Chinese Expert Tells US Beijing One Party State Works Well, It Delivers – American Democracy, In Contrast, Is Leading The Country To Economic Ruin – Is China’s System Really Superior?

By Paolo von Schirach

January 1, 2013

WASHINGTON – Eric X. Li, a venture capitalist and political scientist based in Shanghai, in a long and detailed essay published in the journal Foreign Affairs, (The Life of the Party, January/February 2013), tells us that the Chinese Communist Party, CCP, is here to stay.

Superior system

He explains that the CCP will endure on account of the superiority of China’s one party system. The CCP, we are told, is a sophisticated meritocracy. Leaders emerge after years and years of long training. (People with little hands on experience, someone like Barack Obama before 2008, would not even dream to aspire to top positions). In China, only the very best make it to the top. And the party is flexible, adaptable and innovative. And, if you consider China’s amazing economic growth, it produced stellar results. So, please, no lectures about the need to reform Chinese institutions. Got that? A well oiled one party state delivers. No changes needed.

America in deep trouble

And the West, America in particular, is in no position to give lessons. “While China’s might grows –Li concludes– the West’s ill multiply: since winning the Cold War, the United States has, in one generation, allowed its middle class to disintegrate. Its infrastructure languishes in disrepair, and its politics, both electoral and legislative, have fallen captive to money and special interests. Its future generations will be so heavily indebted that a sustained decline in average living standards is all but certain”.

So, there you have it. China’s one party state works well because it is managed by honest, highly trained, capable leaders. America’s democracy is in the hands of incompetent and corrupt amateurs incapable of producing good leadership and good results. Thus America’s decline.

Autocracy delivers?

Sadly, at least on the surface, Li’s argument is flawless. China going up; US going down. But, of course, we know better. We know that historically autocratic governments are brittle, simply because they do not allow dissent hence the benefits of new ideas, while they cannot ensure legitimate, publicly endorsed power transfers. Furthermore, success in the global economy is predicated on free wheeling innovation, itself spawned by a decentralized, almost anarchical eco-system. A top-down, hierarchical China does not provide these foundation.

Dysfunctional America

Still, impossible to deny Li’s point about our dysfunctional American democracy. Quite clearly democratic institutions are just means to an end. And the end is to provide a legitimate institutional framework within which the people can properly and effectively conduct the business of the Commonwealth. In other words with freely contested elections, the guarantee of basic freedoms and properly crafted checks and balances we prevent tyranny and we shall guarantee that good policies will have a hearing in an orderly, rules based setting. The people, in their wisdom, will choose the best ideas that will advance the interests of the larger society.

It is obvious that, if these are the goals, objectively we are falling short. america is in a mess. The question is: are we falling short because of an inherently flawed system, or because, irrespective of our institutions, the ideas and the people representing them are of low quality?

Time for self-examination

I believe the latter. It is not about our Constitution. It is about mediocre ideas and sub par leadership. As much as China has been successful over a long period of time, I cannot believe that it is physiological to have a country of 1.3 billion governed by leaders selected in secret, no matter how able, selfless and patriotic they can be.

Still, the very fact that we are lectured on the superiority of a one party state system through an article published in Foreign Affairs, a bastion of the American intellectual establishment, tells us how far we have fallen behind. At the very least, this indictment should be ground for self-reflection.

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