Kenneth V. asks:
I’m curious about your opinion on China’s future. As the democratic empire collapses in the west and power shifts its balance, do you think that the Chinese people will demand more political freedom, especially since libertarian books are bestsellers? Or do you think the oligarchy will be successful in suppressing dissent? What do you think of the demographic trends there? Chinese couples do a trial-and-error with childbirth where babies who are less than perfect are killed. The massive gender imbalance of 40 million more males than females. What do you think of this kind of extreme eugenics? I personally find it abhorrent, but I’d like to ask your opinion.
The Chinese are driven by the conflict between northern government, southern trading prosperity, interior poverty, and hostile borders. The cultural tradition is ancient and it’s purpose is to avoid civil wars at all costs, simply because civil wars were so common for them, because they are exposed to what they see as threats (their country needs the china seas open in order not to be starved into submission), and because of natural conflicts between the regions.
This history is as important to china as the sense of freedom is to the west. (a sentiment which is in no small part a reaction to the middle eastern model – which westerners considered horrid.)
[callout]I suspect that they will never achieve the middle-class society as we understand it. They will bypass that phase of development. They will go from totalitarian rural poverty to totalitarian urban poverty, and maintain their corrupt bureaucracy. The reasons for retaining that bureaucracy will simply evolve to support a different set of objectives.[/callout]
Now, to avoid drinking our own Kool Aid, we probably should understand that the west has always had an advantage of being a society filled with craftsmen rather than laborers, not the least of which was the result of widespread metal smithing, easy river trade, and the western agrarian cycle which was very seasonal. The importance of that sentence may not be obvious to you unless you think of the 360 day a year job of a rice farmer. So Romans conquered northern europe because the ‘barbarians’ were fairly wealthy by contrast, and presided over resources. While they exploited the warmer climes for food.
But western wealth over the past 500 years, has largely to do with selling off the american continent to immigrants. Not to any particular western genius. IN fact, the continental view of exploiting the continent as they had the islands, by bringing resources back home paled by comparison to the money that could be made by settling, populating, and selling consumer goods to immigrants to the north american continent.
In this broader context, our political order is more dynamic, and by that I mean, flexible, and the republican model with capitalistic institutions (for cooperation) is the only one that is effective for mobilizing enough people to accomplish such a task.
China by contrast is simply doing the same thing without inventing it: they are selling off apartments, electricity, water, and food to immigrants to the coastal cities.
Their model is better for doing their migration under their circumstances. Our model was better for doing our migration under our circumstances.
The question is, for them, for us, what will happen when that’s done. Because we are going to have very densely populated cities, and in that model FARMER ETHICS AND MORALS EVAPORATE. Traditional religious principles, ethical constructs, and the ability to manage class differences become very difficult in those environments.
The difference is that the chinese have the benefits of monarchy (long term thinking), the capital concentration of totalitarianism (which is very useful) and the institutions of capitalism (banking, finance, accounting, interest and credit, western laws), and they get to profit on the implementation of western technology – without having to have had to discover it.
This is a very good model for competing externally. it is not a good model when you’re the ‘winner’. It’s a very good model for when you’re a century and a half behind the rest of the world.
I suspect that they will never achieve the middle-class society as we understand it. They will bypass that phase of development. They will go from totalitarian rural poverty to totalitarian urban poverty, and maintain their corrupt bureaucracy. The reasons for retaining that bureaucracy will simply evolve to support a different set of objectives. But the damage that they will cause in that transition, to the world in general, if they are faced with uprisings, is substantial.
I think your question begs the wrong assumptions: political models are utilitarian goods, not absolute goods. Societies need to concentrate capital in order to compete and cooperate with other societies. Then they need internal institutions for everything else. Complex market capitalism when combined with totalitarian command of large investments, with the least corruption possible is probably the most competitive form of political order. As long as investments are competitive rather than redistributive. Redistribution is the result of competition. Not a replacement for it.
There is no inherent value in political freedom on its own. It’s not a virtue. It is an acceptable risk in a homogenous society. But it is a net danger in a pluralistic society. The struggle for power must never be available to factions or minorities. Only the struggle to compete in the market. Political freedom is the freedom to usurp the market. THere is no other reason for it. The only value of political freedom is in reducing corruption, which is an impediment to trade, exchange and capital formation. The problem for a people is suppressing corruption, not obtaining political freedom.
People don’t really choose their political system. It’s determined by their circumstances and they are pragmatic in adopting it. They don’t pick idealistic things, and if they do, they fail (Iran).
Democracy is just slow moving communism. As Schumpeter said, Democracy will just lead to socialism. Republicanism and oligarchy are rule by the middle classes (trade). Totalitarianism is rule by the upper classes (force). Theocracy by definition, rule by the lower classes (fraud). (IQ and Atheism increase with class structure, although under capitalism moral behaviors tend to emerge with the decline in religiosity.)