China’s reasonably enlightened autocracy

Thomas Friedman, not my favorite columnist, compares China’s system of strong-man government to America’s clearly broken system in which corporate interests can easily sabotage the government’s efforts to improve the lives of its citizens over the long term.

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

Friedman’s got a point. It’s a shame that special interests in America can spend vast amounts of money to derail projects that would be to the benefit of most citizens, like national healthcare. And it’s wrong that our NIMBY mentality creates constant gridlock when it comes to important decisions. I wish, however, that he’d thrown in a line – even a parenthetical phrase (a little more complete than “despite its drawbacks”) – that would have given a broader and more accurate picture of today’s CCP. Namely, that that kind of authority comes only with a very heavy price, and that while the CCP may be “reasonably enlightened” about energy, natural resources and ensuring sustainability, these benefits are balanced, and sometimes far outweighed, by its knee-jerk self-protective tendencies, which put the party’s survival on the very top of its priority list, way above alternative energy, global warming and sustainability.

Lisa has put up a perceptive post about the recent ramping up of repression, and the link it includes sets off additional alarm bells, painting a picture of a party embroiled in infighting and power struggles, with the possible end result being an even higher level of repression for the sake of “harmony.” It even dares to entertain the notion that the CCP’s commitment to improving its people’s standard of living – central to its strategy of ensuring loyalty to a one-party system – might not last forever should conditions there continue to unravel as they are at the moment in Urumqi.

Lisa remarks:

A swing to repression is pretty predictable given the 60th National Day celebrations, but this latest crackdown still feels qualitatively different somehow. The harassment, detention and arrest of legal scholars like Xu Zhiyong seemed to signal a repudiation of even the most gradualist move toward establishing an effective legal and constitutional system to counterbalance one party rule (and I do believe that there are many members of the Party in question who support a genuine rule of law).

All of this is depressing and worrisome, and it makes me wonder if China is heading down a much bumpier road than a lot of believers in China’s Inevitable Rise are predicting.

Is it time to hit the panic button? I won’t go that far, but I will say it’s time to keep an eye open. That got driven home to me yesterday as I read, via ESWN, a story on the new censorship being imposed on China’s business magazine Caijing, where reporters were recently told “they wouldn’t be running any politically controversial stories — indefinitely.” This is a big step backwards. Caijing was always pointed to as epitomizing China’s new spirit of openness.

So back to Friedman. Praise China’s stunning successes in securing the natural resources it needs and for forcing the embrace of alternative energy. Praise its outlandish daring in standing up to the US financial mobocracy and for having the savvy to quietly put its money in places safer than US debt. But you, Tom, have a debt to your readers, too: you have to tell them that the price of an enlightened autocracy is always less representation, the law being carried out by whim, and a curtailment of freedoms that many of us would never sacrifice, no matter how wise and magnanimous our leaders may appear. And when you’re praising China’s great strides, don’t forget that at the same time, it’s still trapped in a straitjacket that’s at least partially of its own making): extreme environmental fragility, overwhelming poverty and an economy that’s far more tenuous than immediately meets the eye.

The Discussion: 44 Comments

Thanks for the shout-out, Richard! As I said in my post, I don’t know enough about the contemporary players in the CCP to venture much of a guess into what’s actually going on. But it’s alarming.

I agree with Friedman (*gasp*!) up to a point as well. I’m so far beyond disappointed by the dysfunction in our US political system and its seeming inability to create policies that we desperately need. It’s disgusting and frightening both. But I think your conclusions about the problems China faces and the tradeoffs of that system are right on.

Sometimes I think both China and the US will spiral down together, like two polar, opposing twins, locked in an unstoppable dance.

September 10, 2009 @ 4:03 am | Comment

There’s definitely a big advantage to the monolithic state – it can get things done faster without the nonsense and bureaucracy, though if it’s my house they’re tearing down to make way for that new road, I might not feel so enamored. But it definitely has its plusses. It’s just that in the scope of human history there are so few examples of acceptable autocracies, Singapore being the example most often cited.

For all its flaws, America’s system worked fairly well until talk radio and cable news turned it into a vast circus. With Glen Beck and Rush and Wingnut Daily, it’s disintegrated into a free-for-all. They’ve very cleverly taken the tools that make democracy so great (freedom of speech/expression) and used them to create a demagogocracy that uses fear tactic, smears and disinformation to stifle serious dialogue. I’m not sure we can ever go back again to when government had at least a veneer of respect.

September 10, 2009 @ 4:22 am | Comment

i will have to disagree with your statement that public healthcare would “benefit most citizens.”

the 45m uninsured people in the us either 1.) qualify for medicare/medicaid but don’t bother to apply for it 2.) activly avoid buying insurance for non-economic reasons 3.) are illegal immigrants that aren’t “on the grid” so they can’t take advantage of current public insurance programs.

healthcare is so expensive b/c the rest of the world has outsourced r&d to the US via their own socialized programs (making it impossible for innovation to occur). If the US doesn’t pay for medical innovation, who will?

September 10, 2009 @ 5:49 am | Comment

One day, China For Sure Will Return to the Very Top Amongst the Gallery of Nations.

In 1987, Deng Xiaoping summarized three points regarding China’s political reform. Point one is, general election is good, China will implement sooner or later. Point two, China cannot implement general election right at this moment, because social conditions are not ripe. Point three, in about 50 years, when the economy has developed, when the conditions are ripe, then we can do it. History has proven all three points to be correct. All these years, I’ve witnessed my own transformation from a pro-Western liberal when living in China to a pro-Chinese government nationalist when living in the US.

General election is not a panacea. If you review the economic history of the world, you’ll find that general elections never in any moment in time, at any location on the globe have led to economic improvement. If you review the political history of the world, you’ll find that general elections never in any moment in time, at any location on the globe led to reduction in corruption. General elections can never ensure talented people win, not to mention people with great vision and leadership. As long as there are general elections, the mix of politics and money will be open and legitimized. China has village-level local elections, and even in those elections, backroom deals with money are rampant. If China implements nation-wide general elections, it will not help China’s economy, will not help China’s corruption, will not produce talented and visionary leaders. Look at all the countries with general elections, not many are doing well, very many are doing poorly. As a principle, general elections in advanced nations usually work well. General elections in third world nations – 9 out of 10 become complete disasters. The advantage of a general election is it ensures the legitimacy and continuity of the regime, ensures peaceful transfer of power, avoids civil war, avoids infighting, regardless of how idiotic the elected leader is. So, because of this advantage, China will definitely implement General Elections in the future.

When China implements General Elections, there are two great risks. One is the risk of the rise of a Gorbachev. The second is the risk of Indianization (politically becoming like India). Gorbachev destroyed his party, destroyed the Soviet Army, destroyed the USSR, destroyed the country’s own Great Wall, destroyed the country’s hope and strengths, capitulated to the West, and caused untold disasters to the Russian people. Russia’s annual GDP fell from world’s 2nd to the world’s 18th. Total economic losses surpassed what USSR suffered in WW2, surpassed what China suffered in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. In the 10 years since USSR fell, life expectancy of a Rusisan male went down by 10 years. The Red Army that once pushed the Nazis all the way to Berlin, was unable to handle a few Chechen rebels. It is not hard to understand why Putin, who is despised by the West, is so popular in Russia. The entire Russian nation and society was broken down. No one knew what was good for the country, everyone was confused, the entire country was brain-dead for 10 years. Fortunately, Putin came to power and started turning things around, and saved the collapsing Russian empire at the last minute. In 8 years since he came to power, Russia went back from 18th in the world to 11th, reclaimed Chechnya. Putin promised the Russian people that, with another 8 years, Russia will return to 6th. Putin not only saved Russia materially, but spiritually as well. Recently, Putin announced formally that in the 70 years of Russian history, the greatest leader was Stalin, and this was consistent with polls done amongst the Russian population.

Without civil war, without external war, without even any sudden mass incidents, one of the two greatest superpowers in the world collapsed within minutes. This has never been witnessed in the last 500 years of human history. Of course, the “correct answer” today is that the Soviet political system was at fault, not Gorbachev. I of course disagree. North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba’s political system is not better than the Soviets, yet none of them has collapsed today. Not to mention Nepal’s Maoist rebels just won a victory recently, and established another red regime in the world. If China today gave power to a Gorbachev, the consequences are unimaginable. USSR was one of the two superpowers, and it had enough of an economic base, so even after it collapsed, it stil had an average of 3000 dollars of annual income for its citizens. China today is a poor third world nation, with average personal income of 1000 per year. If a Gorbachev rose in China, and China collapses, it’ll be the biggest tragedy to ever befall the Chinese nation. The Renaissance of the Chinese nation will no longer be possible. It’ll instead be a picture of mass killings, blood overflowing into rivers. China definitely cannot afford a Gorbachev, cannot afford a Gorbachev-style democratization, cannot afford a Gorbachev-style General Election.

When China implements General Elections, the risk of Indianization is also great. In the realms of international political studies, China/India comparison is a big topic amongst scholars. 60 years ago, on most metrics of social/economic development, India surpassed China. Today, the situation is reversed. The biggest question is, why? American and Indian scholars must struggle with this uncomfortable question. The answer is: even though India’s natural conditions and international conditions are all better than China, it fell behind China because China had a superior political system. Compared to India’s system, the Chinese system is better able to unite the country, unite the population, focus on economic development. Compared to China’s system, the Indian democratic system has done a poor job of uniting the country, uniting the people, and especially poor at focusing on economic development. In 2006, a book on how the Indian democratic system impedes economic development won a big prize in the American sociological circle.

After the Beijing Olympis, the English world had many commentaries, and one of them, written by an Indian and published in an Indian newspaper, praised China as setting an example for the Third World, and heavily criticized the Indian democratic system. Here’s a quote:

A viable democratic system cannot only depend on general elections, it requires a balanced and functional civil society, a government based on compromise and respecting the rule of law. We ask ourselves: why we are never able to elect a government that gets things done? Why is it that we never accept limits on civil liberties, yet have no problem accepting corruption, terrorism, poverty? Why is that that our policy of national unity is a complete failure? In summary, unless we have a law-abiding, responsible, disciplined populace that unites in harmony, unless we have capable and hardworking public servants, we will never have democracy. We are the biggest, least advanced, least mature, least successful, and least law-abiding democracy.

Many people of course disagree with the above, and argue that China will not go down the path of India or Russia, that China will instead copy the American model of democracy. I do not want to go into too much details about this. But the American model is a very unique model that only works for America. The American model today is very different from the 70’s, which was very different from the 30’s. It’s very different from the Japanese model, the German model, the British model, the French model, etc. Even a country as similar to the US as Canada has a very different political model. What reason do you have to believe China can successfully copy the American model?

Asia, especially East Asia (the Confucian cultural sphere), is especially unsuited for the American model. The post-war Japanese constitution was practically written by Americans following the American model, and yet, only until today did Japan see a change in the ruling party. The Liberal Democrats Party ruled Japan for 60 years under their American model, “winning” every election. Or, look at Singapore, a country still without any opposition party. Look at South Korea, almost every one of its Presidents end up in jail after stepping down. I will not even talk about Thailand or Philippines. If an American wants to sell China on the benefits of democracy in helping a country’s development, then he’s not doing a good job selling it when he shows China the state of its democratic East Asian neighbors.

There’s a famous American economist called Rostow. He published a book in 1959 called “The Stages of Economic Growth”. In it, he defined 5 stages of economic growth: 1) Traditional Society 2) Pre-take off 3) Take off 4)Maturization 5) Mass Consumption. China is currently at the Pre-take off stage. There’s another famous economist called Organski, he published a book in 1965 called “The Stages of Political Development”. He defined 4 stages of political development: 1) Basic unification 2) Industrialization 3)Social Welfare 4) Wealthy Society. China is at the end of basic unification and the middle of Industrialization. I believe that political development is directly related to economic development. To find out the best time for China to implement General Elections, we first must analyze China’s position in both its political and economic development. Perhaps the best time is at the completion of Economic Pre-take off, and the completion of Political Industrialization. This must be a question requiring great thought, it must not be rushed, both for the sake of China and the sake of the world.

When we talk about economic development, we Chinese’ faces immediately light up, because we have much to be proud of. But when talking about political development, many “liberal” Chinese feel ashamed, and try to change the topic. This is totally unnecessary. China’s political system is not perfect, and has many shortcomings. But China can easily tell the world with full confidence: our political system is the best in the world today, both comparing to today’s peers and historically. Comparing to peer countries with average per capital GDP below 3000 dollars, China’s system is the best. Comparing historically to American and European powers at their own past stages of development similar to today’s China’s, China’s system is still the best. This system helps economic development, maintains social stability. This system did not fall out of the sky, it is the results of 5000 years of searching and reflection and struggling by the Chinese civilization. This is a point that must be made loudly and clearly to the world, otherwise it hurts the image of CHina and hurts the dignity of today’s Chinese. When China becomes an advanced nation in the future, then the Chinese at that time will figure out what political system to build, we today do not have to worry about it. I believe our children, and children’s children, will be even smarter and even more capable than us.

For now, with the coming of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, every Chinese today should have every reason to be proud and joyous of what we accomplished in the last 60 years, and of what we can accomplish in the next 60 years. One day, China for sure will return to the very top amongst the gallery of nations.

September 10, 2009 @ 5:50 am | Comment

Math, are you running for public office? Because that sure sounds like a campaign speech if I’ve ever heard one. Just so we’re clear, I’ve never said general elections are a panacea. In some places they are inappropriate, in others they’ve been no less than disastrous. But they’re certainly something to strive for. You say, “our [China’s] political system is the best in the world today, both comparing to today’s peers and historically.” Let me just say that that’s open for debate, and it all depends on who you ask. Many of the past 60 years, until the late 70s, were pretty bad. Things definitely got better for many, but the jury is still out; the modern-day CCP has not yet been tested with the trials that good governments have to endure, such as rampant inflation. We’ll see.

asdf, I won’t argue unless and until you back up your three contentions with sources, and nor WorldNet Daily.

September 10, 2009 @ 6:36 am | Comment

“There’s definitely a big advantage to the monolithic state …”

A new instance of the frogs asking for a king?

September 10, 2009 @ 7:06 am | Comment

Math – Nice campaign speech indeed. While admiring all that China has achieved and India has not, may I submit the following things I CAN do in India for your consideration

– I can choose where I buy a house and live
– I can seek God in the form and manner I want
– I can watch something on TV or read something in a newspaper that’s worth watching or reading
– If somebody bulldozes my house or clamps me in jail, I can go to a court where I’ll be heard
– I can read this blog without formally committing an offence.

I may not have as much money as you have, but by sheer hard work and talent, I can make enough for a reasonable life. You might want to think about this.

September 10, 2009 @ 8:33 am | Comment

Speaking of people like Xu Zhiyong, I am glad that China is run by engineers, not lawyers. I hope Xu has learned a lessen this time that not every problem in China is a legal problem. The Dalai clique and the Uighurs terrorists are indefensible. Fighting separatism is protecting national security. Leave that to the People’s Liberation Army. Lawyers should know their place in the society.

September 10, 2009 @ 9:28 am | Comment

Friedman’s article is disturbing, and depressing. America’s lack of faith in its own values is a real tragedy. The solution is not central planning, the solution is going back to the constitution, reading it, and waking up to live again according to America’s basic values. The expansion of government and collusion between financial and political interests are what brought America thus far. Doing more of it is not the solution. We need more freedom, more choice, more personal responsibility.

And calling the CCP and “enlightened” bunch? What is he on?

I previously posted a comparison between central planning in Nazi Germany and CCP China, and they way it was perceived by various foreign experts. It might interest you.

I am also working on a specific article about the ideological impact of the current crisis, looking at how pundits used to praise the USSR and Nazi 100% employment during the Great Depression. Coming soon.

September 10, 2009 @ 11:19 am | Comment

And by the way “America’s clearly broken system in which corporate interests can easily sabotage the government’s”.

In China, the corporate interests and the governments interests are the same thing. The country is owned by a large criminal organization that lives the high life and sends its kids to America’s best universities.

Let’s keep things in perspective. The US has problems, it might not work according to the ideal plan. In China, the ideal plan is in itself evil and oppressive.

September 10, 2009 @ 11:28 am | Comment

The mafia can be very effective when it decides to move forward with a plan. No bureaucracy, no red tape, no nonsense, just do the job no matter what. Quite effective.
But that doesn’t mean I want to be ruled by the mafia… No matter how efficient they are. Specially if that efficiency is directed against me.

September 10, 2009 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

A simple focus on efficiency can lead to efficient detentions or efficient massacres. Something else besides efficiency has to be there. And the rigor of Beijing’s pre-10/1 “preparations” just confirms my longheld belief that that something else isn’t there.
If only they dedicated their energies to truly useful objectives, rather than locking up Liu Xiaobo and shutting down Xu Zhiyong.

September 10, 2009 @ 4:16 pm | Comment

“In China, the ideal plan is in itself evil and oppressive.” Oh, what rubbish. I lived in China in the 1980s and have visited regularly since. I have also seen a lot of East Asia in that time. None of the dragons have grown as fast as China, and few countries on earth has seen such a blossoming of hope, content and self-confidence. Yep, hope and content. I was at Tiananmen and remember its aftermath.
Most Chinese know exactly what their government is. Most do not much like it, especially its corruption, but most do not feel particularly oppressed by it and they respect its efficiency and economic track record. They don’t need or particularly like glib “mafia” insults from monolingual foreigners on expat salaries in luxury enclaves.

September 10, 2009 @ 4:16 pm | Comment


I am a 3rd generation Malaysian-born Chinese. I studied, worked & lived for more than 10 years in the West & used to have a profound fondnes with the West. Not anymore! Funny, how come I seem to share exactly the same political transformation as you did & the same conviction that China shall prevail against all odds to emerge the most successful & prosperous among nation states. If ever there shall be any idol which China can emulate, it is none other than S’pore but dutifully minus its senseless/weird/blindless worship/embrace for/of the perceived superiority of the English language & Western culture.

Good piece! Keep up your insightful rant!

September 10, 2009 @ 4:38 pm | Comment

Wow, what a great read today from Richard and the commenters. Richard you did the one thing that Friedman failed to do, see the whole picture.

@Math, I really enjoyed your commentary and thought you made some excellent points on a lot of things, but also I personally feel you miss the mark on some issues and should consider using a wider angle on the lens. The man who is falsely imprisoned probably doesn’t have much gratitude in his heart for the jailer that keeps him fed and keeps him warm. Russia may have failed economically during the Gorbachev years, but he won the Nobel Peace Prize for good reason. With Gorbachev’s Glasnost the Russian people were actually able to do the one thing that most leaders fear; question authority and openly debate governmental policies. That took courage few leaders have and Russia is the better for it today. As we see today, no system is immune to economic hardship, and a country’s economic strength is not the only defining factor of a world leader. One of history’s biggest economic turnarounds came during the rise of Hitler, and I doubt many would consider him a shining example of what a world leader is.

Until China allows its people to communicate and speak openly, it will never be a world leader. Just because many of us in the West feel this way, doesn’t mean we are anti-China. I continue to root for China’s economic success and reforms that will allow it to become a respected world superpower.

I think Mao said it best:

“Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”

“We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.”

“Let the people speak up. If they have good arguments, we listen to them; if they don’t, we refute them.”

September 10, 2009 @ 4:40 pm | Comment

[…] the Sydney Morning Herald’s John Garnaut reports that’s what is going on. (via The Peking Duck & The Paper Tiger) There are some well-connected political observers in Beijing who believe […]

September 10, 2009 @ 6:11 pm | Pingback


And yet here in the US we have people like Beck and O’reilly who are supposed to represent America’s voices? Their endless rant telling us not to listen to ‘Obama’s socialist speech’ is nothing short of propaganda. While most Americans actually favor some kind of government run healthcare system, Obama doesn’t have the balls to enact it because of all those shout-outs from the right. That’s what’s so sad in America.

September 10, 2009 @ 10:43 pm | Comment


I personally don’t like what Beck and O’Reilly have to say, but I am glad they have the right to say it. I wonder what would happen in China if there were two talk show hosts like Beck and O’Reilly who attacked the General Secretary on a daily basis? I’m guessing both shows wouldn’t finish their first broadcast, and we probably wouldn’t be hearing from either of them anytime soon.

Obama made it quite clear that he is leaving the public option in so it does appear he has the balls. The shout-outs make it difficult, but there are also a lot of level headed fiscal conservatives that make logical arguments and suggestions. Open debate can be frustrating, but its certainly nice to be able for all of us to be heard, including the Becks and O’Reilly’s of the world.

September 10, 2009 @ 10:57 pm | Comment


The problem is any ‘talk show hosts’ having some kind of personal agenda against the a US president or the General Secretary on a daily basis, they are more in the line of a propagandist.

September 10, 2009 @ 11:19 pm | Comment

Dror, I know we have a better system in America, but it has been taken hostage by a group of people that exerts a bizarre amount of power based on emotional appeals to people’s darkest side; it preys on fear, racism and ignorance. I’ve seen political fights many times, but never with so much personal malice and such blatant insanity as Glen Beck brings to the table. It is at moments like this that I wish we could simply get things done. But as Hopfrog says, we have to let them speak. That’s the beauty of America, though it comes with drawbacks.

Ecodelta, I don’t want to be ruled by the mafia either. Friedman is talking about the benefits of living under an enlightened autocracy – but unfortunately, I am not convinced there really is such a thing. (Take a look at Lee Kuan Yew’s family holdings in Singapore.)

September 11, 2009 @ 12:04 am | Comment


By talking about “overwhelming poverty”, apparently you haven’t been to India – a vibrant democracy.

I’ve been there several times on business and trust me – I realise that what I saw in China before were nothing and that I didn’t actually know what “overwhelming poverty” is before I went to there. You will think China’s poors to meet their “middle class” threshold.

I admire Indian people a lot (especially the intellegence and sophistication of their business elite), but just not their politicians and officials (I’ll refrain from talking about their political system as that system worked just fine in the UK). I always tell my Indian friends that they get the wrong China story – it’s not about infrastructures, as those can be built very fast with a bit money and political will. Instead the true China story is the elimination (almost) of ABSOLUTE poverty. This is the biggest challenge that India must tackle in order to catch up with China.

China has come a long way and India has a long way to come. May God bless both.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:33 am | Comment

Ola, I never said anything about India and don’t see why it’s relevant. Just because India’s situation is worse (as you see it) than China’s doesn’t negate the fact that China faces overwhelming poverty. As I’ve said MANY times here, China has made huge strides in moving people out of poverty. But the challenge is still enormous and affects every move the CCP makes, since it know when people are impoverished they have little to lose and can, in the worst-case scenario, be moved to revolution.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:38 am | Comment


By the way, the Chinese leadership is so much better than the Singapore one.

I live in Singapore now and I know that first hand.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:39 am | Comment


You missed my point. In the words of Milton Friedman – “poverty is in the eye of beholder”. But I bet you haven’t seen the real poverty so talking about “overwhelming poverty” in China is out of reality (a really miserable one it is).

September 11, 2009 @ 12:43 am | Comment

The CCP is a control clique. Their motto comes from Star Trek. Female shape shifter to Odo:”We learned that what we could control could not hurt us.” The CCP thinks that if it can control everything then nothing will hurt them. So it sets out to do the impossible. You can’t control everything. If China fails to become a great power then this will be the reason why.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:52 am | Comment

Oia, I got your point, and I have seen dire poverty in China, as well as in several other countries, in Asai and Latin America. And I also lived in Singapore for a year, and I would choose their oligarchy over China’s, though that’s just a personal thing. Singapore’s is a tad less obtuse and irrational than China’s. Which isn’t to say I’d rather live in Singapore; China is way more fun.

September 11, 2009 @ 1:26 am | Comment


You must be kidding me. What Singapore does is much worse – it sues any dissident for libel and the poor guy will labour for the Lee family for the rest of his life. CCP never touches dissidents’ finance – Liu Xiaobo and Xu Youyu are still living on government pension or salary. Recently another dissident complained loudly that her apartment is going to be demolished to make way for a school. But reading her complaint you find that the apartment is a People’s Daily compound and the CCP offered to compensate her with a private apartment that she thinks too remote but is in fact a good location in the eye of common Beijing folks.

As an American you must know that Financial indepedence is key to freedom of speech. That’s why all Chinese dissidents can afford to continue to badmouth about CCP once they are out of detention, but in Singapore they are all silenced once and for all.

September 11, 2009 @ 1:58 am | Comment

Yes, Singapore’s government is a lot worse than China’s. Thanks, oia.

We can gather anecdotes about every country and paint a very bad picture, or a very good picture, depending on how we want to cherry-pick. I love your blanket generality that “all Chinese dissidents can afford to continue to badmouth about CCP once they are out of detention, but in Singapore they are all silenced once and for all.” Tell it to these guys. There are many, many others whose voices are silenced.

Now, can we stay on topic?

September 11, 2009 @ 2:21 am | Comment

Really enjoying this thread. A lot of good points being made by so many different contributors. Even those I disagree with have had me thinking a little. In all honesty, this thread is what free speech and open debate is all about.

September 11, 2009 @ 3:26 am | Comment

Hop, too bad this site is blocked in China!

September 11, 2009 @ 6:18 am | Comment

@Richard – America has indeed been taken hostage. Incidentally, it happened while government has been getting bigger (under all last 3 presidents). Do you know any monopoly that can exist without backing and protection from the government?
Al the people you despise are powerful because government makes them so. With less government, companies will keep each other in check. At the moment, you have a baking cartel with a government mandate to print money; an auto cartel that get money from the government despite being insolvent; and plenty more….

@ oohkuchi: I stand by what I said. America’s system might not always work properly, but China’s is still an autocratic tyranny, and is not planning to be anything else anytime soon.

Put things in perspective, people. I am worried about you.

September 11, 2009 @ 6:37 am | Comment

I’ve seen similar arguments before…As always, such sanctimonious self-flatteries are as naive as they are casual about what constitutes a democracy.

The US ruling class is not paralyzed by “democracy” but instead chronic indecision and conflict of interests between the ruling elites and lobby groups.

Nor are the Chinese rulers made more efficient by their autocratic system. They are merely driven by the sheer will to stay afloat.

September 11, 2009 @ 7:16 am | Comment

The US ruling class is not paralyzed by “democracy” but instead chronic indecision and conflict of interests between the ruling elites and lobby groups.

That is democracy, I’m afraid. An autocracy can ignore all other voices and plow ahead without consideration of special interests and lobbyists, even of the population at large. The “chronic indecision” is one of the ongoing by-products of democracy, where everything is compromise.

\I’ve seen similar arguments before…As always, such sanctimonious self-flatteries are as naive as they are casual about what constitutes a democracy.

No one’s forcing you to read this naive crap, or to comment on it.

Nor are the Chinese rulers made more efficient by their autocratic system. They are merely driven by the sheer will to stay afloat.

Whether or not their system makes them more efficient is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that the system allows them to go ahead and do things without going through bureaucratic processes. This can be good when it comes to a decision, say, to build a subway system. It can be bad when they decide to collectivize their farms. In general, I think it’s bad because it open the door wide for abuse.

Dror, while I agree about the cartels, I’m not sure it’s a matter of big vs. small government. Those cartels existed for many decades, and Eisenhower was warning us about them back in the 50s. Maybe we need bigger government to break those cartels.

September 11, 2009 @ 8:11 am | Comment

They are merely driven by the sheer will to stay afloat.

How is it different for a “democratic” government or party? Any government in power, dictator or elected, has its stay-in-power as the first item on its agenda, do you deny it? So when you say “CPP is only implementing sensible policies and lifting people out of poverty, etc, etc, because they want to stay in power”. Are you saying when USA’s, France’s , Germany’s, Japan’s ruling government does those things, it is for a different reason? Tell me, what is it?

The second thing is, many say “Yes, China may have done well for the economy, but it has less freedom of speech, freedom of religion , etc compared to India or other poorer but more ‘free’ nations, and therefore India is still better, I’d still rather live in India”

If I assume what you say is true (which is not of course). Then your assumption is “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion” and “freedom of media” are more important than “Freedom from hunger”, “freedom from disease”, “Freedom to live an abundant and modern and middle class life”?

Where does this assumption come from? I think the situation may be the opposite.

When India gov’t fails to eliminate malaria, fails to eliminate slums and poverty and disease, fails to lower malnutrition rates for infants, fails to lower illiteracy rates, fails to provide good highways and roads and trains for citizens and businesses, etc. They are not big human rights violations? In the 21st century, you cannot even guarantee my right to live past 1 year because of contagious disease? How are these less violations of human rights than when Chinese gov’t jails reporters or lawyers? If you do not want to admit they are bigger violations, you must admit they are equal violations as Chinese gov’t’s actions.

Too simple, too naive.

September 11, 2009 @ 8:52 am | Comment

How did this devolve into a China vs. India thread?

September 11, 2009 @ 8:55 am | Comment

@Richard: “Dror, while I agree about the cartels, I’m not sure it’s a matter of big vs. small government. Those cartels existed for many decades, and Eisenhower was warning us about them back in the 50s. Maybe we need bigger government to break those cartels.”

Let me ask you a simple question: Can you name one longstanding monopoly that did is not or was not government-owned, government-sanctioned, or otherwise protected by the government through regulation that hinders competition?

September 11, 2009 @ 10:49 am | Comment

Probably not – but these cartels were in operation LONG before the last three administrations. The oil cartel. The tobacco cartel. The agriculture cartel. The dairy cartel. And many others. Subsidies and protection is as old as the hills for them, Here is what I wrote in regard to them in the last comment”

Dror, while I agree about the cartels, I’m not sure it’s a matter of big vs. small government. Those cartels existed for many decades, and Eisenhower was warning us about them back in the 50s. Maybe we need bigger government to break those cartels.

I stand by that. What you wrote that I take issue with is:

Incidentally, it happened while government has been getting bigger (under all last 3 presidents)

Wrong. It happened many, many decades ago, from the days of Rockefeller. These cartels thrived more than ever under the apostle of small government Ronald Reagan.

September 11, 2009 @ 10:58 am | Comment

[…] friend Dror has put up an interesting post on Thomas Friedman’s controversial column that I wrote about yesterday. Dror fears that many of us, dazzled by gushing reports of China’s success a la […]

September 11, 2009 @ 12:56 pm | Pingback

To the two commenters spamming this thread, please stop, okay? I’m not running your comments unless I think they’re in good faith. This thread is not about India nor is it about whether China has a better government than Singapore. Thanks.

September 11, 2009 @ 1:14 pm | Comment

@Dror, I agree with you in economic philosophy, but unfortunately I think the current administration has had to think beyond Adam Smith’s invisible hand in order to prevent a catastrophe. If the banks were allowed to fail, can you imagine the devastation a bank run would bring considering banks currently back up assets on paper with real assets at historic lows. I do agree, the insolvent car companies should have been allowed to fail. I don’t think it can be cut/dry one philosophy fits all anymore. I agree with so much of what the fiscal conservatives preach, but if there is one thing I take issue with its the idea that regulation is a bad thing. The mortgage generation industry was a perfect example of a non regulated, multi billion dollar industry composed of small companies engaged in open competition. They were allowed to decide what constituted a safe loan and in this unregulated shark tank anyone with a pulse was allowed to get a loan, housing prices escalated out of kilter with what people could actually afford to pay resulting in a vicious cycle of refinancing in order to keep paying the bills, and the eventual housing collapse which lit the fuse that brought the world economy to its knees.

@Hongqi, I don’t think anyone is saying that the right to speak freely is more important than the right to eat. But in the modern world, I don’t think people speaking their mind like adults means that they need to sacrifice a meal to do so. I personally would feel like I was being treated like a child if the U.S. decided that I couldn’t Twitter or run a blog.

September 11, 2009 @ 4:35 pm | Comment

Come too far late to the discussion to say much of worth, other than thanks as usual, richard.

I always wonder if the reason some people laud “enlightened autocracies” is because in a democracy their views are often ignored. But because they regard themselves as being enlightened they subconsciously think that such an autocratic system would be best. Sort of the “this country would be perfect if everyone in power thought like me” syndrome.

September 12, 2009 @ 6:27 am | Comment

@Richard: “It happened many, many decades ago, from the days of Rockefeller.”
Are you kidding me? Did you notice that the banking cartel just got extra power + more cash than ever in history from your government?

Yes, 50 years ago there were some cartels, and today there are other cartels. What else is new?

And they did grew together with government, not just in the US, but in most other countries as well. You cannot deny the fact that never in history has so much money been given to corporate interests as in the last year.

@Hopfrog: Study the great depression and see how economic catastrophes are created and the role government plays in creating and perpetuating them. Study different accounts – Rothbard, Friedman, Schumpeter, even Bernanke and let me know if it was created and prolonged by an invisible hand or by a very visible government hand, through sins of both commission and omission. And by omission I don’t mean simply not doing; I mean not doing what was previously the responsibility of the free market, got taken over by government/Fed, and was not used properly.

September 16, 2009 @ 9:39 pm | Comment

[…] had done a bit of research he’d know this site has been blocked in China since June, and that it criticizes and questions (and sometimes even praises) China on a fairly regular […]

October 2, 2009 @ 1:52 am | Pingback

[…] drew some reaction from Richard Berger at Peking Duck who felt that Friedman was papering over the significant flaws […]

December 29, 2009 @ 9:54 pm | Pingback

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