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Who Needs Democracy when you have GDP Growth?!

March 7, 2012

Responding to a NY Times article by Mr. Eric Li which can be found here:


Honestly, the guy who wrote this, Eric Li, makes me shudder with contempt.

First, I disagree with Li’s assessment of US democracy.  The baseline
is not pure democracy, but a constitutional republic, which Li
acknowledges.  And while it is influenced by “special interests” and
money, the government is not controlled to the extent that Li seems to
claim.  Indeed, note the rise of grassroots movements like the Tea
Party and Occupy Wall Street.  Also, note the healthcare industry’s
incredible opposition to Obama’s healthcare bill (which passed).  Li’s
third contention that ours is a democracy/republic “in name only”, is
indicative of his abject failure to grasp the concept that
“re-election” is a good thing because it subjects elected officials to
the will of the people (but as a compromise against mob mentality, not
entirely: Congress v Senate).

Second, I disagree with Li’s pronouncement that China’s chosen
political system is expedient.  Let’s not forget that authoritarianism
is the root of China’s ten thousand year history.  Indeed, the
examples of democracy in China are largely when a local political
system has so abused its power (leading to multiple deaths, outright
and uncompensated takings of hundreds of properties, bribery verging
on the insane) that large numbers of people are lead to take action
because, frankly, their actual lives (or livelihoods) depend on it.
This is the bottom of the proverbial barrel in terms of democratic
impulses.  So no, the communist government does not embrace democracy
as we understand it, it embraces democracy as the Party understands
it.  The inhumanity of China’s policies make African dictators blush
(see China’s “new” diversion of the Yellow River to Beijing and the
countless communities and lives being uprooted and threatened).

Third, the best possible argument Li can make is that China’s unique
heritage (both cultural and political) gives its population a
willingness to endure authoritarian regimes that creates economic and
governmental adaptability, which in turn leads to solidarity in
promoting national agendas, which in turn leads to benefits for the
population (and average citizen) as a whole.  But who gets to define
“benefit”?  Explosive GDP growth plus unprecedented exposure to
pollution and astronomical increases in related illnesses?  More crap
to buy but a total disregard for human life (i.e. the girl who was run
over in the street and ignored by 8 pedestrians)?

Ok, let me be more sympathetic to this guy.  Oh wait!  He thinks
Tiananmen square was the people’s fault!  They “went too far”.
Clearly, he belongs to the camp that believes “you have to crack a few
eggs to make an omelet”.  His idea of a few eggs is state-sanctioned
murder for the purpose of political repression.

Nevermind, this guy is a d-bag.


From → Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. Insightful post, John. I’d only add that because China’s current system is informed by a long authoritarian tradition, we have to blunt criticism of the Chinese government to some extent. The U.S. had the fortunate opportunity to create a republic after consideration and debate about how this NEW country ought to be governed. China hasn’t had the same luxury. And the West, as Li notes, was informed by ideals about inalienable rights of freedom, etc. Chinese philosophy was informed by Confucianism and divine rights. We should also consider that under the modern Chinese Communist system, China has done an amazing job lifting people out of poverty and thoroughly transforming their society such that the average Chinese citizen has a vastly improved MATERIAL life today than their parents did a short-time ago. The Communist government can react swiftly in ways that makes the West jealous, too. Rather ironic given the fact that the Chinese are said to think in terms of centuries, not years…

    All that said, I still largely agree that Democracy is the way to go. What Li, and most others fail to consider is the counterfactual: Could China have achieved all that it has under a more equitable representative system instead of what they have now? I would argue that it could have. Brazil and India have democracies and they have achieved levels of growth that approach China’s. They have large populations too, and have the added burden of greater heterogeneity. In fact, every country that is an economic powerhouse is in someway or another ruled under a democratic system. And given how different each of these countries is, it’s unclear why China couldn’t replicate what others have.

    Will things change? Probably. I think a burgeoning middle-class will demand a greater political voice once most of their material needs have been met. But that remains to be seen.


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