressingly possible. Progressives in the Party have to fight ideologues on the left while trying to deal with vested interests and cronyism at the same time. It’s a hard fight for them to win. Reform momentum has been slowed under Hu and Wen.

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  6. The point was never that “stability is everything”, rather, it’s that many Chinese fear instability MORE than they fear lack of some freedoms, and that they have pretty good reason to do so, historically speaking. That perspective may not be one everyone agrees with, but there is a logical defense to be made for it, and it isn’t just the result of CCP brainwashing.

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  7. Fair enough.

    But for the sake of balance, it’s probably fair to say that more Chinese ‘fear’ corruption and an excess of State power than fear an absence of it. And better to acknowledge that although there is ‘logic’ in the ‘stability is important’ argument, it’s not particular to China (after all I don’t think we’ll hear many governments advocating an ‘instability is important’ argument). And most importantly, better to recognise that the ‘stability is everything/important’ line is used to further entrench the existing political and economic elite in China (and I’m not talking about white collar workers, I’m talking about the Princelings and the offspring of Party officials who dominate the landscape here and whose power runs from positions in every Ministry and the monopoly positions of most of the SOEs. These people don’t appear on the Hurun list).

    In the broader context, the Chinese people would benefit from further reform, both economic and political. But reform has slowed to a glacial pace. Reformers have to battle arguments that arise largely out of vested self-interest, like ‘we Chinese value stability’. For me, that’s a sad thing. Sorry to keep banging on about this. But it’s important and now I’ve got it off my chest I’ll go away. Thanks for the space.

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  8. In the broader context, the Chinese people would benefit from further reform, both economic and political. But reform has slowed to a glacial pace.
    _______________________________________________

    It is cuz there are so much flaws in the system of western democracy, as more and more Chinese dont think that Western democracy is real democracy.

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  9. You’re drawing a false analogy, Wahaha. Reformation of the political and economic structure doesn’t translate to “western” democracy in light of the success of Asian democracies, or even democracy at all considering the success of countries like Dubai. You should also remember that not every “western” country exercises American-style plutocracy. So if you want to use this argument, you should be a bit more specific rather than using vague generalizations.

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  10. Josh,

    I admit I know little about the “democracy” in Europe, but I believe the deomcratic system in Asia is from Europe, which doesnt look good.

    The whole argument of western democracy is built on the assumption that a society consists of ONLY two entities : government and people. Therefore, depriving the power from government is equivalent to people having the power, which is simply wrong.

    In most countries, a society consists of at least 3 entities : government, people and the rich (or the syndicates). Therefore, depriving the power from government is NOT equivalent to people having the power, the power is transfered to the rich, this is obviously in all developing countries.

    Also, as the rich controls the media, it is OK to bash the government, the so called free media.

    Remember : THE RICH IS NOT PART OF PEOPLE. When you are protesting FOR THE MONEY on the streets, you cant hurt the rich, the government cant hurt the rich either, IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM. so you are acturally fighting for the money that should be given to your wife or should be invested in your children’s school, OR maybe you are acturally fighting for the money that belongs to your children or even your grandchildren.

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  11. Wahaha,

    I find your argument that the rich do not belong to “the people” refreshing and, basically, right on. And you are right to assume that economic elites hold a disproportionate amount of power even in places like Sweden or Norway. But the rich have a big voice in China, too.

    Ever wonder why it so hard to implement China’s new Labor Contract Law? Why is it hard for reporters (speaking of the media) to criticize big companies like Haier in China without landing themselves in a trumped up defamation case or being censored? Why a Chinese Political Consultative Committee delegate was able to prominently blast workers’ rights last year but not a single delegate used that forum to argue for independent, worker-run trade unions? Why princelings tend to get plum jobs in big companies? Why China’s Gini coefficient in the same range as India and America’s, despite calling itself socialist? Why the state has chosen an investment-heavy rather than consumer driven development strategy, one that provides little in the way of a social safety net?

    Obviously, the above examples could apply to many other countries, too. And that’s my point: China’s illiberal political system doesn’t do any better than anyone else at creating social equality; in some cases it does worse.

    Yes, China once championed class struggle. And, yes, it once had an extremely low Gini coefficient. But that is no longer the case. Now, the people in China your rhetoric rich and poor matches most closely are, ironically, not the leaders of the government you so passionately defend, but its Left-wing critics, folks who write in magazines like Du Shu.

    What European countries—more than the U.S.—do do, despite their faults, is allow for trade unions to have a major role in politics and allow for a still-strong Communist and Leftist movement within the government and outside the government. The continent’s generous social safety net is the direct result of struggles by workers and farmers.

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  12. Damn… I re-read my comments above and discovered that the grammar was, once again, all over the place. Grrr…

    Basically, my point was that writing off political liberalism in the U.S. or Europe as a sham that only protects the wealthy and well-connected has some merit. But there is no evidence that Chinese authoritarianism somehow does a better job of looking out for the poor, that repression in China is used mainly to advance the lot of the poor against the rich. This was once true; it is no longer so.

    In fact, popular struggle (not the wisdom of technocrats) created what social programs do exist in the West and elsewhere. By denying that struggle, China is making it more difficult, not less, to realize economic equality.

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  13. Wahaha,

    I really liked your piece in the link, thanks! Very insightful.

    The zero-sum idea of power you describe (more power to the government versus more power to the citizenry) is indeed very deeply rooted in the American psyche. I would argue, though, that it is a concept that appeals more to conservatives and middle of the road liberals than it does to the American liberal / left (“progressives”).

    There have always been a large number of Americans who regard an expanded government role in terms of social safety nets, labor protections, affirmative action, etc. as very much compatible with or even a precondition to greater democracy. Think of how the Wagner Act was received by many in the 1930s or the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s.

    Obviously, this perspective took a beating in the market-happy 1980s and 1990s, but it is making a comeback.

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  14. #13
    Ever wonder why it so hard to implement China’s new Labor Contract Law? Why is it hard for reporters (speaking of the media) to criticize big companies like Haier in China without landing themselves in a trumped up defamation case or being censored? Why a Chinese Political Consultative Committee delegate was able to prominently blast workers’ rights last year but not a single delegate used that forum to argue for independent, worker-run trade unions?

    OTR,

    In China, the government controls the economy, but there is no correspondent system that prevent govenrment’s officers abusing the power, that is what CCP must give to people in the future, otherwise what happened to Suharto in Indonesia will happen to CCP. I dont know if it is possible under a one-party system, if CCP does find a way, well, the system in China will prevail in the world.

    My point is that government is not the only enemy poeple face, government is the political enemy, the rich is the economical enemy agaisnt people. Westerners enjoy good life, hence, they feel the freedom is the ONLY thing they care cuz they take good life for granted.
    ________________________________________________________

    Last night I watched a BBC report in Guatemala, 90% of the children have problem of malfunction, some lack nutrition so severe that they cant even smile. Now, who can help them ? very unfortunately, ONLY THE GOVERNMENT.

    Imagine what an ordinary chinese parent wants for her son, graduate from college, find a good pay job, but who can create those jobs ? sorry, only government. In advanced country, this is not an issuse as the advanced technology has created good paid jobs.

    So What government must have so it can help people ? Sadly, it needs money and power. Western democracy gives government neither power nor money, if government needs money to help the poor, it must FIRST give the rich huge incentives; the government doesnt have the power either to do what is necessary, cuz this is what western democracy is about : government must not have power over people. and Of course, that the rich controling economy makes everything even worse. So comes the 60 years of democracy in India gives the poor nearly nothing.

    So you see the problem Chinese are facing : a government that can give them better life but suppress their freedom, or another system that give you the freedom of speech and protest but cant bring delicious food on their table.

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  15. OTR,

    China’s Bank made 150 billion dollars last year, the most in the world.

    Who own the bank ? the chinese people, government officers just manage the company on behalf of people. so all the profits should be used for people. Yes, there is corruption, serious corruption, but as those managers dont own the company, the amount they can put into their own pocket is limited.

    Now, what if the bank is owned by shareholders, profits belong to the shareholders, the only part government can get is tax.

    In which way do people get more ?

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  16. re: “Latin Americanization”
    I use to fear this before I realized that the model didn’t fit China. China isn’t a democracy and they don’t confuse winning elections with actual legitimacy or competence. In “democracies”, many difficult issues especially associated with reform involving vested interests tend to be turned into political football between political parties, hence the term “Latin Americanization”. See also the “Hindu rate of growth” because guess what, this model also has applied well to India for decades. The buck keeps being passed between parties without anyone doing anything about it. In China, the buck stop with the CCP. The CCP must do or die. Repression can buy a little more time, but in the end the CCP must deliver or “hang out” with Ceausescu. Just because the CCP doesn’t hold elections doesn’t mean the people won’t hold it accountable. As a consequence, I feel comfortable saying that Hu Jintao is a lot more anxious about the welfare of people in China than Gordon Brown is for the people in Britain.

    China’s Gini coefficient
    What does the Gini coef demonstrate? Look at this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_administrative_divisions_by_HDI
    and this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_administrative_divisions_by_GDP_per_capita
    Do you think a Gini coef for the whole of ML China is meaningful? As meaningful as a Gini coef for the EU? or USA+Mexico? What does the Gini coef demonstrate?

    Yes, China once championed class struggle.
    Marginally less morally decrepit than race-struggle.

    And, yes, it once had an extremely low Gini coefficient.
    Equality in poverty. Collective failure.

    I find your argument that the rich do not belong to “the people” refreshing and, basically, right on.
    I understand what you are actually saying but do you know how ugly that sounds?

    MTM has already written off Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and Japan because they are allegedly small (TW and ROK) or developed too early (JP) to warrant a comparison.
    I recant, Taiwan (1970s+), the Republic of Korea (1961+) and Japan (meiji) are excellent examples of fantastic economic development under authoritarian regimes. HK also enjoyed considerable economic development under a British dictatorship. But I maintain that they do not warrant a comparison because the sheer difference in scale. Simply put, China cannot export her way to prosperity like Japan and others did. She needs a different kind of economic model as does India who has the same restrictions.
    You will note that I routinely draw comparisons with India simply because they make China look good and thus neatly shoots down 99% of the more simplistic “Democracy is always better” arguments.

    China’s population size has been a MASSIVE advantage in attracting investment growth and extracting skills/technology transfer since the era of the concessions…blah…So, let’s not artificially exclude smaller countries – after all, if we go down that road we won’t have any comparators at all
    I agree that size is POTENTIALLY a MASSIVE advantage but only if that advantage can be realized. China (and India too) cannot export their way to prosperity, so yes I will insist on excluding small countries who operate on models that China cannot plausibly emulate. It’s as meaningful as comparisons drawn with Tax havens like Luxembourg.

    ‘China is special, only mainlanders understand’ argument.
    I have some sympathy here but the problem with Westerners is that the Signal-to-noise ratio is too high. Some of you guys always have an opinion no matter have ill informed it is. They extol the virtues of free speech and mutual understanding and tell us that we are brainwashed/ultranationalists/50cents etc when we contradict them. People get fed up. Not everyone has my sweet and delightful temperament, y’know.

    but I would point out that a curious western reader has access to a multiplicity of sources and viewpoints ranging from the PRC government itself through to whatever sources might sustain the “intellectually crippled” of your imagination.
    Chinese: Closed mouths, opened minds
    Westerners: Open mouths, closed minds.
    The vast majority of Westerners are not “curious”. They are opinionated. They aren’t interested in my opinion. They are interested in telling me what my opinion should be.

    it’s probably fair to say that more Chinese ‘fear’ corruption and an excess of State power than fear an absence of it.
    Disagree. Corruption is usually either “victimless” in the sense it steals from the system unseen or “complicit” as in the observer is himself personally involved ie giving and taking bribes.

    ….an excess of State power than fear an absence of it
    Where did you get this impression? Chinese Confucian tradition tends to glorify past emperors. Benevolent well meaning autocratic Emperors are a regular feature on ML, HK and TW dramas. Plucky band of freedom fighters fighting against tyranny are less common unless you include the CCP among them. In fact, the deranged Maoists are the only ruling Chinese faction to explicitly denounce the “excess of State power” of ancient China while in power.

    And better to acknowledge that although there is ‘logic’ in the ’stability is important’ argument, it’s not particular to China
    Scale. Turmoil in China is like an hurricane cutting a horrific swath of destruction. Turmoil in Belgium is more like a ninja fart. Don’t forget potential famine, marauding bandits, foreign invaders (mongols/europeans/japanese etc) and then instability is very very scary. Seriously, Westerners have real trouble comprehending how bad things can get. They tend to hold up an a ruthlessly efficient oppressive totalitarian police state without freedom as some kind of worse case scenario whereas most Chinese know damn well that your worse case scenario was much better than our reality for the last 100 years.

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  17. Wahaha,

    In response to your last question, I would say I’m inclined toward the state-owned bank, though I wish it gave folks better interest rates sometimes and make more loans to small businesses. Seems like a random question, though.

    I don’t think I’ve ever said here or elsewhere that it is bad for the government to have a strong role in the economy per se. In fact, I think that the government in China has intervened in some very good ways that other countries, especially in the developing world have not—-it has kept tight controls on investments and speculation; it has protected from collapse SOEs that hold whole communities on their shoulders; and it has spent massively on a stimulus package that, while it should have perhaps focused more on health care and education, at least averted a severe economic downturn and delivered some infrastructure that will be useful for years to come.

    But there are other countries that have intervened in their economies, while allowing more political freedoms than China at the same time. There is no contradiction here. Government power can be used for good (providing services, reining in capitalists, building bridges) and for bad (jailing petitioners, censoring writers, cracking down on independent unions). Locking someone in a black jail for complaining about a local official does not advance the cause of prosperity and equality. In fact, it advances a country into the situation of Guatemala.

    To make a silly, off-the-top-of-my-head analogy, I need a strong arm to chop wood, but it doesn’t mean that I also absolutely must use my strong arm to kill baby kittens—there is no connection beyond the strength, they aren’t a package.

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  18. @ MTM,

    I’m afraid our two comments were posted at the same time, so I didn’t respond to yours. I agree with your point about greater pressure being brought to bear on the CCP than on the ruling party of a country with several parties that can equally share the blame for failures. I’ve often found it interesting how much more effective protests in China can be than elsewhere. The ringleaders may be arrested, but the government will often cave to the majority.

    That said, I don’t think the Latin Americanization example is really one of paralysis brought on by squabbles between political parties. The continent’s stagnation started precisely when it left multi-party politics for a period in the 1970s and 1980s and turned toward right-wing dictatorships (and left import-substitution industrialization for the damaging “Washington Consensus” pushed on it by Chicago-trained economists). It wasn’t that the elite couldn’t work out differences, it was that the elite lived insulated from having to make any big decisions whatsoever, insulated by their own wealth and by repression in the countryside and poor city neighborhoods.

    I perhaps shouldn’t have used such strong language about “the rich.” Perhaps a better way to phrase what I meant would be to say that the interests of private capital should not be considered part and parcel of the “people’s interests”—capital is a separate actor, like the state (though, of course, in the U.S. there is a dangerous tradition of treating a corporation as a legal person). The rights of the rich as individual human beings is, of course, not something to be dismissed. This is, I think, what Wahaha was getting at in his very good article. I embellished on him with some populism, but went overboard.

    Your point about China’s uneven development geographically is a good one. Khan and Riskin made the same argument in their great book “Inequality and Poverty in China in the Age of Globalization.” But isn’t the underdevelopment of China’s West and the country’s rural / urban gap as important as any inequality within, say, Beijing? The leadership certainly seems to think so, what with the whole “development of the West” strategy.

    I appreciate your candor in saying that you compare things in China to India “simply because they make China look good” and cast doubt on pro-democracy arguments, at least as they relate to economic development. But if you apply the same region-by-region analysis to India that you do to China, you will find a good deal of variety on the sub-continent both in terms of development and democratization. And the areas that have the best human development happen to also be the most democratic. Moreover, those areas, such as Communist-controlled Kerala, were exceptionally democratic before they were exceptionally healthy economically (and relatively egalitarian). So, perhaps broad India-China comparisons aren’t so useful, either.

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  19. it was that the elite lived insulated from having to make any big decisions whatsoever, insulated by their own wealth and by repression in the countryside and poor city neighborhoods.
    China has a lot more social mobility. As long as we have crass tacky Nouveau Riche. Suggests little such insulation. Also consider another feature that South America and India had in common: Elite=lighter skin, plebs=darker skin. China’s farmer’s skin isn’t the same thing.

    But isn’t the underdevelopment of China’s West and the country’s rural / urban gap as important as any inequality within, say, Beijing?
    There are perfectly good logistical reasons why coastal regions should be more prosperous than inland regions. Unfortunately this is not a politically acceptable excuse, hence gov’t intervention.

    re: the gini coef,
    What I want is a coefficient to measure social mobility. IMHO, there will always be some wealthy people and some poorer people. People who work harder should have more. Absolute equality with no regard for effort creativity or risk is itself unjust. So a high or low gini coef bothers me little as long as people get what they deserve.

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  20. @ MTM,

    Good point about the racial barrier.

    However, while absolute equality may hamper creativity, it isn’t necessarily true that greater equality brings a commensurate drop in creativity. When inequality is great enough, moreover, it hardens and prevents precisely the sort of social mobility you and I both value. And that means that people tend to stay in the classes they are born into, trapping talent at the bottom (and rewarding a lack of talent at the top). The U.S. is a chilling example of this.

    More broadly, if there is sharp inequality in a country (i.e. a small middle class) then the only way out of an economic crisis is massive government spending, as has happened in China, or massive spending based on borrowing, as has happened in the U.S., because there is no consumer base to “turn on.”

    In terms of people getting what they “deserve,” my feeling—and I suppose this is more a moral or ideological reaction than a scientific one—is that everyone who works deserves an income sufficient to live healthily and respect, ideally expressed through a modicum of workplace democracy (such as through a union). If some work harder, of course they can earn more. But different KINDS of work should also be respected, with people not just offered opportunities out of manual labor but opportunities to live with dignity off manual labor. In both the United States and China, these conditions do not exist.

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  21. My characterisation of “Westerners: Open mouths, closed minds” meant as a crude generalization of course but with regards to certain noisy opinionated close minded liberals like, it’s rather accurate.

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