There’s a long history of despotic powers predicting they’ll eclipse their democratic rivals, with no shortage of contemporary democratic observers enthusiastically agreeing. The latest is Andy Stern, former head of the SEIU, in a WSJ op-ed yesterday in which he praises “China’s superior economic model.”
Readers know my standard reply: You can never have too many robot space planes.
The author of Liberal Fascism happily responds today:
China had five-year plans before it started getting rich. Under the old five-year plans, China killed tens of millions of its own people and remained mired in poverty. What made China rich wasn’t planning, it was the decision to switch to markets (albeit corrupt ones). The planners were merely in charge of distributing the wealth that markets created.
Indeed, rapid economic growth always makes government planners look like geniuses when the reality is that the planners are more like self-proclaimed rainmakers who started dancing only after it started raining. When the rain stops, which it will, they’ll have much to answer for.
Obviously, the core problem with China envy is not economic but moral. To the extent that China’s economic planning “works,” it does so because China is an authoritarian country. (Japan has been planning its economy within democratic restraints and has been dying on the economic vine for nearly 20 years.) You can hit your building quota a lot more easily when you can shoot inconvenient people and trample property rights at will. The Three Gorges Dam displaced more than a million people who were given three choices: move, jail, death.
Stern joins a long list of liberals who’ve seen China embrace authoritarian capitalism and conclude that the secret to that success had to be the authoritarianism. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, my usual whipping boy in this department, has written thousands of words rhapsodizing about his “envy” of China. President Obama himself has said he’s envious of China’s president and has touted China’s infrastructure spending as something to emulate.
If you want to copy China because its authoritarian capitalism is better than our democratic capitalism, it seems pretty obvious that what you envy is the authoritarianism. H. G. Wells had a phrase for that.