Friday, November 16, 2007

Rowan Callick -- The China Model

I haven't blogged anything since yesterday because I have been reading and thinking.

The China Model by Rowan Callick, linked by Michael Wade at Execupundit, couples nicely with James Fallows' recent piece about China. Unfortunately they are both long on ideas as well as words so it takes time for me to ingest what has been said and try to make sense of it.

Fallows paints a picture of China's factory development, alluding to the incredible speed with which the country is sailing into the industrial age, a speed accelerated by information technology not available to industrial pioneers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Calleck expands the same theme, describing in detail how "the China model" is being exported and embedded all over the world as the nation hosting the next Olympic Games seductively climbs into bed with tyrannies anywhere mutual interests can be found.

From Vietnam to Syria, from Burma to Venezuela, and all across Africa, leaders of developing countries are admiring and emulating what might be called the China Model. It has two components. The first is to copy successful elements of liberal economic policy by opening up much of the economy to foreign and domestic investment, allowing labor flexibility, keeping the tax and regulatory burden low, and creating a first-class infrastructure through a combination of private sector and state spending. The second part is to permit the ruling party to retain a firm grip on government, the courts, the army, the internal security apparatus, and the free flow of information. A shorthand way to describe the model is: economic freedom plus political repression.

This essay (and the other by James Fallows) should be required reading for policy makers. Unfortunately, the people we send to represent us seem more interested in domestic pork than international relations. But one can hope...

(Printed out, these two pieces run to fifteen or twenty pages each, depending on format. I don't know about you, but I can't read from the monitor with good comprehension. I need to carry around the paper, read a little, think a little, then go back for more. I would never make it as a professional writer or editor. )

I'm coming to the conclusion that we need to stop worrying so much about tyrants and immigrants and begin examining some of the sacred cows of our system. Sanctimonious prating about democracy and human rights already ring hollow in the face of historic alliances with totalitarian political systems, even without the individual moral lapses of what we like to imagine are a few bad apples in an otherwise noble infrastructure of heroes.

Whatever else it represents, China cannot be accused of being overly concerned with ethics, morality or other high-minded principles. As one African leader said...

At the end of the day the population does not have anything to eat, does not have water to drink, no electricity at night, industry to provide work, so we need both. People do not eat democracy.

The inevitable death of Fidel Castro will bring about changes in Cuba. I have heard the president make a few opening remarks aimed at opening some kind of dialogue with the oppressive system that has held that country captive most of my life...with the aid and assistance of US policy, thanks to the electoral importance of Cuban expats in Florida. That tail has been wagging the electoral college dog for a long time. The result has been something like what Calleck mentioned regarding a couple of other places where old-time True Believers have survived.

The Western requirement that good-governance medicine must be consumed in return for modest aid is now not only unwelcome but also, as far as many African leaders are concerned, outdated. They are no longer cornered without options. Now they’ve got China, which is offering trade and investment, big time, as well as aid. And more than that, they’ve got the China Model itself.

This is no longer the communist program that Mao Zedong tried to export with little success except in places like Peru and Nepal, where Maoists have survived long after they have vanished from China itself. It is, instead, the program that gives business room to grow and make profits, while ensuring it walks hand in hand with big, implacable government. And, of course, the China Model holds out the promise of providing the leaders of developing nations the lifestyles to which they would love to become accustomed.

We have too long suffered under the misconception that free trade and increased prosperity will eventually hatch political freedom. This principle is demonstrably false. Freedom, as we undestand the concept, is not dependent on prosperity. The two ideas are important, but not mutually interdependent.

Likewise, political freedom does not necessarily hatch prosperity. Ask the Russians.

No comments: