The unintended consequence of the “China-as-meritocracy” debates

The estimable Kaiser Kuo, who needs no introduction here, put up a post on Facebook yesterday that caught my eye, and lots of other readers’ eyes as well. (It was perhaps written in a moment of pique, but that’s when all of my own best posts are written.) It discusses the unintended harm apologists like Daniel Bell and Jiang Qing (go here for background) do when their preposterous drum-beating for China’s allegedly “meritocratic system” drowns out a part of their message that may be valid, in particular their criticisms of the shortfalls of American democracy. And I don’t disagree with Kaiser. Their nonsense on a “Confucian Constitution” and the outspoken critical reaction to it as BS only serve to make readers view the differences between the systems as starkly black and white, with the American democratic system obviously being superior. In other words, the writings of the Daniel Bells and Jiang Qings of the world backfire and do the opposite of what they intend, making China’s system appear inferior to that of the US, and misrepresenting what democracy here is really like. But Kaiser makes this argument more clearly than I can. The Facebook post in full:

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By now many of us who follow news about China are familiar with the op-eds penned of late by the likes of the Canadian Tsinghua University professor Daniel Bell, Shanghai-based American-Chinese venture capitalist Eric X. Li, and Chunqiu Institute fellow Zhang Weiwei. Arguing that China’s one-party system is essentially a meritocratic form of enlightened authoritarianism that is somehow appropriate to China’s political culture and the realities of Chinese developmental stage and social conditions, these essays (appearing in the New York Times and in the Financial Times just in the last week or so) have had derision heaped on them. Many journalists and scholars have skewered them for their naïveté, citing numerous reasons why the Chinese system is far from meritocratic in practice: the disproportionate “merit” evidently to be found in scions of the CCP aristocracy and in the very wealthy, the apparent absence of this “merit” in women and so forth. I agree emphatically with all of these criticisms, and for the record, I’m convinced that these writers are badly deluded.

As an American, though, I’m troubled that these misplaced encomia for the CCP have completely obscured the few valid criticisms of failures in the American democratic system contained in their essays. As we pick apart their arguments in praise of China’s “meritocracy,” we should be careful not to dismiss out of hand–however vindicated we might feel about American democracy’s proper function after last week’s election–the shortcomings they point out. Taking their statements about the problems with American democracy out of their comparative context, I can only read them and nod in agreement. But the polemical approach they’ve chosen isn’t going to encourage any much-needed introspection. (For that, I’d highly recommend Christopher Hayes, “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy”)

The other thing that worries me that is in the eagerness by so many people who influence ideas about Chinese politics to repudiate this half-baked apologia, some nuance gets tossed out. I’m not ready to reject, for instance, the notion that what constitutes an appropriate form of government is culturally conditioned. Nor, to be sure, do I accept (as Eric Li and others seem to) that culture is immutable: what’s appropriate changes as culture does. My concern then is that in reading these take-downs of the largely execrable positions staked out by Bell, Li and Zhang people conclude that the alternative must be political pluralism along American lines.

These apologists, then, are doing a disservice at more than one level. While they purport to be rejecting a false dichotomy between diametrically opposed systems, they are I suspect only making it, in the minds of readers, more starkly binary.

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As a reminder, let me first give an example of how Bell-Jiang describe Western-style democracy:

The political future of China is far likelier to be determined by the longstanding Confucian tradition of “humane authority” than by Western-style multiparty elections. After all, democracy is flawed as an ideal. Political legitimacy is based solely on the sovereignty of the people — more specifically, a government that grants power to democratically elected representatives. But there is no compelling reason for a government to have only one source of legitimacy.

Democracy is also flawed in practice. Political choices come down to the desires and interests of the electorate. This leads to two problems. First, the will of the majority may not be moral: it may favor racism, imperialism or fascism. Second, when there is a clash between the short-term interests of the populace and the long-term interests of mankind, as is the case with global warming, the people’s short-term interests become the political priority. As a result, democratically elected governments in America and elsewhere are finding it nearly impossible to implement policies that curb energy usage in the interests of humanity and of future generations.

Like Kaiser (I suspect), I see a lot of truth in this. Our democratic system is deeply flawed, and these flaws have become uglier in the past few years, with more and more wedge issues blocking out serious debate, and some in the government brazenly using the power vested in them to subvert the democratic process (think “voter fraud” legislation), often with a good deal of success. What can be messier, sleazier and more dysfunctional than democracy (aside from any other form of government)? On the other hand, what Kaiser is saying can also be interpreted as the equivalency argument we see so often in the comments; critics denounce an aspect of China and the other side argues, “Yeah, but it’s bad in America, too.” But I’m a big believer in taking the flaws of the US government into account, and the issue is a legitimate one, if the argument is made correctly, as I believe Kaiser’s is.

So do those who repudiate the apologists’ arguments really drown out the nuance of these arguments and unintentionally influence the public to view the differences between the two systems in black and white, and to conclude that the best thing that could happen to China would be the imposition somehow of Western-style democracy? I believe they might. But on the other hand, I’m even more glad they speak out; as Kaiser notes, such high-brow journals as The New York Times and Financial Times are lavishing the Meritocracy Gang with precious space on their opinion pages. They have to be counteracted. But I agree, they should be counteracted with nuance. The argument needs to be made that democracy is not one-size-fits-all, and that it comes with a great many flaws and pitfalls. I have always made the case that those advocating Western-style democracy for China are barking up the wrong tree. China will have to find its own path to a more representative government, it cannot be imposed on them. My own hope is for continuing reforms that make China more democratic which in turn leads to greater rule of law and checks and balances. We keep seeing glimmers of hope, but these are frequently dashed as the CCP appears more determined than ever to hold on to what they’ve got. I see no significant changes happening anytime soon.

You can find a spirited Peking Duck thread on the meritocracy argument here.

Finally, today in the NY Times we find an excellent response to the Meritocracy vs. Democracy debates that pretty well smashes the myth of China’s being a meritocratic system, now or in the past. Its author has impeccable credentials.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 171 Comments

Richard, the whole drone thing is a post in itself. If you’re interested in the law about it I would suggest the Volokh.com site. Several of the writers had quite a long and intense discussion. Just search the archives

Oh yeah, bring a legal distionary cuz these are some high level legal players.

November 18, 2012 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

Basically, there’s something called ‘form superstition’, that is, a unthinking and rigid adherence to form without attempting to understand the content or the reason behind the form.

A lot people say ‘If your fridge has a door, then it’s not a fridge, it’s a fake fridge, I won’t buy it!’

Um, why?

Does that thing do the job of preserve and freeze food? If it does, then why is it so important to have a door? Does it offer you a way to retrieve the food inside? Like a lid? A conveyer belt. Teleportation? If it does, and it works for you, why do you care if it has a door or not? The only reason you care so much is cause you never spent a minute actually understanding the purpose of a fridge, you just rote memorized someone’s dogma of ‘a fridge must have a door!’. I could sell you something without any ability to preserve or freeze food, and as long as I make it look like a fridge and have a door, an unthinking idiot like you probably would think it’s a fridge and buy it.

Use your brain, don’t use dogma.

November 19, 2012 @ 2:08 am | Comment

Correction,

A lot people say ‘If your fridge has a door, then it’s not a fridge, it’s a fake fridge, I won’t buy it!’

has a door = DOES NOT have a door.

November 19, 2012 @ 2:09 am | Comment

Basically, there’s something called ‘content subluxation’, that is unthinking and convoluted content that lacks reason and form.

I have a washing machine without a flux capacitor.

November 19, 2012 @ 3:50 am | Comment

Correction,

My washing machine just took me to the Council of Trent.

My mistake, sorry.

November 19, 2012 @ 3:52 am | Comment

To 52:
that is absolutely the dumbest analogy I’ve ever heard. And you’ve said some pretty stupid stuff in your time here, so well done for actually outdoing yourself.

And if you like the CCP’s fridge so much, then why aren’t you using one?

November 19, 2012 @ 12:24 pm | Comment

@ SK

The Clock is a troll

That aside, I have a simple question: if you had to give the Xi/Li teams some concrete goals to shoot for by, say, 2017, what would you do? How would you prioritize?

They could be anything, short of direct multiparty elections at the national level.

I was thinking genuine judicial and legal independence in any court cases not involving a very specific sub-set of criminal acts (mainly because to totally do away with it would run into too much institutional friction from the current set of bureaucracy.)

I was also thinking a further relaxation on press controls, but a tightening on who can own and operate media channels in China. (Don’t control the content; control the pursestrings instead.)

An idea which is immediately actionable, and which is getting plenty of traction in China, is creating “public input forums” into the promotion review process for local officials. Basically, prior to the promotion of a local official, there would be a sort of public hearing, like an upward feedback mechanism in a company, with officials from the next higher level of CCDI and Organization Department present. They are also floating the idea of getting residents a bit of time to “meet and greet” officials about to get parachuted into local executive positions, so as to smooth the learning process on both ends.

November 19, 2012 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

Baiting the Clock is a waste of time, so lets think about Bo Xilai’s attempt to fight the power. Apparently, he is refusing to eat or shave and won’t produce the required confession, so the narrative can be bought to a conclusion. He is being a bad boy and also shouting at his interrogators.

(Expect IRA-type excrement throwing next).

At least according to the HK paper Ming Pao.

November 19, 2012 @ 4:05 pm | Comment

Baiting the Clock is a waste of time, so lets think about Bo Xilai’s attempt to fight the power. Apparently, he is refusing to eat or shave and won’t produce the required confession, so the narrative can be bought to a conclusion. He is being a bad boy and also shouting at his interrogators.

Doubt it. He knows they can always just get at his son

November 19, 2012 @ 6:31 pm | Comment

if you read Xi’s recent remarks, you’ll see that it is refreshingly clear of ideology and focused on pursuing the same Chinese renaissance we spoke about earlier

The “Chinese renaissance” in itself is a dogma. It’s what makes many people shut their face and save on a “great” future, rather than demanding happiness here and now. That’s how it is useful to a ruling class.

Can’t tell if China’s leaders themselves really believe in that renaissance, or if they are rather cynical about the concept and its use, but while most things are up in the air, I see one general rule: the more urgently and consciously people strive for something like “greatness”, the less they will be able to achieve it. If there are parallels between the life of a nation and the life of an individual person, it’s probably here. Just as people usually become loveable or respectable when they aren’t hurrying love or respect, nations become respectable when they mind real issues. That’s true at work, after hours – and for the arts. Few poets, if any, sat down and said “This year, I’ll write something that will shake the world.”

Ask anyone in China, and with likelihood, people will say that they want their country to be “great”. But that’s usually not the concern they get up with, and go to bed with. “Greatness” comes by the way, or not at all.

November 20, 2012 @ 12:22 am | Comment

To T-co,
if Xi can manage to relax media control/censorship, and allow some semblance of rule of law to percolate into the Chinese system, all within the span of five years, then his legacy will already have been unparalleled.

Here’s something else. Everyone knows people have no input in who ends up on top, or who ends up in the top 7 of the PSC. So input aside, why all the secrecy. Why not let people know who these people are, and exactly why they won the prize. And how they were more deserving of that prize compared to the schmucks who didn’t make it, based on “merit” as they say in China? Just because people have no input doesn’t mean they can’t have any knowledge of the process, however screwed up that process may be. If they’re going to sell it as a “merit”-based system, shouldn’t there be at least some justification of that perceived “merit”?

And if we’re going on transparency, then how about some financial transparency and declarations among the top dogs. So that in 10 years, we don’t have another comrade Wen story.

November 20, 2012 @ 2:19 am | Comment

[…] by Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph, and Mingxing Liu in American Political Science Review (PDF) – The unintended consequence of the “China-as-meritocracy” debates, from Peking Duck – Economic Observer podcast: China: A Meritocracy? with Daniel Bell – The Real […]

November 20, 2012 @ 5:44 am | Pingback

[…] by Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph, and Mingxing Liu in American Political Science Review (PDF)- The unintended consequence of the “China-as-meritocracy” debates, from Peking Duck- Economic Observer podcast: China: A Meritocracy? with Daniel Bell- The Real […]

November 20, 2012 @ 6:05 am | Pingback

That CDT link is a good read, as is the NYT link therein. “merit” in CCP parlance is just another word for guanxi. And “guanxi” is just another means and form of corruption. So if “merit”= “guanxi”, and “guanxi” = “corruption”,…then that’s one fantastic system that the CCP has going on. But really, that should surprise no one.

November 20, 2012 @ 7:25 am | Comment

Goju
It seems that a lot of the criticism of Western (US) style democracy has to do more with its being so messy and chaotic rather than being in disagreement with it’s ideals. The pro-China writers seem wedded to the idea of a government that runs smoothly and efficiently without protests or dissension.

A far stronger critique can be made based on the fact that the US is pretty much the only nation that asserts its ideology is holy and unassailable, so much that they have the right to bomb other nations (killing hundreds of thousands if not millions) in pursuit of that goal.

The reality is that democracy is an ideology with a long history of failure just like autocratic states. It certainly does not deserve the witless praise it currently ‘earns’. The problem I have is that democracy as an ideology and political system has never been proven to be a good thing. People have the tendency to mistake accidents and ongoing historical anomalies as being far more permanent than they actually are.

The bumbling nonsense about Confucian constitutions nonetheless serves to show that democracy is starting to come under more scrutiny as more and more people wake up to the fact that the whole thing is a sham that never seems to accomplish any of its childish ideals.

November 23, 2012 @ 3:00 pm | Comment

You’re once again simply arguing against the US. There is more to life (and democracy) than simply the US of A.

No one I know of has ever said that China should emulate/copy/incorporate/institute the US system.

November 23, 2012 @ 3:17 pm | Comment

Two points.

First, would you, Richard, have concluded that American democracy was defective if Gov. Romney had won? Would a 1% swing in votes change your mind about the strength and durability of the American project? Really? I think President Obama is a lousy president who will preside over another four years of recession and stagnation, but I have no doubt that he was democratically elected in a free election, and the same would have been true if Gov. Romney had won.

Two, the NYT piece certainly demonstrated that there is an extreme shortage of quality primary and secondary schools in China and that parents of means will pay up to secure their children a place in the few schools that exist.

What the NYT piece neglected to mention is that admission to college is purely meritocratic. You can’t buy your way in to Beida or Tsinghua. You can’t use connections to get into Beida or Tsinghua. You can’t bullshit your way into Beida or Tsinghua with a heart-tugging pathetic essay about all the problems you’ve overcome. The only way into Beida or Tsinghua is to score highly on the exact same test that all the other applicants are taking. Whatever its flaws, I can’t think of a more purely meritocratic college admissions sytem.

November 23, 2012 @ 10:37 pm | Comment

Obama beat Romney by about 1% in the total vote count, but absolutely ate his lunch in the electoral college which is the thing that counts. It would’ve taken an incredibly strategic reversal of that 1% of the vote to have made a difference. But it does look better that he won both, as opposed to, say, GWB when he beat Gore in the college but lost the total vote count.

Whoever wins the electoral college vote wins the presidency. It would’ve been legitimate either way, had it been Obama or Romney.

Chinese college admissions is certainly based on merit…as determined on the basis of one (1) test. So Chinese colleges can certainly say that they get the students who had the best test-taking mojo on those gaokao days. That may or may not be the same as getting the best students. That’s not to say that colleges should cater to sob stories, but I think a well-rounded individual serves as a better student of higher learning than simply a test-taker.

November 24, 2012 @ 3:48 am | Comment

The problem is that any well-rounded admissions process would instantly turn into a cesspit of corruption. The gaokao is not fair or objective, but it is (relatively) bribe-proof

November 24, 2012 @ 4:44 am | Comment

That’s true. Anything holistic by nature introduces subjective elements, which can then be manipulated by nefarious means, and the corruption angle in China is of course a very real one. I agree that’s the one thing the gaokao has going for it.

November 24, 2012 @ 6:05 am | Comment

?You’re once again simply arguing against the US. There is more to life (and democracy) than simply the US of A.

No one I know of has ever said that China should emulate/copy/incorporate/institute the US system.

Nope. Almost all other democratic nations have the same fanatic delusions (India, Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia) about their systems, and the US is not the only aggressor, just the main culprit of violent political evangelism.

And there are plenty of democracies that have utterly failed, like India, the Weimar Republic, etc. The latter is particularly notable for it’s total collapse into something horrible.

November 24, 2012 @ 6:24 am | Comment

LOL. What are these “fanatic delusions”? This I would love to hear, from the deluded one himself.

If you’re claiming to not focus solely on the US, then you need to stop dredging up examples that only apply to the US. Capiche? The logic is not complicated…at least it shouldn’t be.

Indeed, there are failed democracies. Would you like a list of failed autocracies? So that argument for you goes nowhere, as usual. The point is NOT what others couldn’t do; it’s what Chinese people can do.

November 24, 2012 @ 7:17 am | Comment

Indeed, there are failed democracies. Would you like a list of failed autocracies? So that argument for you goes nowhere, as usual. The point is NOT what others couldn’t do; it’s what Chinese people can do.

Nice try, but I never said there were not failed autocracies. My point, of course, is that no one is delusional enough to claim that autocracies are stable by default. Lots of evangelists like yourself believe democracy is infallible and the “best government” that can exist. It’s not.

And yes, the point IS what others couldn’t do, because it undermines your argument that democracy is objectively better than what China has right now. You need a good reason to risk losing the gains China has made in recent decades, and so far you have exactly 0.

It’s not what 51% of Chinese people want that matters, it’s what the vast majority of Chinese people need that matters (security and economic freedom). The CCP in the last 30 years has outperformed all other governments in history.

November 24, 2012 @ 7:41 am | Comment

OK, since you’re predictably silent on it, we can hopefully dispense with your juvenile fixation with all things US when it comes to democracy.

No examples of “fanatic delusions”? That’s okay too. Although I fully expected a certifiable dude like you to be able to come up with some, since delusions should be right in your wheelhouse. You’re slipping, m’boy.

Now, when have I said “democracy is infallible”? Please, do knock yourself out and try to find even one (1) such instance. I’ll wait…

I’ve also never said “democracy is objectively better than what China has right now”. You do have an incurable penchant to argue against what someone didn’t say. But given the position you’re left to defend, I can understand that you need to do what you gotta do. What I have said is that the economic “benefit” the CCP tries to claim it provides, can be had just as easily without the CCP. So if economic performance is what is important for Chinese people, why garnish it with the albatross of authoritarianism? Again, it’s 2012, so do spare us the recap of what’s happened in the last 30 years. The point is what is the ongoing relevance of the CCP moving forward. Based on recent events, the CCP is good for some secrecy in its succession transition, and for making CCP officials and their families stinking rich…the higher the official, the stinkier. Is that something CHinese people want or need? I’d sure like to find out. As usual, you would like to return to the training offered you by the mother ship, and would like nothing to do with learning about the actual wishes of actual Chinese people, of which you are not one.

“It’s not what 51% of Chinese people want that matters, it’s what the vast majority of Chinese people need that matters (security and economic freedom).”
—LOL. Do you and your handlers listen to the garbage coming out of your mouth? I think I’d let Chinese people decide what they need for themselves. But that’s just me.

November 24, 2012 @ 10:15 am | Comment

the CCP is good for some secrecy in its succession transition, and for making CCP officials and their families stinking rich…the higher the official, the stinkier

Your definition of “stinking rich” probably needs a revision. China has relatively few billionaires per capita who own relatively little of China’s total wealth. I’ll believe the NYT’s report on Wen once they release their sources – not that it’s implausible that it’s true. 2.7 billion is not much considering the scale of graft and corruption in several democratic states.

You’ll have to explain how democracy would actually improve the situation – you can’t.

I think I’d let Chinese people decide what they need for themselves.

LOL. Do your masters have their hands that far up your gaping prolapsed rectum? I’d think I’d rather Chinese people not starve and the nation not collapse, but that’s just me.

November 24, 2012 @ 11:07 am | Comment

CM – Aristocracy is not a terrible system of government, especially when it is an aristocracy that permits some movement into it, as the current Chinese aristocracy does. The problem is whether the peasants and the middle class will accept the aristocracy as legitimate. Right now the Party is struggling to find a message, a raison d’etre, that it can sell. No one, outside of a few academics, believes in Marxist-Leninism any more, no matter what they say publicly. No one believes that the Party is the “vanguard of the Revolution.” No one believes that the Party is filled with selfless, devoted servants of the people.

In short, the aristocracy is coasting on the tremendous reservoir of goodwill built up as a result of the economic development of the past 30 years. The threats to that goodwill are twofold: one is corruption. Say what you like, no politician in the US, no matter how corrupt (and corruption is far, far, far less common in the US), can hold a candle to the Wen or Bo clans. I don’t think corruption alone will lead to a fundamental challenge to the aristocracy but I could be wrong.

The second is that the fate of the economy is not entirely in the leadership’s hands. Exogenous events matter. Even with wise leadership, black swans happen. Add to that the fact that the recent turn away from capitalism towards state controlled enterprises is throttling economic development in China. Add to that the fact that state controlled enterprises have made hundreds of billions in bad investments in the past few years (e.g., all the empty office towers and apartment blocks) and the losses on those loans and investments have yet to be realized. All it would take is one sharp recession to shake the foundations of the aristocracy. If you think that a recession can’t possibly happen in China, I have a really nice bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll give you a good price on.

November 24, 2012 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

“You’ll have to explain how democracy would actually improve the situation”
—once again, you’ve missed the point. It’s habit-forming for you. Sure, there can be corruption in a democracy. But to have it on the scale of the CCP, both in breadth and depth, is something unique to the CCP. And here’s the point: even if Chinese people had to live with corruption up to their eyeballs in a democracy as they currently do with the CCP, they at least wouldn’t have to put up with the authoritarianism. If you were going to have corruption, who in their right mind would you want authoritarianism at the same time? You would, apparently, but then you and “right mind” don’t really co-exist, do they?

“I’d think I’d rather Chinese people not starve and the nation not collapse”
—sure, sounds good. What does CCP authoritarianism have to do with either of those things? It’s true true and unrelated, dude. All this time away, and your logic is as crappy as always. Don’t they teach you anything at CCP ass-kissing school? Guess not.

November 24, 2012 @ 1:49 pm | Comment

I’d go one step further than Doug and state that for a while, the Party could use economic growth to behave like a Santa Claus, dispensing largesse to every segment of society; now it has to be the Grinch and rebalance China’s economy.

I had a feeling Xi wasn’t just reciting platitudes when he said that now was a really tough time for the Chinese people. That fundamental disconnect is probably why.

November 24, 2012 @ 1:49 pm | Comment

A system is not a goal. Democracy is not a human right. The most important human right a government can guarantee is the right of the largest portion of the citizenry to improve their lives continually, year in and year out.

The last 34 years has been one big political experiment. The only ideology was “amplify what works, and discard what does not.” As overseas Chinese, we rejoice in seeing great strides made in improving the lot of the Chinese. We lament the lack of an ICAC like structure.

Look, all crows are black. ALL those in power are corrupt – that is just a given. America is the most successful democracy on Earth, the beacon on the hill. America had long legitimized bribing of the governing elite – today it is called “campaign contributions” and absolutely legitimate. So is America any less corrupt? After the 2008 debacle, instead of throwing the banksters who caused the demise in jail and confiscating their illgotten wealth, the corrupt to the core Washington instead forked over yet another US$10 Trillion in low and no cost loans to the banksters, as a direct result of which the criminals handed themselves record bonuses 3 years in a row (’08, ’09, and ’10), even as the rest of society crumbles. In that same period, China continued to grow its economy at 8 or 9% a year, created 20 million new jobs a year, and people’s living standards IMPROVED.

At the end of the day, whether a government is good or bad, has to be measured by whether or not the people’s living standards continue to improve year after year. For 34 years, the Chicoms have delivered on that duty to the Chinese people. Has Washington discharged its duty to the American people??

In a one party system, such as Singapore, or Hong Kong (both ran by Chinese BTW), the way to do it is to set up the system (such as ICAC in Hong Kong), and leave it to the experts. Corruption will never be 100% stamped out. But at least if the perception is that things are done about it, the people will feel good and life goes on. Both cities enjoy high rankings on anti-corruption results. So there is no reason the same system cannot work in China either.

Don’t be silly – democracy simply is systemically incapable of rooting out corruption. Look at America, the richest democracy, and India, the largest, are both 10 times more corrupt than China.

November 25, 2012 @ 11:36 am | Comment

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/1119/1224326785025.html

seems like an olive branch from Ai. I think Xi would be wise to pick up on this opportunity, much as Deng and Hu Yaobang did with artists that suffered opprobrium under Mao

November 25, 2012 @ 11:39 am | Comment

CM: “I’ll believe the NYT’s report on Wen once they release their sources – not that it’s implausible that it’s true.”

Go here. The sources are mainly corporate and public records.

And yes Zhuu (a newcomer), the US is indeed “10 times more corrupt than China” — make it a million times more corrupt. Right.

November 25, 2012 @ 1:25 pm | Comment

{Sorta tongue in cheek, but someone has to point out the obvious.]

What’s there to compare? There’s no comparison. One works, one is a hopeless gridlocked mess. One generates 7.5% growth in a deep recession, the other caused and is still in the deep recession. One system breeds capable, dedicated leaders, the other produces perfectly coiffed demagogues who revel in once every 4 year national liars’ contests in public media (“campaign promises” being such an oxymoron, NOBODY is supposed to believe in them), with the grand spectacle costing over $10 Billion this time around, and with NOTHING produced but more girdlock.

One represents hope and progress and results for the last 34 years going on to 74. And the other? You be the judge.

I take it as a given that there is no true direct democracy anywhere today, and that all nations are ruled by elites – who we HOPE are wiser and better and more virtuous than the plebeians. The difference is in the SYSTEM. The Chicoms make sure that whomever gets to the top, are CAPABLE. Look seriously at the HOW the top leaders are picked in each country – and WHY IN THE WORLD would you expect different results?

(a) Look at the system of choosing leaders in America, as perhaps an off-planet alien first arriving on Earth: Every few years, perfectly coiffed politician¬s get into open TV contests to see who can best carry soundbites¬, and who can best tell lies (campaign promises being such a well recognized oxymoron, NOBODY expects actual delivery of these promises). Based SOLELY on such performanc¬e and pageantry, “aided” by billions of dollars in dirty, demagogic attack ads (based mostly on fear and prejudices like the racist ads against Chinese) for months on end, society decides on who gets to assume power and lead. The current run rate it that it costs $25 Billion or more to do one of these spectacles – out of which NOTHING is produced except more gridlock. After they take office, the “leaders” take care of their real constituen¬ts – those who paid. Moreover, even after being elected (or perhaps because they have been elected), these “leaders” continue to spend 140% of their waking moments on their raison d’etre – 70% of time in raising money, 50% of time talking to the real constituen¬ts (see above) and address their issues, and the rest of the time on leading. And this is the system that everyone in the world should end up with? Must end up with? WHERE is the superiority? Is representation evident? WHO do the American leaders represent?

(b) Now contrast that with what the Chicoms have. China’s success and prosperity shows that the quality of the leaders do matter. How they are chosen also matter. All of China’s politburo members (about 360?) rise up through the ranks, and are vetted through decades of on the job training, for both effectiven¬ess and dedication¬. Moreover, most of these leaders-in-training, unlike in the U.S. where most candidates are lawyers, in China they are engineers and other technical experts. Each elevation required multiple critiques and ranking by contempora¬ries. Those who end up on this “bench” are likely qualified to be top leaders of the 1.3 billion population nation. Then every 10 years, 9 persons (including the president and the premier) are selected out of this very deep bench of proven talent, to serve on the central committee. It is expected that the 9 would be qualified, and are dedicated, and can work well together. Nobody has a top job for life – in fact most of them have that only for 10 years max. The results show that to be the case in the decades since Deng’s lead. Mistakes are made in this one-party meritocrac¬y, but are quickly corrected. Since there is no need to beg for money or run dirty election campaigns, these leaders actually spend most of their waking moments working on affairs of State. Even in hardship the quality of the leadership shows. Compare the Sichuan quake vs. Katrina.

Looking at what the Chicoms did in the last 34 years, it was clear that the guiding principle was “Bian Min” (making life easier for the folks), and the operative guidance is to seek truth through facts – thereby amplifying what works, and discarding what does not. In the last 34 years, the entire Chinese ruling party had been one big reform project, and beneficial changes are still ongoing. IDEOLOGY is not important anymore, results are. The results are there for all to see. Beijing was (and is) the only form of government capable of, has a plan for, and actually did, double the living standards of the great majority of citizens every 7 or 8 years, for the past 34. Now this capable government is even implementing direct democracy, by having 250,000,000 microbloggers provide direct input, and having government act on that input. Contrast that with Washington ignoring Occupy Whatever.

How long does it take for YOU to double your living standard? There are lots that other government¬s can learn from Beijing. The willingnes¬s to try new things, to REFORM REGARDLESS OF IDEOLOGY, is one such important thing.

November 25, 2012 @ 1:38 pm | Comment

Those in the West ask, “Would you trade your ability to freely express your political ideas in exchange for a stable job, health care, and the ability to participate freely in the political process.”

I posit that it is relative. A government system is not a goal in itself. Democracy is not nirvana (or the Indians would be in heaven for decades now). A political system is only the means to the ultimate end. What is that end? That goes back to a value question. Most Chinese would argue that the most important human right, and one that the ruling elite can actually do something about, is to better the lives of the greatest numbers of citizens, year after year. By that measure, the Chinese system was the BEST in the world in the last few decades.

To the Chinese, it is rather irrelevant that the Americans have lived, and are living richer, more fulfilling lives. America is not going to sharing that prosperity with the Chinese any day soon – the Chinese have to earn it, through their own efforts. So the practical question is one of how to get from here to there.

Again, the answer has to be – WHICH SYSTEM brings about the best improvements in the lives of the largest number of citizens in any country in the last 34 years? SWCC (Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, or whatever other name you wish to call it) won hands down.

Apologists for the Western system point about the supposed ability to change the system when it is not working. They are largely mistaken about the most basic of the assumptions:

1. The elites indeed know better. They are in a better position to make the necessary changes. To leave the fate of the nation and the welfare of the citizenry to the vagary and iniquities of “voting” (with the inbuilt advantages for the incumbent, with voter suppression running rampant, with corruption long since legitimized and now called campaign contrinbution), it is just plain silly.

2. IN FACT, Beijing has been the most adaptable and responsive form of government, out of all major nations, in the last few decades. A collective leadership at the top means that when there are bad apples (and there are), and even slackers (and there are), they will simply be removed expeditiously. No fuss, no muss, no need to wait till the next election. Zhao, Zhi Yang, and more recently Bo, Xilai, are good examples. No turmoil, and the economy keeps growing.

3. Beijing has been the least ideological, and the most adaptable. WHAT OTHER major government in the world actually FUNDED and BUILT the largest suggestion box in human history, featuring over 300,000,000 users? The suggestions in the blogs are actually worked on and ideas adopted, and reforms made. “Amplify what works, and discard what does not.” Done. Improved. A “democractic” system like the U.S. would instead have to spend year arguing about the hypothetical, in the time it took China to go through 3 or 4 iterations of changes already. It literally is night and day.

November 25, 2012 @ 1:42 pm | Comment

Is SWCC without fault? Hardly. But no matter how you slice and dice it, A one party system is demonstrably more efficient than any other form of government. China’s economy grew at 7 times the speed of the American one. Even more telling, is that China’s economy grew at a rate far faster than that in india (the largest democracy in the world). When Deng picked up the reins in 1978, India’s GDP was actually a bit higher than China. 34 years later, China’s is 3 times as large. The ONLY difference is that China has one party efficiceny, and India had democracy. As a direct result, the vast majority of the Chinese citizenry enjoy much more personal freedom wrought from improved financial circumstances.

If you want Beijing to bicker incessantly like Washington and fall apart, and China to become a 2nd rate power, there is nothing more effective than “democracy.”

Yes it is frustrating to watch the Chicoms hesitate on issues of corruption, and the fact that China still does not have a Hong Kong style ICAC. But China is continuing her reforms at a speed that far exceeds anything any other nation has tried in the last 34 years. So there is genuine hope.

One party efficiency, led by a dedicated and capable cadre of world class leaders, proven in decades of on the job training. That formula proves hard to beat (NOBODY has beaten that in the last 34 years).

November 25, 2012 @ 1:42 pm | Comment

I’m thinking we may have a new troll in our midst.

November 25, 2012 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

Beijing, compared to Washington, actually has a much easier job. With globalization, just as water seeks its own level, jobs requiring a certain level of skills will eventually equalize in pay. Other than geographic location, there really is no reason that a doctor in America makes a quarter of a million dollars a year, and one in China makes one-tenth of that.

So the CPC only has to not screw up, and lives will improve. It is more complicated than that, of course, but the law of nature is in Beijing’s favor.

November 25, 2012 @ 1:48 pm | Comment

@Richard:

Is every new voice a troll? What makes a troll? I post facts and analysis. If you disagree with my facts, post your own. If you think my analysis is flawed, tell us why. Maybe we can all learn a little something.

November 25, 2012 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

Six comments in just a short while, interacting with no one, is a form of spamming. I am pretty sure I know a troll when I see one. The fact that it took you just seconds to respond to my comment tells me you’re hovering, waiting to stir things up. But maybe I’m wrong; you have a chance to prove it.

Cookie Monster up above shares some of your views but he is not (usually) a troll, as he at least tries to engage. You, on the other hand, seem to want to simply spout the usual CCP propaganda, interacting with no one and sounding fanatical and also smug. I’ll give you a chance to prove me wrong before I officially declare you a troll, but after nearly 11 years running this blog I have pretty good radar for trolls, especially when they show up out of nowhere and put up comment after comment, each one the envy of the wumao army.

November 25, 2012 @ 1:56 pm | Comment

One of the biggest difference between the two forms of governments, is that the American system mistakenly relies on the alleged “wisdom” of the voters to bring about changes (albeit in a tortured manner even the system is working at its best). The American system totally crumbles when (not if) it is hijacked by special interest, when BOTH of the major parties are taken over.

Take the issue of industrial policy, where powerful banksters hijacked the entire American political process.

Most nations have industrial policies. Beijing has be rather conservative on this count, and has been successful in planning and executing plans to propel many of the nation’s industries to No. 1 in the world.

America, in contrast, with bipartisan political support, already chose ultra-highly leveraged FINANCIAL ENGINEERING as a post-industrial era “industrial policy”, and in the last 20 years has staked the policy with the full faith and credit of the nation, and the best minds the country can offer. Today the best of the best American college grads do not go into science or engineering – almost to a man (less so for women) they aspire to become Masters of the Universe on Wall Street. The work product of all that brain power is more convoluted “financial engineering” that really are just sophisticated and well packaged fraud. There are consequences that flowed and will flow from that decision.

Derivatives are rigged gambling. The “contracts” are typically crafted by the best Wall Street prospectus writers, and not even the salesmen can really explain them. The suspicion is unavoidable that if they are truthfully explained, nobody would buy them. The products are typically sold on the age old “confidence” basis – “Hey, this is a sophisticated business instrument coming from one of the world’s largest financial institutions, what can possibly go wrong? Just trust me.”

Thus risk spreading (hedging) turned into sheer gambling. The derivatives gambling grew to over $600 Trillion by 2008, then a couple of big players keeled over or almost did (e.g., Lehman Bros., AIG), and the failure of the big counterparties threatened the continued existence of the large banks and Wall Street itself. The rest, as they say, was history. More recently we saw MF Global (died) and JP Morgan Chase (stumbled, billions).

Some would argue that since gambling is a zero sum game (not like War, which is destructive of value) – some win, some lose, so at the end it does not matter from the macro point of view. NO SO. The risks are several fold:

1. You never know who is going to fold next – it may well be one or more of the too big to fail’s, thus implicating public resources to bail them out.

2. Too much (95%?) resources are sucked from Main Street to support this habit, and as we observe, the real economy suffers painfully.

3. It is fraud, no matter how prettily you dress it up.

“Democracy” is completely hapless at getting rid of such complete take over of the political process. Multiple sets of elites vying for power will always end up, through competition, to be ALL BOUGHT OUT by the special interests in order to survive in the process.

November 25, 2012 @ 2:07 pm | Comment

What do you think, ladies and gentleman: Troll or serious commenter interested in engaging in a thoughtful dialog? Just askin’.

November 25, 2012 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

Is there a threaded mode that can be invoked on this site? My apologies for being a newbie here. Sorta hard to respond to specific posts. But the pigheaded (moi) shall try my darndest.

@ The original post: “We keep seeing glimmers of hope, but these are frequently dashed as the CCP appears more determined than ever to hold on to what they’ve got. I see no significant changes happening anytime soon.”

From the Chinese’s perspective, WHY IN THE WORLD would or should there be changes, if the current system has wrought the BEST PERFORMANCE of any major governments in the world? Even in this deep recession, when the mighty U.S. barely eeks out 1-2% growth, Chicoms proudly leads with 7.5%. Explain why 7.5% is so bad.

November 25, 2012 @ 2:38 pm | Comment

Rich, I’ve seen ZBJ post on the WSJ and HuffPo websites before (in 09 or 10 I think). I don’t think he’s a troll in the same vein as Jing is.

November 25, 2012 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

@Handler Comment 4.

“A practice is normative insofar as it provides stability non-coercive in origin and application, expressed in the framework of channels for the reconciliation of differences, the transmission of information, and the lawful redress of grievances. This is a good in itself and will contribute to further goods provided for its society.”

Sorry guy, not so if the cost is as high as that demonstrated in America. Coercion can be good if the end is good. If there is no coercion, anarchy takes over. Guns should only be in the hands of the government. Put it in the hands of the civilians like America does, it is inevitable and irreversible that gunshot deaths alone exceeds 30,000 a year – putting that in perspective, that is over 2,500% of the alleged 5,000 executions by the Chicoms each year (coercion at its natural conclusion). Which is better? I posit that having 1/25th the death is. Life is the ultimate human right.

Most of the arguments here are from the Western perspective. Value is culturally based, and there really is very little that is “universal”. There are still many Americans who actually truly believe that there is a God, whilst most Chinese sincerely believe that religion is for the lame-brained. If folks cannot even agree on something as fundamental as whether there is an almighty, it is silly to argue that your system is better than mine despite 34 years of proven results to the contrary. Where’s the beef?

November 25, 2012 @ 2:51 pm | Comment

@t_co Comment 9

” Only by remaining focused on selecting the best model to win China’s place in the sun, can China really get where it needs to be.”

It took me a decade after TAM to figure it out. Mr. Deng already achieved that model. It is the only guiding ideology of the Chicoms today: “Amplify what works, and discard what does not.” This is NOT an ideology that can be pursued by a “democratic” system like that in the U.S. Inter-party competition prevents it. Amongst all major governments today, only Beijing is equipped to be as adaptable.

Look at health care. It took America over 3 decades to come up with a national healthcare policy, and Obama Care will take at least another 10 more years to implement. During that time it is likely that the Republicans will retake the White House by 2016, and put roadblocks in the implementation. Compare that to China – Beijing decided 2 years ago to start implementing national healthcare. Today over 95% of the population already has coverage, albeit a slim (but improving) one.

The only major piece missing is an ICAC to keep the players honest.

November 25, 2012 @ 3:02 pm | Comment

@S.K. Cheung Comment 14

““the only end that matters is creating a unified bloc of 1.5 billion souls with a $20,000+ GDP per capita, ensconced in a safe, pliant Chinese sphere of influence, clearly ascendant over the rest of the world in technology and military prowess.”
—who says this is “the only end that matters”? This is precisely why I phrased it the way I did. Sure, this might be ONE of the ends that SOME people desire.”

BTW, it does irk to see the Chicoms being called CCP. If you are going to bad mouth them, at least get the name correct – it is CPC.

The CPC has “earned” the trust and the support of the Chinese people (Pew Research consistently show over 85% in favor of the nation’s direction) through the continued improvement of the vast majority of the people’s lives, year after year for 34, despite working with very limited resources. It is not for anyone outside the CPC to gainsay, if only because you are NOT part of the ruling elite in China, and you do not know better than President Xi and his team.

November 25, 2012 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

@Handler Comment 34

“Also, democracy doesn’t just “sound nice”. It is a form of governance which encourages participation in decision-making as a definition of responsibilities. It is the only form of governance currently in existence which has *built-in* as well as statutory protections for individuals, which offers through mere existence as a citizen a modicum of protection against the presumptions and abuses of one’s neighbors and superiors. It is also the only form of governance that can be legitimately said to encourage the establishment of statutes, and enjoin support for them, through rational persuasion, though unfortunately it has correctly been argued this is not a necessary component of democracy.”

Again, from the Chinese’s point of view, looking in from the outside, this sounds like so much B.S. Democracy protects individuals? It is a known and proven objective fact that America, at the pinnacle of such democracy, allows more than 30,000 of its own citizens to be killed by gunshot deaths alone – almost all of these are killed without the benefit of trials or due process. It is hard not to be shocked and awed by such protection of individuals.

And how about those drones? The head of this richest democracy has to resort to disrupting his daily coffee and newspaper routine, to work on the death list for the day (playing judge, jury, and head executioner). Where are those “presumptions and abuses of one’s neighbors and superiors”??

November 25, 2012 @ 3:35 pm | Comment

It took me a decade after TAM to figure it out. Mr. Deng already achieved that model. It is the only guiding ideology of the Chicoms today: “Amplify what works, and discard what does not.” This is NOT an ideology that can be pursued by a “democratic” system like that in the U.S. Inter-party competition prevents it. Amongst all major governments today, only Beijing is equipped to be as adaptable.

Actually, while Deng’s model was “amplify what works and discard what doesn’t”, it isn’t the guiding ideology of the Party today. The Party today goes by the Dengist model, which is the specific implicit rules set in place when Deng (and to a lesser extent Hu Yaobang) stopped contributing new ideas to China’s political discourse.

The model basically is: advance Party careers by channeling state capital into GDP-boosting, NPV-positive projects. Oh, and the “wink wink nod nod” was that you could skim a bit off the top too, so long as the overall project did good for society. For a while, this has worked for China, but now China is well past the point of decreasing marginal ROI and needs to go back to the true Deng model of actually being flexible from the ground up.

November 25, 2012 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

@Richard Comment 43

“My biggest beef is with the absence of rule of law in China, and checks and balances. Therein lies the yawning difference between the two systems, and while China is improving, especially in more developed geographies, the transition is much too slow and far too many people are victims of an inefficient, unjust and unfair system.”

The other side of the coin is that this is definitely NOT A FLAW, but a part of the system by design.

There is no question that Chinese laws are still rather primitive compared to the 250 years of American drafting and lawyering. A level of arbitrariness is NECESSARY to level the playing field, to allow the Chinese businesses to compete fairly. Just look at the issue of IP. No one will dispute that America had much more IP and much bigger companies who have “better” (sneakier) lawyers than Chinese businesses in 1980. These bigger (much bigger) American behemoths abuse their privileges, and (even today) demand “unequal treaties” (contracts of adhesion), no better than those during the Opium War decades. Have you seen the American auto companies licenses? For a Chinese toy manufacturer to make toys cars that look like real cars, they have to sign away all rights to the new designs to the Americans. At that rate, Chinese businesses would NEVER catch up. That is the real world.

The Chicoms’d be amiss in their duty to guide the nation, if they acted otherwise in the last 3 and half decades.

November 25, 2012 @ 3:53 pm | Comment

@ t_co Comment 97

“The model basically is: advance Party careers by channeling state capital into GDP-boosting, NPV-positive projects. Oh, and the “wink wink nod nod” was that you could skim a bit off the top too, so long as the overall project did good for society. For a while, this has worked for China, but now China is well past the point of decreasing marginal ROI and needs to go back to the true Deng model of actually being flexible from the ground up.”

Even if we accept the motivation to be true, it is still the results that matter. The next 20 years are actually quite critical, and it behooves the leaders in Beijing not to miss the right turns. It is clear that America has lost its way, and is still insisting on “leading” its follower lapdog nations down the garden path through TPP, which makes it likely that within a decade China’s would remain the only robust economy in Asia, if not the world. This is not the time to change systems (I think you agree on that point), but of course I agree with you that fine tuning would be necessary.

Several generations of capable leadership has lain the groundwork – China graduates the largest number of engineers and scientists, and it is Xi’s job to put them to work, driving China’s true competitive advantage – the wisdom and hard work of the Chinese people.

Yes, I think $20,000 per capita GDP is reachable in our lifetimes. Export slowdown is temporary. China is on the cusp of a huge increase in export of goods and services, the latter in infrastructure projects around the globe. The $3.2 Trillion in foreign currency reserves will be augmented by unlimited ability to print RMB, once the Yuan becomes freely exchanged. In two weeks BSB will begin building the world’s tallest high rise, all in 90 days, at a cost of less than US$1,000 per sq. m. The future looks bright.

November 25, 2012 @ 4:17 pm | Comment

zhuubaajie isn’t commenting, he’s blogging here, Richard. If I were you, I’d delete his comments, and offer him an opportunity to write a guest post instead.

November 25, 2012 @ 4:39 pm | Comment

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