Daniel A. Bell on the China model and political meritocracy

by on June 21, 2015 at 1:44 am in Books, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Stein Ringen reviews The China Model, here is Gideon Rachmann.  He writes:

Daniel Bell, a Canadian political philosopher who has taught at Tsinghua University in Beijing for many years, is deeply influenced by this Chinese tradition. In his new book, he has set himself the ambitious task of making the case that Chinese-style meritocracy is, in important respects, a better system of governance than western liberal democracy.

I’ve been seeing a lot of emotional reactions to this book, here are a few points:

1. The United States probably should have less democracy along some margins, if only fewer referenda in California and no state and local elections of judges, dog catchers, and the like.  If a writer cites “democracy” as obviously and always good for all choices, that writer isn’t thinking clearly.

2. More generally, the Western nations are relying on democracy less, as evidenced by the growing roles for central banks and also the European Union.  That may or may not be desirable, but it’s worth considering our own trends before putting the high hat on.

2. The key to long-term living standards is stability of growth, just look at Denmark.  There was never a heralded “Danish economic miracle,” but the country still has finished close to the top in terms of human welfare.  Whether ostensibly meritocratic non-democratic systems can deliver such outcomes remains very much up for grabs, and Bell’s book hasn’t convinced me any that they can.

3. Arguably a country’s best chance of achieving meritocracy is to have many smart individuals who are culturally central.  No system of government is going to overcome the lack of that.

4. Most humans in history seem to have favored meritocratic rule over democracy, and before the 19th century democracy was rare, even in the limited form of male-dominated or property owner-dominated republics.  It is possible that the current advantage of democracy is rooted in technology, or some other time-specific factor, which ultimately may prove temporary.  That said, I still observe plenty of democracies producing relatively well-run countries, so I don’t see significant evidence that a turning point against democracy has been reached.

5. To consider comparisons which hold a greater number of factors constant, I haven’t seen many (any?) serious people argue that Taiwan or South Korea would have done better to resist their processes of democratization.

Here you can buy The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy.

1 Steve Sailer June 21, 2015 at 1:49 am

A surprising fraction of organizational systems are democratic at some high enough elite level. For example, Popes are elected on the One Cardinal, One Vote principle.

2 prior_approval June 21, 2015 at 2:05 am

‘Most humans in history seem to have favored meritocratic rule over democracy’

Most humans in history had absolutely no say in what sort of rule they were subjected to. It was an essential element of being a ruler, especially of slave empires, such as Rome.

3 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 4:11 am

Of course most people have had a say in what sort of rule they were subjected to. Even slave Empires like Rome ultimately rested on the consent of the governed – in fact one of the causes of Rome’s fall is that the locals could not be bothered to defend it so that the barbarians wandered wherever they felt like it and no one objected. Even Russian serfs rioted.

4. Most humans in history seem to have favored meritocratic rule over democracy, and before the 19th century democracy was rare, even in the limited form of male-dominated or property owner-dominated republics.

The mistake here is to assume that there are two types of government – meritocracy and democracy. This is absurd. In fact we know that the only form of government that people will reliably fight and die for is feudalism. Every revolution has relied on the urban criminal classes looking for loot. However the mass of people have reliably fought for their aristocratic upper class. Aristocrats are usually neither democratic or meritocratic. But they do tend to live among the peasants and so the peasants know them.

That said, I still observe plenty of democracies producing relatively well-run countries, so I don’t see significant evidence that a turning point against democracy has been reached.

Democracy can no longer muster support in Western countries. You would find no Western intellectuals who reliably defend or support it any more. The most cited living academic is that well known friend of Pol Pot, Noam Chomsky. Nor do you see well-run countries because they are democratic. You see countries that remain democratic because they are run well. African countries often have democratic moments. But they do not last.

4 prior_approval June 21, 2015 at 5:38 am

‘Even slave Empires like Rome ultimately rested on the consent of the governed’

Tell that to Spartacus. And proper word is ‘ruled’ – no ruler cares about anyone else’s consent.

‘so that the barbarians wandered wherever they felt like it and no one objected’

Wait, when the barbarians took over, this was an example of people finally being able to enjoy meritocratic rule?

‘Even Russian serfs rioted’

Amazing how that didn’t happen in Russia’s more modern version of its serf/slave empire, isn’t it? And considering that Russia is currently ruled by a former KGB agent, one could argue that he doesn’t care much about the consent of the ruled either.

5 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 6:21 am

prior_approval June 21, 2015 at 5:38 am

Tell that to Spartacus.

I think Spartacus knew. After all, he lost. The conquered people did not rise up and support him or his cause. Whatever that was. He ended up nailed to a piece of wood in territory that was probably still Greek speaking.

Wait, when the barbarians took over, this was an example of people finally being able to enjoy meritocratic rule?

You are not usually so childish.

Amazing how that didn’t happen in Russia’s more modern version of its serf/slave empire, isn’t it?

Millions of Russians died resisting a regime that was alien to their history, their culture and their way of life. But the Communists had what past rulers did not – a way to actually administer, as well as slaughtered millions, alienate people’s children from them and so on. That was not true of the Tsars who did not have anything like that level of detailed control of people’s lives.

And considering that Russia is currently ruled by a former KGB agent, one could argue that he doesn’t care much about the consent of the ruled either.

Putin is very concerned about what Russians think. That is why he murders people who are too good at telling them the truth as well as the fact he sees a need to expel Western NGOs. He is a good KGB man.

6 Millian June 21, 2015 at 6:38 am

In your logic, if men with guns order you to pay taxes to fund welfare, that means you agree with them that people should pay taxes to fund welfare.

7 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 6:39 am

So you are claiming there is no middle ground between “no say in the government at all” and “agree with it completely”?

That is a fascinating claim. Do tell me more.

8 prior_approval June 21, 2015 at 7:41 am

‘Millions of Russians died resisting a regime that was alien to their history, their culture and their way of life.’

Sure – but what does the heroic resistance of the Russians to the Nazis have to do with anything? Because the number of riots in the Soviet Union simply wasn’t that large. And though the Soviets killed millions ‘resisting their regime,’ that number generally reflects the reality that Soviet authorities considered anyone they murdered to be ‘resisting the state.’

‘Putin is very concerned about what Russians think.’

No, he is pretty much exclusively concerned about remaining in power. Much like any Russian ruler over the past few centuries.

9 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 7:51 am

prior_approval June 21, 2015 at 7:41 am

Sure – but what does the heroic resistance of the Russians to the Nazis have to do with anything?

Nothing whatsoever.

Because the number of riots in the Soviet Union simply wasn’t that large.

Actually it was enormous. No government in the history of the human race has faced such massive violent opposition. And then equally massive passive opposition once it was clear open protest was suicide.

And though the Soviets killed millions ‘resisting their regime,’ that number generally reflects the reality that Soviet authorities considered anyone they murdered to be ‘resisting the state.’

Well that is not true. They had an exceptionally broad definition of resistance, but actually people did resist them. Which given what they were demanding and the early leadership’s utter contempt for Russia and Russians is not surprising.

No, he is pretty much exclusively concerned about remaining in power. Much like any Russian ruler over the past few centuries.

He is dating a former gymnast as well as dozens of other equally irrelevant things. He wants to stay in power and so he is concerned what Russians think and goes to a great deal of trouble to make sure they cannot hear the truth.

10 Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 8:02 am

“You would find no Western intellectuals who reliably defend or support it any more. The most cited living academic is that well known friend of Pol Pot, Noam Chomsky.”
It is a sweeping generalization. One of the most revered Republican presidents (the one who did all he could to help Pol Pot and his friends fight back their way to power and did his best to punish the ones who commited the crime of overthrowing the Khmer Rouge–Chomsky was a Pol Pot apologist before Pol Pot became cool) believed criticizing dictatorships was “blaming America first” and he promisssed to abandon his predecessor’s foolish human rights policy (human rights for non-Americans, what an extravagant idea!), and yet, decades later, a Republican president tried to make democracies out of Iraq and Afghanistan (with mixed results, but there are elections there now). Also, Chomsky and Reagan’s lamentable fascination for mass murderes notwithstanding, it is not clear what Cambodia had to do with democracy, there was none there (unlike Reagan’s good friends Pinochet, Brazilian generals, the Argentinian juntas, the Saudi House, etc. Pol Pot overthrew a dictatorship and was succeeded by another one–which, I guess, makes Cambodia a laudable example of stability in this world of corrupted democracies).

11 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 8:19 am

Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 8:02 am

One of the most revered Republican presidents (the one who did all he could to help Pol Pot and his friends fight back their way to power and did his best to punish the ones who commited the crime of overthrowing the Khmer Rouge

You know, as trolls go, this is not bad. Not your best work by any means but you have potential. Well done. Naturally Reagan did nothing to help the Khmer Rouge at all. The West sided with the King. But he did do his best to get the Vietnamese out of Cambodia and so guarantee their continued national existence as well as international law.

believed criticizing dictatorships was “blaming America first” and he promisssed to abandon his predecessor’s foolish human rights policy (human rights for non-Americans, what an extravagant idea!),

Yes because the human rights situation in Iran and Afghanistan and Angola improved so much thanks to Carter’s policies.

a Republican president tried to make democracies out of Iraq and Afghanistan (with mixed results, but there are elections there now).

It has been amazing how the Left has backflipped from supporting universal human rights to endorsing the old colonial trope that The Natives are not ready for democracy yet.

(unlike Reagan’s good friends Pinochet, Brazilian generals, the Argentinian juntas, the Saudi House, etc. Pol Pot overthrew a dictatorship and was succeeded by another one–which, I guess, makes Cambodia a laudable example of stability in this world of corrupted democracies).

The Saudis over threw a democracy? How frightfully interesting.

Pinochet came to power in 1973. I am impressed you can blame Reagan for that. The Argentinian junta is more sensible – they came to power in 1976. Four years before Reagan was elected. But then the Brazilian generals took power in 1964. But then that is sane compared to blaming Reagan for the Saudis unifying the country, sort of, in 1926. I mean, at the age of 15 I suppose Reagan could have been involved ….

12 Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 9:03 am

“Naturally Reagan did nothing to help the Khmer Rouge at all.”
Yes, he did, and it was common knowledge back then.
http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/10/world/reagan-is-urged-to-end-un-support-of-pol-pot.html
“Pinochet came to power in 1973. I am impressed you can blame Reagan for that…”
Russian Communists came to power in Russia in 1917, Castro came in power in 1959, it did not prevent Reagan from opposing them, did it?
Hey, Kim Philby was a child when Lenin rose to power, he clearly could not be blamed for spying for Stalin and Khruschev!
For what it is worthy, I can assure you Carter, who was elected 12 years after the Brazilian generals came to power, was not missed by them and the torturers they employed.
“It has been amazing how the Left has backflipped from supporting universal human rights to endorsing the old colonial trope that The Natives are not ready for democracy yet”.
I just pointed out that Reagan was against democracy in exotic countries, but his successors had to pay lip service to the idea (which, by the way, falsifies all the ridiculous “you would find no Western intellectuals who reliably defend or support it any more” thing). Maybe, America was not ready to create democracy ex nihilo yet or so thought the natives. After all, the “natives” are-and have been for more than a decade- restless . And yes both Taliban’s ressurgence, a military quagmire, the seeds of the Islamic State, two crooked regimes, sectarian strife and separatism qualify as “mixed results” to say the least. By the way, were Iraq and Afghanistan ready for democracy when Saddam and the Mujahideen were your pals? It could have saved a great deal of time.
“The Saudis over threw a democracy?”
No, they were not succeeded by a dictatorship yet (I said, “Pol Pot overthrew a dictatorship and was succeeded by another one”). I guess it makes them another laudable example of stability and aristocratic constancy in a changing plebeian world.

13 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 9:03 am

Yes, he did, and it was common knowledge back then.

No he didn’t. The West never sided with the Khmer Rouge – and it is contemptible for the people who brought Pol Pot to power to condemn the people who fought to keep him out of office. The West sided with the King. The West have been the only people pushing for trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the genocide that everyone told the Students for a Democratic Society would follow when they got their way.

Russian Communists came to power in Russia in 1917, Castro came in power in 1959, it did not prevent Reagan from opposing them, did it?

Again, as trolling goes this is poor. Because you have now back flipped once more and are claiming Reagan opposed Pinochet.

For what it is worthy, I can assure you Carter, who was elected 12 years after the Brazilian generals came to power, was not missed by them and the torturers they employed.

Because it was Reagan who told the military in Latin America that the days of coups were over and so imposed democracy on the continent.

I just pointed out that Reagan was against democracy in exotic countries, but his successors had to pay lip service to the idea (which, by the way, falsifies all the ridiculous “you would find no Western intellectuals who reliably defend or support it any more” thing).

No Reagan was not. There was a massive expansion of democracy under Reagan’s watch and as a direct result of his policies. Since 1980 the tide of totalitarianism was stopped and democracy was forced on pretty much the entire world. Look at Africa.

As far as I know the number of Western intellectuals who supported George W. Bush’s push for democracy in the Middle East was zero. Roughly. Give or take. They all endorsed the torturers and murderers.

And yes both Taliban’s ressurgence, a military quagmire, the seeds of the Islamic State, two crooked regimes, sectarian strife and separatism qualify as “mixed results” to say the least.

Assuming there is any link to the two invasions. All of these trends were older than either Bushes.

By the way, were Iraq and Afghanistan ready for democracy when Saddam and the Mujahideen were your pals?

Saddam was never a pal of the West. Although the Brazilians liked him.

14 Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 9:45 pm

“Again, as trolling goes this is poor. Because you have now back flipped once more and are claiming Reagan opposed Pinochet.”
Not Pinochet, he opposed Castro and the Russian Communists, who had risen to power much before he became president. (Can you even read?!) So your excuse, “he could do nothing because the generals came to power before he did” is ridiculous.
“The West sided with the King.”
The King had been overthrown by pro-American putschists because, wait for that, he was a neutralist. But, after he allied with Pol Pot, he became so much better! Again, Reagan favored Pol Pot’s regime in the UN and did his best to punish those who overthrew it.
“As far as I know the number of Western intellectuals who supported George W. Bush’s push for democracy in the Middle East was zero.”
Don’t be so harsh with the neocons and other lapdogs. If Bush could be president, they surely can be called intellectuals. And even those who opposed Bush doubted the wisdom of invading, they were not looking for a Franco or Chavéz to replace the late Saddam. The point is, an American president, when envolved in military adventures, must do so in name of democracy, even if he likes too much his Saudi friends.
“They all endorsed the torturers and murderers.”
I guess you don’t mean the torturers and murderes who have risen because the country was destabilized by the invader’s hubris”.
“Saddam was never a pal of the West.”
“President Ronald Reagan initiated a strategic opening to Iraq, signing National Security Study Directive (NSSD) 4-82 and selecting Donald Rumsfeld as his emissary to Hussein, whom he visited in December 1983 and March 1984. According to U.S. ambassador Peter W. Galbraith, far from winning the conflict, “the Reagan administration was afraid Iraq might actually lose.”-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_support_for_Iraq_during_the_Iran–Iraq_war#Support
Such a nice man this Saddam guy.
“Assuming there is any link to the two invasions. All of these trends were older than either Bushes.”
There is a clear relationship between Reagan’s policies and the fall of certain regimes, but not others -even years after he left the power- but no relationship between the invasion of Iraq and the rise of separatist and radical groups which had never ever been able of leaving their mark before. Seriously? Again, “mixed results” is a fair assesment-the countries, despite the chaos, now at least have have elections even if sometimes the bullet is mighties than the ballot. It is something.
“Since 1980 the tide of totalitarianism was stopped and democracy was forced on pretty much the entire world.”
Speaking of totalitarians, Franco and Salazar and the Greek colonels left the power in the 70s. Maybe we are not paying the due respects to the Nixon-Ford administration (or maybe spent regimes and men simply fall even without orders from White House’s sage). Many African socialist countries sought Western help because they were broke, it is hard to see what Reagan has to do with it (give Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and Marx what is Marx’s-Socialism failed). Sufficiently stubborn and/or and repressiveskilled dictators managed to survive (Castro, the Chinese, the Kims, the Vietnamese Cambodian puppet, the Laotian, Mugabe, etc., maybe Reagan was a selective destroyer of dictators) . South Africa’s first free elections came in 1994, when Clinton was president, but hey it was 14 After Reagan…

15 So Much for Subtlety June 22, 2015 at 2:31 am

Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Not Pinochet, he opposed Castro and the Russian Communists, who had risen to power much before he became president.

And so we can all agree he was not responsible for any of them. Despite your efforts to distract attention by claiming he was for some of them.

So your excuse, “he could do nothing because the generals came to power before he did” is ridiculous.

It isn’t my excuse because I did not say it. You are lying by inventing a quote I did not say. I have said he was not responsible for Pinochet taking power. Which he wasn’t. Despite your best efforts to change the subject to something more to your liking.

The King had been overthrown by pro-American putschists because, wait for that, he was a neutralist. But, after he allied with Pol Pot, he became so much better!

He was allied with Pol Pot all through the last years of the war and hence on the side of the people fighting the Americans. He did not become better. He was the head of government during the first years of the Khmer Rouge’s regime.

Again, Reagan favored Pol Pot’s regime in the UN and did his best to punish those who overthrew it.

No he did not. Reagan continued the American policy of refusing to recognize Vietnamese illegal invasion of Cambodia and installation of a puppet regime. They continued to recognize the King and what was left of Lon Nol’s party. It is unfortunate that the King chose to be in alliance with the Khmer Rouge but there you go. Reagan did not recognize or support the Khmer Rouge. Indeed the KR soon left the coalition and formed the Provisional Government of National Union and National Salvation of Cambodia (PGNUNSC). Which America refused to recognize.

The point is, an American president, when envolved in military adventures, must do so in name of democracy

Because America, and only America, has any commitment to democracy. Which means they and only they try to spread it wherever they go.

Such a nice man this Saddam guy.

And yet not a friend of the West. The most America did was move Iraq slowly back towards a normal country. Like North Korea. Not a friend but someone who you have normal relations with.

but no relationship between the invasion of Iraq and the rise of separatist and radical groups which had never ever been able of leaving their mark before.

I am willing to agree that preventing the Ba’athist secret police torturing them to death on a regular basis helped them come out into the open. But the West did not cause Iraqis to take to each other’s knee caps with power drills. They did that themselves.

Speaking of totalitarians, Franco and Salazar and the Greek colonels left the power in the 70s.

Not totalitarian.

Many African socialist countries sought Western help because they were broke,

And the West insisted on free and fair elections as the price of that aid.

16 Thiago Ribeiro June 22, 2015 at 11:12 am

Sorry for the delay, a friend is feeling ill, he needs some care.

17 Thiago Ribeiro June 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Neville Chamberlain wasn’t responsible for Hitler’s rise, so what? Again, you are changing the subject.The point is simple, even if before we were told the “savages” don’t need no stinkin’ democracy, they just needed the right kind of strongman (as the great relations Reagan had with the Latin American generals contrasting with his–justified–oppositon to communist rulers), now American presidents, even Republicans “tough” on terror, Communism, Chinese superpluses or whatever may be the last boogeyman Republican talk radio scares its listeners wiith must be seen as favoring democracy. Even Rumsfeld, “our man in Baghdad”, needed to pretend he wanted democracy to succeed in Iraq. Even the intellectual successors of those who said they would support a coup in Chile because the Chilean were uncapable of ruling the country now pretend they think the natives must be allowed to live with no help of the boys from Langley. It is the intellectual zeitgeist.
“Not totalitarian.”
Yes, they were. And evidently, if you are going by a strict definition of “totalitarian”, there was no “totalitarian tide” since the Soviet Union consolidated its rule in Eastern Europe (“tide” impies movement) decades before Reagan’s Administration, and the Latin American and African regimes Reagan supposedly overthrew weren’t totalitarians. The real totalitarians like the Kims remained or were overthrew much before like Pol Pot. If you want to give Reagan credit for Angola now having a “democracy” where the ruling party (the party Reagan failed to overthrow) always wins, why not give Carter credit for Deng’s reforms or Eisenhower for the end of the personality cult in the Soviet Union?
“Which means they and only they try to spread it wherever they go”
It ia a shame America’s Latin American friends never were told that, specially the torturers trained by American forces.
“Not a friend but someone who you have normal relations with.”
It is a shame Iraq was not ready dor democracy back then. If only Saddam Hussein were president back then, American righteous indignation would have overthrown the despicable dictator. By the way, are you helping North Korea in its vendetta against the South? I do not think so.
“He was allied with Pol Pot all through the last years of the war and hence on the side of the people fighting the Americans.”
After he was ousted by pro-America putschists. He was following an independent policy, which the good boys in Langley found terriblet, so (as opposed to Salazar, Franco, the juntas,Saddam and the rest, he had to go. Stat), no decades of friendship and tolerance for him, no motherly attempts of make him walk the good walk again (contrast with all warm feelings for Saddam in the good old times).
“But the West did not cause Iraqis to take to each other’s knee caps with power drills. They did that themselves.”
I see, it is murdered guy’s fault (they are Iraqi, they certainly brought it on themselves, must be Karma)… that all the invasion thing was not well- thought out to begin with. I wish America no harm and I really hope in my heart of hearts that America defense policy be much better than that. “We have no fault, the Chinese took over New Yoek on their own” would not be a hit with voters. But Americans lives are different, right? A disaster in Iraq was justified, an disaster in America would be… a disaster… Allowing Iraq to burn was a (welcome) side effect of the grand military strategy. No one “important” died.
And again, Pol Pot’s regime, which had as UN ambassador an old Khmer Rouge hand, kept its UN recognition– in spite of all crimes it commited– almost solely thanks British-American support.

18 Art Deco June 21, 2015 at 8:51 am

(unlike Reagan’s good friends Pinochet, Brazilian generals, the Argentinian juntas, the Saudi House,

The House of Saud has ruled Nejd since the early 19th century and has ruled the Hijaz since 1924. There’s no telling what public life in the Arabian peninsula would be without them and, bar the period running from about 1973 to 1981, they’ve never been more than a nuisance problem to anyone outside their borders. Not sure what Mr. Reagan (b. 1911) has to do with their presence there.

The military governments in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil were in office 5, 7 and 16 years prior to Mr. Reagan’s inauguration. The Brazilian military were engaged in staged withdrawal from political life at the time Mr. Reagan took office, the last leg of which was ongoing from 1982 to 1985. The Chilean military had also instituted a legal framework for a return to civilian rule (though no one in 1981 expected it would be adhered to; it was). Nearly all of the wrongdoing attributed to both the Chilean and Argentine military governments was done prior to 1980. The Argentine military departed office at the end of 1983, the Brazilian military in March 1985, and the Chilean military in March of 1990. One might also note that the last military government established de novo in Latin America (leaving aside the non-Latin Caribbean) was the crew who seized power in Bolivia in July of 1980. There just might be some significance to that date.

19 Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 10:00 am

“they’ve never been more than a nuisance problem to anyone outside their borders”
I know you can’t understand this, but I was thinking of the people inside their borders, i.e. under their regime.
“The Argentine military departed office at the end of 1983”
After being trounced by its former English friends (Pinochet sided with the English against the hated Argentinian rivals–see Beagle conflict– and became a favorite of Thatcher’s). It was the Argentinian equivalent of the old “Don’t invade Russia” lesson. With a heavy heart, Reagan had to let them go.
“One might also note that the last military government established de novo in Latin America (leaving aside the non-Latin Caribbean) was the crew who seized power in Bolivia in July of 1980. There just might be some significance to that date.”
I am not sure which significance it may be (in first place, I don’t see what separating Latin Caribbean, more subjected to American influence, from the rest accomplishes, except good and old cherry-picking). The military rule model simply seems to have run out of gas (in Brazil, due to the economic crisis, it became so unpopular that not even a Congress elected under specially drafted restrictive laws and with a ruling party solid majority was able to elect the regime’s favorite civilian candidate). More recent authoritarians like Fujimori and Chavéz, even when they have military background and support, dispensed with the old collective leadership and make no pretence of ruling in namy of the army; they behave as civilian strongmen and seek as much with the poorer classes as they can while can while purpoting to solve their most important problems (security in Peru, lack of social services and welfare in Venezuela). In short, they are tje classic Latin American populists. And some Latin American countries have even experimented with democracy.
“Nearly all of the wrongdoing attributed to both the Chilean and Argentine military governments was done prior to 1980. ”
Most of the Soviet wrondoings were done before Mr. Reagan was elected, but it did not prevent him from opposing Soviet rule, did it? Why, even Stalin’s final years were, the Doctor’s Plot notwithstanding, less hectic than the Holodomor and the Yezhovshchina. So what?

20 Art Deco June 21, 2015 at 10:35 am

Xanax is your friend.

21 Thiago Ribeiro June 21, 2015 at 10:56 am

No, it is just for mentally unbalanced people.

22 Brett Dunbar June 21, 2015 at 5:04 pm

The Al-Saud seized control of Riyadh from the Al-Rashid of Ha’il in 1902 establishing the third Saudi state. The first Saudi state had been founded in 1744, it expanded to cover much of the territory of modern Saudi Arabia along with Qatar the UAE and part of modern Oman it was destroyed by the Egyptians in 1818. The smaller second Saudi state was established in 1824, it was conquered by the Al-Rashid in 1891.

23 Andrew M June 21, 2015 at 2:28 am

The Swiss have a referendum system similar to California’s, and they generally have positive outcomes. So referenda aren’t to blame.

More importantly, you’ve completely overlooked the importance of localism. You mention Denmark: they have a very localised system of government, with a lot of powers held at town level. Germany and Switzerland both have federal systems with a fairly weak centre. Contrast with e.g. France where the entire history of the country is one of centralisation and maximum control from Paris.

What is the picture in China? Heavy centralisation of powers or a weak centre and powerful regions? How much does this explain the country’s outcomes so far?

24 Millian June 21, 2015 at 6:39 am

California generally has positive outcomes too! Are we really all ignoring net immigration as an indicator of quality of recent outcomes?

25 chuck martel June 21, 2015 at 9:14 am

“they generally have positive outcomes.”

By definition, a referendum is a positive outcome in that it expresses the will of the majority, which is, after all, what democracy is all about. The consequences of a referendum, for good or ill and for whom, are another issue since not even a majority can predict the future.

26 Al June 22, 2015 at 12:00 am

Since California, at the state level, became (almost totally) a one-party state, the system of ballot propositions has become much more important than it was twenty five or thirty years ago. The ballot proposition system needs to protected, not dismantled. It’s a useful division of power away from California’s one-party political machine.

27 Steve Sailer June 21, 2015 at 2:33 am

Indonesia has decentralized a lot since the dictatorship fell in 1998. Decentralization lowers the stakes, which tends to be good.

28 Ryan June 21, 2015 at 2:52 am

Chinese-style meritocracy? When was that? Most of what I read about career progression in modern China discusses the prevalence of bribery.

29 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 3:50 am

I couldn’t agree more. It is hard to see how the word “meritocratic” could be applied to the process where Xi Jinping, the son of a revolutionary leader, became President. He had a mediocre career before suddenly leaping to the top levels of government.

What Bell means is that he thinks the Chinese system picks people like him to run the country. This is the traditionally Chinese theory – recruitment by exam which privileges professors and students who can take exams well. Whether that means they are talented is another matter.

But that is not the system China has. What they have is corruption hiding behind examination.

30 Harun June 21, 2015 at 1:11 pm

And princelings. How is that meritocratic?

Oh, and let’s not forget about the all important “guanxi” or connections. That is completely non-meritocratic.

These Chinese model appears to work because it was an impoverished country that needed tons of reforms, then had Communism set it back even further for decades, and then finally the boot was removed from the neck of China economically, and suddenly its a “miracle” as the patient recovers.

31 T. Greer June 21, 2015 at 3:10 am

From the Ringen review:

” The third model is ‘vertical’: democracy at the local level and meritocracy at the central.”

This is essentially how America worked for the first century of its republic. Senators were not chosen directly by the people, the electoral college had substantive independence, etc.

32 KLO June 21, 2015 at 4:01 am

The problem with having state legislatures select senators is that the campaigns for state legislature become proxy campaigns for senate. Direct election of senators did little to change who got elected to senate, but it did change the election of state legislatures significantly.

It is also false that electors had significant freedom to vote their conscience. No presidential election has ever been decided by faithless electors, and the most hotly contested election in the country’s history, the election of 1860, only had four faithless electors.

33 dearieme June 21, 2015 at 5:02 am

“faithless electors”: is that an Americanism I’m unfamiliar with? Do you mean atheists? Or are you saying few electors were untrue to their wives?

34 prior_approval June 21, 2015 at 5:41 am

Electoral College – ‘The United States Electoral College is the institution that elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years. The President and Vice President are not elected directly by the voters. Instead, they are elected by “electors” who are chosen by popular vote on a state-by-state basis.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)

35 dearieme June 21, 2015 at 7:29 am

Thanks, but what does he mean by “faithless”? Does he mean they broke a promise?

36 prior_approval June 21, 2015 at 7:45 am

Well, OK, a bit more detail – ‘In United States presidential elections, a faithless elector is a member of the United States Electoral College who does not vote for the presidential or vice presidential candidate for whom he or she had pledged to vote. They may vote for another candidate or not vote at all. Faithless electors are pledged electors and thus different from unpledged electors.

Electors are typically chosen and nominated by a political party or the party’s presidential nominee. Electors usually are party members with a reputation for high loyalty to the party and its candidate. A faithless elector runs the risk of party censure and political retaliation from their party as well as, in some states, potential criminal penalties.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faithless_elector

37 chuck martel June 21, 2015 at 9:17 am

That’s a somewhat convoluted version of what most people understand democracy to be.

38 d June 21, 2015 at 10:22 am

Many thanks, p_a.

39 Dan Weber June 22, 2015 at 10:27 am

dunno if joking but:

In America each state, and DC, votes for a number of electors to the Electoral College, with bigger states having more electors. These electors then vote for the President. So when a voter in Minnesota votes for “Bush” he is actually voting for “the elector designated by the Bush campaign / Republican party.”

A faithless elector is one who, having been selected by the campaign / party for his loyalty to the given candidate, switches his vote.

It’s pretty rare. Many states legislatively require that, in the first round of voting [1], the elector must vote for the person who brought him to the dance.

[1] IIRC the only time that there has been more than one round of voting was 1824. The Presidency goes to whomever gets a majority of the electors, and in 1824 there were 4 candidates who won different states, so no one had a majority on the first round.

40 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 4:15 am

America was not remotely meritocratic in its first century. It was oligarchic. The oligarchy in the States appointed their own to the Senate. They did not have to prove their talent. They may or may not have had any. What they needed was friends among the land owning classes and nothing else.

Government appointments at all levels was handed out as spoils of the political process. It is not until the Progressive movement introduced examination and the like in the late 19th century that America took even baby steps towards being meritocratic. Even today the American elite does not much like the idea which is why college admissions do not like SAT scores alone. They are not looking for “merit”. They are looking for “character”, that is, good breeding or some other measure of being a member of the oligarchy.

41 T. Greer June 21, 2015 at 6:18 am

This is what every system described as ‘meritocracy’ in theory looks like in the harsher world of reality. The American system was designed as a meritocracy at the central level, just as Chinese dynasts have for centuries attempted to construct meritocracies for their center.

As Andrew Gelman said a few years back:

In a meritocracy, the whole point of having “merit” is that you can run things (“ocracy”), and the point of running things is that you can get good jobs for your family and friends.

42 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 6:44 am

It depends on what you mean by a “meritocracy”. If you mean that the people we select to rule should have some sort of demonstrable competence, usually involving an exam, then no. The American system was not designed to select the technically competent. It was an oligarchy.

It is true that the people who run meritocracies attempt to reduce the element of chance, and hard work, and intelligence, involved in the selection. As China clearly has and France has long tried to. But the type of people who do well when they are selected by exam are very different from the type of people who are selected any other way and their societies are very different. France does what it does because people with border line autism end up running the country. That is not true of America to the same extent. Think of Steve Jobs running the education system without an obstructive Supreme Court. He would probably would have had half the country sterilized.

43 Art Deco June 21, 2015 at 8:35 am

Government appointments at all levels was handed out as spoils of the political process –

I seem to recall that (ca. 1880) about 20% of federal offices changed hands when one party departed in favor of another, and a time when a comfortable majority of civilian federal employees worked for the post office. I do not have a reference, though. The heyday of the federal spoils system ran from 1828 to 1884. It has been gone a great deal longer than it was in place.

44 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm

It depends on what you mean by a spoils system. The system has been restricted but it has never really gone away. So Eisenhower got into West Point because his father campaigned for his local Senator who gave him a place as a political gift. As did Jimmy Carter for the Navy actually.

That is not meritocracy.

45 T. Greer June 21, 2015 at 3:12 am

Also this:

“Gifted as you are and coming from an illustrious family,” said Ma Zhunshang, “you should have passed the examinations long ago. How is it that you are still in retirement?” “Since my father died early I was brought up by my grandfather and occupied with family business: I had no time to study for the civil service.”

“That was a mistake. Right from ancient times all the best men have gone in for the civil service. Confucius, for instance, lived during the Spring and Autumn Period when men were selected as officials on the strength of their activities and sayings. That is why Confucius said: ‘Make few false statements and do little you may regret, then all will be well.’ That was the civil service of Confucius’ time.

“By the time of the Warring States, the art of rhetoric had become the road to officialdom: that is why Mencius traveled through Qi and Liang delivering orations to the princes. That was the civil service of Mencius’ time.

“By the Han Dynasty, the examination system was designed to select men for their ability, goodness and justice; and thus men like Gongsun Hong and Dong Zhongshu were appointed to office. That was the civil service of the Han Dynasty.

“By the Tang Dynasty, scholars were chosen for their ability to write poetry. Even if a man could talk like Confucius or Mencius, that would not get him a post; so all the Tang scholars learned to write poems. That was the civil service of the Tang Dynasty.

“By the Song Dynasty, it was even better: all the officials had to be philosophers. That was why the Cheng brothers and Zhu Xi propagated neo-Confucianism. That was the civil service of the Song Dynasty.

“Nowadays, however, we use essays to select scholars, and this is the best criterion of all. Even Confucius, if he were alive today, would be studying essays and preparing for the examinations instead of saying, ‘Make few false statements and do little you may regret.’ Why? Because that kind of talk would get him nowhere: nobody would give him an official position. No, the old sage would find it impossible to realize his ideal.”

–Wu Jingzi, The Scholars (儒林外史), chapter XIII, translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 2005),173-4.

Taken from here.

46 Steve Sailer June 21, 2015 at 5:03 am

It’s Tiger Mothers all the way down!

47 Harun June 21, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Of course, candidates from rich families often could bribe their way into passing the exams, too.

Very “meritocratic.”

48 Eric Rasmusen June 21, 2015 at 4:18 pm

Could they? Sources? I had never heard that before. The usual story is that you had to be wealthy to afford to study for the exams.

49 The Devil's Dictionary June 22, 2015 at 2:42 am

If the Chinese examination system was so great and the best men became civil servants, why was China hopelessly backward by the end of the 19th century?

50 B Cole June 21, 2015 at 3:27 am

Maybe so. But is that all there is—economic growth?

Would you rather earn $100k in a police state or $80k and read what you want and call the President a “total moron”?

Happily, I think prosperity and democracy are bedmates, at least enough.

China may be too large for democratic governance. That is worth pondering.

51 Jim Jones June 21, 2015 at 5:15 am

Denmark is successful because it is the home of the Anglo-Saxon people. Living standards decline the further away you get.

52 Kris June 21, 2015 at 5:38 am

At this point in history, yes, Denmark (or the land of Anglo-Saxons, as you put it, though you really mean Germanic) can be considered to be the epicenter of good governance. But has that always been the case?

53 Millian June 21, 2015 at 6:44 am

It depends on how much you value butter and bacon. At the margin. Across the weighted average of human history.

54 dearieme June 21, 2015 at 7:30 am

Once you have paid them the Danegeld ….

55 carlolspln June 21, 2015 at 5:48 am

“The key to long-term living standards is stability of growth, just look at Denmark”

From my experience & travel, culture & history play a greater role in ‘liveability’/living standards than anything else.

As far as ‘stability of growth’, the Danes have had some dreadful recessions, along with a full blown banking crisis [as in systemic] in the early ’90’s. Den Danske was on the ropes:

https://www.google.com.au/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=danish+banking+crisis+1990's&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gfe_rd=cr&ei=doeGVZvTIMfu8wfF_6PICA&gws_rd=ssl

56 Deek June 21, 2015 at 10:47 am

From my experience & travel, culture & history has very little role to play in living standards. Georgia and Uzbekistan have incredible culture and history but one is a political shambles with low standards of living and the other is a corrupt authoritarian police state with low standards of living.

57 Ricardo June 21, 2015 at 11:36 am

I think what carlolspin means by “culture and history” is not that a country has the sort of culture and history that makes outsiders say, “wow, this place as a rich culture and history” when they visit. Rather, what many people mean when they talk about the role of culture and history in determing living standards are things like: do people recognize the state as a legitimate authority (which goes to history — is the state and its territory some obvious and perverse accident of history or is it deeply embedded in the history of the people who live there)? How likely is the average citizen to stop and offer assistance if he or she sees a complete stranger in need of help? Does the average person trust the police? Etc.

Usually, the answers you get for these questions will be very different as you travel from Denmark to, say, Iraq.

58 Adrian Ratnapala June 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Georgia and Uzbekistan have great culture and history in the sense that they were parts of illustrious empries and great events took place in them and famouse people came from from them. Probably great art too.

However those histories do not, until very recently, include the growth and cementing of institutions such as democracy and the rule of law. The point is not “how much” culture you have, the point is what is contained therin.

59 carlolspln June 21, 2015 at 6:23 pm
60 Millian June 21, 2015 at 6:35 am

2. Who appoints the heads of Western central banks? The European Commission? It is wrong to elide the differences between appointments to such offices by democratic politicians versus the Chinese Communist Party. If you want to get very picky, parliamentary government isn’t democracy either because the MPs (not the people) select the government just like they select the central bank boss. So I think this is a flawed argument.

Other 2. Perhaps Cowen’s next Law ought to be that Growth is different away from the production possibilities frontier.

3. Most countries don’t need to increase this at the margin. The USA has tons of really smart people who work for different members of the governing class, but they happen to have different interests.

4. Trivially, our perspective on almost all of history is biased to favour those humans who were favourable to scribes, clerks, scholars, theologians and lawyers. Also trivially, “well-run countries” is a loose definition. Democracy is an Acemoglu-like guarantee of mitigated future inequality, and most people still seek models in the USA or Germany rather than Singapore. Maybe developing-world elites and dominant political parties do the converse, though!

61 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 6:52 am

Millian June 21, 2015 at 6:35 am

2. Who appoints the heads of Western central banks? The European Commission? It is wrong to elide the differences between appointments to such offices by democratic politicians versus the Chinese Communist Party.

I have remarkably little tolerance for false equivalences, especially when they are justifying repression. But I will bite. Why is it wrong to elide the differences? I know who appointed Janet Yellen. She was nominated. She had confirmation hearings. Congress voted. All governed by law and by the Constitution. Who appointed Xi or Hu Jintao? According to Chinese law, well, who gives a damn because the law is irrelevant. They were both picked before the Constitution got a look in. Who picked them? In Xi’s case, he was picked before the Politburo made its decision. So behind the secret cabal of party leaders who make all the real decisions, there is in fact another secret cabal of other party leaders who are actually making all the real decisions. Who are they? Name three of them. Tell me where they met to make this decision? When?

The two are not even remotely comparable.

62 Millian June 21, 2015 at 7:21 am

I agree, I think, but I used a double negative which might have been confusing. Yellen/Juncker and Xi are very different appointments, and one aspect is that the leaders who chose the former set of high-powered functionaries are themselves accountable to the people.

63 FC June 21, 2015 at 6:43 am

This just in: Employee of Chinese government praises methods of Chinese government. Stay tuned as this story develops.

64 rayward June 21, 2015 at 6:47 am

2. [The first 2. not the second 2.] Many Americans have lost faith in democracy; indeed, one major political party is dedicated to limiting voting rights of people who they view as insufficiently informed to vote responsibly. Increasing reliance on undemocratic institutions, such as the Fed, is less about the undemocratic institutions being better at what they do than about the democratic institutions, such as Congress, being in the grip of a political party that rejects government; indeed, a political party that not only rejects the legitimacy of the other major political party but rejects science, rejects modernity, and rejects compromise, compromise being the sina qua non of democracy. As China becomes more democratic, the U.S. is becoming less so; indeed, the U.S. is likely at greater risk of accepting a “benevolent dictator” than is China.

65 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 6:54 am

rayward June 21, 2015 at 6:47 am

a political party that not only rejects the legitimacy of the other major political party but rejects science, rejects modernity, and rejects compromise, compromise being the sina qua non of democracy.

Oh come on. The Democrats are bad but they are not that bad.

Except when it comes to compromise. The past decade or so have shown them utterly unable and unwilling to compromise.

66 Art Deco June 21, 2015 at 8:30 am

one major political party is dedicated to limiting voting rights of people who they view as insufficiently informed to vote responsibly.

This is a fantasy. It is true that one of the major parties is an enemy of ballot security.

ncreasing reliance on undemocratic institutions, such as the Fed,

The threat from the federal appellate judiciary, which, unlike Dr. Bernanke, sticks their fingers in matters that elected officials are perfectly capable of handling on their own, is much greater. Not that the party which is a threat to ballot security cares.

a political party that not only rejects the legitimacy of the other major political party

The projection is remarkable.

but rejects science, rejects modernity,

This is another fantasy.

The legitimacy of the Democratic Party is damaged by the capacity of its partisans for lies, self-deception, and criminal behvior.

67 Careless June 21, 2015 at 6:21 pm

one major political party is dedicated to limiting voting rights of people who they view as insufficiently informed to vote responsibly.

Really? I haven’t heard of it, but I wish you were right.

68 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 7:06 am

Academic reviews are a treasure in and off themselves. Especially the ones that the publisher sees fit to publish. What Amazon does, I am not sure, but they have some nice ones on my version of the page for this books. First of all, they have the usual puff pieces from Singapore – guaranteed to be fans of anything that is meritocratic and not democratic. And then:

“Whether China has found a genuinely new approach to governance, and how well that model works, are crucial questions. Daniel Bell’s assessment will be surprisingly positive for many readers, and is more upbeat than my own–but it is carefully argued and must be considered by any serious student of today’s China.”–James Fallows, author of China Airborne

“Carefully argued” is not well argued. Nor is it “convincing”. “Considered” is not “seriously considered”. “Surprising” is never a good word when academics use it.

“In Western countries it would normally be anathema even to question the one-person-one-vote rule. But Daniel Bell does just that. In a Confucian spirit, he argues vigorously for meritocratic governance, and believes that popular democracies cannot solve our most vexing problems. There is much to learn from this deeply provocative book.”–Mathias Risse, Harvard University

“Deeply provocative” is, I would guess, academic-speak for “idiotic”. Much to learn? Not the same as “convincing” is it? Arguing vigorously is not arguing well. In fact I would guess academics do not like vigor in their arguments. Believing is not proving.

“This is a highly provocative book from a Western scholar who, in his own words, derives his intellectual inspiration from Confucianism. I am, without apology, from a radically different political tradition. But there is real merit in understanding how the modern Chinese Communist Party theorizes about its own tradition of ‘political meritocracy’ within what it describes as the ‘China model.'”–Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia

Rudd must be one of the most unpleasant people on the planet, but he does not even talk about the book’s subject but about what the CCP thinks it is doing. That is, he is openly saying this is a piece of Party apologetics.

“The China Model is a timely, highly original, and hugely important book. Based on excellent knowledge of current political theories and a deep understanding of manifold peculiarities regarding China’s constantly evolving political system, this book will be widely read by political science students, sinologists, and all those who are interested in the rise of China.”–Yuri Pines, author of The Everlasting Empire

Widely read is always a mixed blessing.

These were really the best quotes they could find?

69 Harun June 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm

“In Western countries it would normally be anathema even to question the one-person-one-vote rule.”

Except the US, for example, has many institutions in place to weaken one man, one vote rules.

Bill of Rights, appointed or elected judges, federalism, weighted voting for smaller states in the Senate.

70 Alan June 21, 2015 at 7:41 am

1. Most of the world regards election of judges as ridiculous. Interestingly, the only countries that do this are USA and (in a a few circumstances) Switzerland.

3. To say that “a country’s best chance of achieving meritocracy is to have many smart individuals who are culturally central” seems to me to leave the door too wide open. There are plenty of smart individuals who are unaware (Dunning Krueger) of the possibility of objective reality, or who don’t have any interest in the concept. Even worse, there are plenty of individuals who are very well aware of objective facts and smart enough to obfuscate those facts that happen to be inconvenient. The first group get elected with the paid assistance of the second group.

71 Art Deco June 21, 2015 at 8:26 am

Most of the world regards election of judges as ridiculous. Interestingly, the only countries that do this are USA and (in a a few circumstances) Switzerland.

Mr. Most-of-the-World is welcome to shove a lighted M-80 where the son never shines.

72 Harun June 21, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Where would you prefer to be tried for a crime?

China or America?

73 Careless June 21, 2015 at 6:25 pm

That depends: am I powerful, or am I innocent?

74 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 6:49 pm

Are you claiming that the powerful are more likely to get off in the US? Or that the innocent are more likely to be convicted?

Because I don’t think the evidence would support such a claim.

75 Anon June 21, 2015 at 7:25 pm

I read it as best to be powerful in China and innocent in America, but maybe that’s my mood affiliation.

76 M June 21, 2015 at 7:57 am

In Britain, there’s a strong overrepresentation of men and women with PPE degrees at the top, and in politics. To a degree, the political parties use this as a means of entry to a political party (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11136511) although of course there is plenty of diversity. So in practice, is this a democratic system or a meritocratic one?

How ubiquitious and formalized does testing to enter politics and advancement through politics via testing have to become before a system is deemed “meritocratic” rather than “democratic”? And is this book actually about meritocracy as a principle, or the distinct idea of the one party state?

Now, it’s probably a good thing to have multiple parties vying for government. It’s also probably a very good idea to allow these parties to select new members according to what they actually need, looking at their actual expertise and capabilities and personality of a candidate, looking at a range of qualifications and experience offered by a range of independent institutions, rather than a score on a single, bureaucratically mandated overall test of “intellectual ability, social skills and virtue”.

Having a single, one-size-fits-all test to enter *multiple* political parties, seems like a terrible idea for intellectual diversity and diversity of competence in government. Let alone having a single, one-size-fits-all test to enter a single party.

Should we legislate and regulate the parties to make sure that they can only select candidates according to particular criteria? I’ll answer that by saying that the general Marginal Revolution perspective on the false and perverse incentives created by bureaucratic regulation, at least in this instance, actually applies.

77 dearieme June 21, 2015 at 10:25 am

“a strong overrepresentation of men and women with PPE degrees”: yup, all the recent PMs except Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown.

78 M June 22, 2015 at 4:17 pm

20% is pretty good! Considering how many of the talents actually take the thing.

79 Axa June 21, 2015 at 7:58 am

on #5: Development in China is admirable, lots of people coming out of poverty. Would Japan be better if adopted the Chinese meritocracy model? Japan is out there, life is not bad at all and 120 million people are not an statistical artifact.

80 Art Deco June 21, 2015 at 8:24 am

The United States probably should have less democracy along some margins, if only fewer referenda in California and no state and local elections of judges, dog catchers, and the like. If a writer cites “democracy” as obviously and always good for all choices, that writer isn’t thinking clearly.

The election of local officials with specialized responsibilities (e.g. town clerks), especially given the contemporary prevalence of executive mayors and county executives, is a Jacksonian relic. The professionalization of police work has also rendered the elected sheriff an archaism. Having a politician elected to an office like state comptroller defeats the purpose of having such an office. So, yes there is considerable scope for replacing the election of executives and ombudsmen with other means of selection.

The problem you get with elected prosecutors (which has some support in literature) is that popular election promotes grandstanding (though you have grandstanding by appointive prosecutors as well, see Patrick FitzGerald in Chicago). A dear friend of mine, experienced and savvy in local politics, once told me that election of judges is a wretched system – except for all the others. The behavior of federal judges should persuade any fair-minded person that the culture of the legal profession is so rancid that an absence of popular control cannot be borne. Also, ‘merit’ commissions decay into conduits for influentials in the bar association to slate the judges. So, you might try a mix, with some competitive election of judges and court officers and some appointment subject to retention referenda.

The real problem you have is a wretched electoral calendar, wretched nomination systems, and wretched tabulating conventions. We could be doing much better on this score, but there is incredible inertia and lack of imagination in this realm in this country. The manipulation of local government by superordinate authorities is another problem.

As for California’s initiative madness, a simple way of containing it would be to ban commercial signature gathering.

81 RoyL June 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

I have lived in two counties where an entrenched sheriff who was part of the establishment was removed by an election after a scandal that almost none of the regular office holders in the county and city thought were even notable. Considering that I have only lived in ten counties, two of which did not have elected sheriffs, that is signifigant.

Sheriffs are executive officers and among the most powerful people in most US counties, especially in rural areas, they need to be elected.

82 chuck martel June 21, 2015 at 10:28 pm

A sheriff can, if he so wishes, arrest a local police chief or any of his officers. As you say, a sheriff is an elected executive officer, a police chief is an employee. Another very powerful individual is the elected attorney general, usually the best post for advancing to a higher office.
They get to decide who gets prosecuted and for what. They also approve or shoot down plea agreements.

83 Richard Besserer June 21, 2015 at 8:25 am

Off topic: Sweet Briar College is to remain open for at least another year after a group of alumnae agreed to donate funds to address SBC’s financial difficulties.

A condition of the agreement is that most of the current board resign in favour of the bailout team’s candidates.

It’s not yet clear how many former SBC students will return there.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/agreement-reached-to-keep-sweet-briar-open-needs-court-approval/2015/06/20/6c9c43e4-179e-11e5-9ddc-e3353542100c_story.html

84 RJHJR June 21, 2015 at 9:11 am

Western-style democracy seems to have gotten it’s start in a wave of parliament-creation in Europe in the thirteenth century. Kings at the time needed more revenue and were raising taxes on the nobility. The nobility wanted more say on how their money was being spent, and kings discovered that they could raise more tax revenue from the nobility through a nobility-dominated parliament than they could by decree. England was small and its parliament could gather more frequently and it members could communicate better than continental parliaments, making it more effective than the parliament of France. As the burden of taxation spread to the middle class, England was more or less forced to include the middle class in its parliament as a matter of more effective taxation.

China’s size more or less ruled out a parliament up until the twentieth century. As an empire, by definition it was a large land mass ruled from a central location. Long distances made the principal-agent problem especially important. Because China has a coherent history as an empire in which succeeding dynasties learned from previous dynasties, the empire gradually developed a tradition of central government selection of a meritocratic elite which was dispersed over the empire. Because this elite was selected by the central government and owed its status to the central government and the emperor, it provided a more or less stable solution to the principal-agent problem.

When Mao wasn’t actively destroying China’s economy, it experienced multi-year periods of 7% growth. Post-Mao growth has been due to primarily to the absence of Mao. Almost any government that didn’t actively impede growth would have seen similar rates of GDP growth. The government has been able to satisfy it’s increasing revenue needs primarily from economic growth, without heavy tax increases on one class of citizens. It’s been able to continue solving the problem of coordination by selection of a meritocratic elite dispersed through the country and dependent on the prestige of the party.

Economic growth is going to slow down at some point and the government will have to increase taxes on the group of people who, in aggregate, have the most money; the middle class. In order to tax them at modern levels of taxation, it’s going to have to make the usual deal of exchanging high rates of taxation for representative government.

When communication and coordination costs are low enough, democracy tends to have lower marginal costs of taxation, and over time tends to drive out other forms of government as governments’ revenue needs go up. When communication and coordination costs are high but culture and tradition are stable and homogeneous over a wide area, bureaucratic meritocracy may be a better form of government.

85 Jer June 21, 2015 at 9:50 am

You presume that revenue must cover expenditures and that some type of market mechanism must set prices per some presumed ‘absolute-good and natural economic order’. This is safe-ish, but they deserve better. The point is we need to get away from that with a planned system – a schedule of meritocratic ‘added value’ salaries, etc. China needs to interject rational non-market controls while the population is malleable and in euphoria about their increased access to wealth and opportunity. Consistently rewarded effort requires no western-economic system – anything will do with a motivated work force. We do not need to be efficient and balanced – only logical, predictable, merito-effort-based, and constantly growing-rewarding – and it is only recent technology and networks that can enable this – so historical precedent does not apply.

86 derek June 21, 2015 at 9:27 am

So was Mao the result of the Meritocracy, or are we going to cherry pick who we include?

Sure, a non democratically elected ruler who by personality and personal standards of conduct impose upon the bureaucracy similar standards can do wonders. But what if they are incompetent?

Democracy and free markets don’t provide good results over many years in vastly different countries because people are really good at choosing enlightened representatives or that the best products are created by free people. Both are mechanisms for limiting bad ideas and bad people. If you take all the authoritarian, totalitarian and communist regimes in the last century, remove all the events where the rulers of the country did things they couldn’t have done if they were subject to democratic accountability, I suspect there would be a pretty good record. But they weren’t accountable so they did unspeakable things. That has been the story in China since the end of the Second world war.

We will see how the meritocracy manages it’s first economic downturn since liberalization.

87 ChrisA June 22, 2015 at 4:35 am

This is correct. A Churchill said; democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other ones.

If you go with a meritocratic system you might get Lee Kuan Yuw, or you might get Pol Pot. If you have a democracy you might get George Bush or Bill Clinton.

88 Jer June 21, 2015 at 9:37 am

I like that this book is happening, hope that it provides some non-rhetorical insights, and that many read it -and- Think.
The big problem with many of these discussions is that it has not been established in the minds of the thoughtful majority what a successful socio-economic system actually is, as so many of these discussions just become descriptions of what the other system lacks.
Back to a few of the basic principles:
A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable and driven individual to pursue their society-identified-useful dream job based on a commitment to put in the necessary development hours and working hours, with a reasonable expectation of sticking-with-it for a career length of time irrespective of whether society needs as many of those jobs as people who want to (and can) do them – i.e. supply may not equal demand (you may work less than full – this is just logistics). The typical: engineer, scientist, medical, designers….
A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to interact with whomever they want (provided it is mutual) for whatever legal reason.
A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to live free from discomfort or interference within their worked-for ‘owned’ space, when existing legally.
A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to freely circulate outside of their ‘owned’ space in an environment that provides varying level of intensity and experience.
A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to provide an opinion on the overriding ‘vision’ of the society, with which a reasonable response could be returned.
.. and so on….
The take-away from this is that such a society empowers the dutiful individual. This may seem a libertarian’s dream – far from it. Note the waste and fluff of providing enough infrastructure, busy (but dutiful) work, and freedom from menial toil that would need an advanced system of support – very expensive. Note that it deviates from a system of scarcity and efficiency, yet expects each to contribute faithfully and continually. This is obviously a techno-topia. This society does not pre-suppose elections per se (just responsiveness), ownership of anything outside of your own ‘space’, any kind of corporate or organizational hierarchy, any kind of religious or moralistic value system, any expectations of either privacy or freedom of information outside of your own ‘space’, etc. It is completely free of most identities of socio-politico-economics, though it does depend on significantly advanced technologies, a general enlightened dutifulness to a planned-ish ‘system’, and a significant pre-investment of infrastructure – kind of a working disneyland of sorts. I believe that growing up in such an environment would make people more apt to propagate it than other current societies level of development would propagate their underlying values – thus the political and economic sustainability of it. The bottom line being that China is closest to this system and more apt to move toward it than most G7 countries, despite the idea that we are technologically closer… though we do appear to be slightly morally constipated (and slightly damaged for our ‘striving’ upbringing) otherwise – and therefore less likely to embrace such a system.

89 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Jer June 21, 2015 at 9:37 am

Some editing of this response has been done.

The bottom line being that China is closest to this system and more apt to move toward it than most G7 countries, despite the idea that we are technologically closer

That is an impressive conclusion. What you do not explain is why you think this is so. What is the evidence?

A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable and driven individual to pursue their society-identified-useful dream job

China falls at this hurdle right away. Eighty percent of the population is still tied to the fields. They cannot legally work away from their villages and so they are stuck in a strange limbo that precludes most jobs. Also whatever the law says, in China you need personal contacts. Which is why there is such a move of labor to Guangdong. Hong Kong and Taiwanese business men might like to move out of their dialect regions to find cheaper land and workers, but they cannot. They are stuck in their dialect region because that is where they have the connections. It also means that people from outside those regions cannot really break into that circle either.

A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to interact with whomever they want (provided it is mutual) for whatever legal reason.

That depends on how you define interact. If you mean “form a Trade Union” well America does not send such people to jail for 25 years.

A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to live free from discomfort or interference within their worked-for ‘owned’ space, when existing legally.

Well if you ignore pollution and poisoned food, which tends to give a little discomfort, China has arrested people for things they have said in a class room and on a VPN. By most definitions that means no one is free from interference in their personal space.

A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to freely circulate outside of their ‘owned’ space in an environment that provides varying level of intensity and experience.

Ask Ai Weiwei.

A successful society should provide the means for a reasonable person to provide an opinion on the overriding ‘vision’ of the society, with which a reasonable response could be returned.

And this is something you think China does better? Seriously? You are trolling, right? It is no longer true that any political opinion will get your jailed, but a great many of them will.

90 dwb June 21, 2015 at 9:54 am

The heart of “democracy” is that it can adapt and adopt innovation quickly. Once you lose the culture of political and technological experimentation, change stagnates.

I doubt elites are less prone to corruption and confirmation bias than the rest of us.

Of course, this assumes competitive elections. Many localities in the US, like Baltimore, have suffered under one-party rule for decades and do not have competitive elections. Leaders are mostly picked by party elites. The results are predictable.

91 dwb June 21, 2015 at 9:56 am

Perhaps we should label this article “Elites long for system where elites rule.”

92 Axa June 21, 2015 at 12:26 pm

This, but I’ll change it a little.

Elites are good when they are intelligent. Elites are not good when the lead to China’s century of shame.

93 Bob from Ohio June 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

“Elites long for system where elites rule.”

No joke. If you have elections, graduates of public colleges get elected. Icky.

“Meritocracy” is just credentialism anyway.

94 RafaelG June 21, 2015 at 10:18 am

Let’s wait to consider the claim that the Chinese system is superior to the Western liberal democracy when China’s per capita income surpasses the average of the Western liberal democracies and by a significant margin. For now, I would regard it as just nonsense.

95 dearieme June 21, 2015 at 10:27 am

Would discussions such as this be clearer if people didn’t confuse “democracy” with “universal franchise”?

96 collin June 21, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Can we not say the Chinese model has been a absolute success? Sure it has been great for almost 40 years (nearing a couple of generations) but it still has proven itself without an era of high economic growth. Nor should it be appaulded for its strict family formation laws which long run I believe will hurt China.

1) Isn’t one of the problems of meritocracy is the old monarchies is sooner or later a birth monoarch ends being a poor leader?

2) As Kevin points outs one democracy keeps our leaders in check but also protects against leaders diminishing returns. I may agree with most of Obama’s choices, but it is time for someone else to take charge. Just think of the post-Reagan years…Would have Reagan given up his leadership at the right time?

3) In terms of meritocracy, look at the backgrounds of Ronald Reagan, a lower middle class farmer and marginal actor, and Bill Clinton, born to a single mother. Could have they become President with a strict meritocracy?

Probably the key to the Chinese model so far is the defined change in leadership but what if they needed a big change in the Chinese system? (Let us say the US in 1980 or 2008?) Could a single Party meritocracy do this?

97 Bob from Ohio June 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Dictatorships always have “intellectuals” who justify and promote dictatorships.

Democracy was discredited in the 1930s as well.

98 ABV June 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm

“Hey, we live in a society that has been on the technology frontier for the majority of its existence in the most dynamic economic period in human history. Let’s emulate a poor country that has made all its progress by copying our technology and offering its labor to complete menial tasks for very little paper currency.”

Great plan, let’s try to keep things in perspective.

99 Bob from Ohio June 21, 2015 at 12:51 pm

The US has been the leading economic power since about 1880, a mere century after our current government structure took over. Our military power grew more slowly but by 1900 we were recognized as the power with the most latent potential.

The US at several times after 1945 has been in a position of power unrivaled since Rome. China will never be as strong.

Wake me when over half of the Chinese people share the economic bounty enjoyed by the NE and coastal areas.

I will take our messy, inefficient democracy over dictatorial “merit” anytime.

100 chuck martel June 21, 2015 at 7:30 pm

In 1880 the US was in the final stages of the process of forcing the native Americans to give up the title to their land to the descendants of European invaders. The land thus acquired for little or nothing was then distributed in part to the current oligarchy, as a reward to immigrants or retained by the central government. It’s somewhat easier to develop a growing economy when all the property and the natural resources thereupon were obtained at the small cost of sending some well-armed cavalry troops to exterminate the recalcitrant neo-lithics with their own ideas of how society is supposed to work. The history of China is very different. It should be no surprise that US economic growth is tending toward stagnation. The country has stolen all the available land on the continent and overseas expansion has been considerably more expensive.

101 Todd Kreider June 21, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Comparing coasts:

The American east coast is probably around $60,000 per capita.

China’s east coast is around $25,0000 per capita — less than half.

But China’s GDP/capita is still growing 7% to 9% a year while the U.S. is at most 2% a year.

We’ll be waking you up in 2030 at parity time.

102 Harun June 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm

China was having excellent growth on the coast before WW II. Shanghai was industrializing and exporting, too.

Therefore we should be cautious to infer that “Chinese government causes Chinese growth” vs. “Chinese low-cost decent labor + very low economic baseline = growth.”

And really, winning market share by being the low cost supplier thanks to low price of labor is not that much of an accomplishment. Its not that amazing that you can take over production of American toys from American companies when you are much cheaper. Its not as if Americans couldn’t make knick-knacks or computers if we had to. Its just that China has cheap labor and Taiwanese and Hong Kong and other foreign capital and know-how to jump start, too.

103 chuck martel June 21, 2015 at 7:33 pm

The US wasn’t occupied by Japan in WWII.

104 Ricardo June 22, 2015 at 12:13 am

“being the low cost supplier thanks to low price of labor is not that much of an accomplishment”

So then why aren’t Bangladesh, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, India, etc. as wealthy as China? Having low wages and starting from a low baseline in no way guarantees that a country will be playing catch-up with the developed world.

105 The Anti-Gnostic June 21, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Ancient wisdom, from the people who believe keratin has medicinal value.

106 Adrian Ratnapala June 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Bear in mind that TC was only saying that ” Western nations are relying on democracy less” (emaphasis mine), not that they are modelling themselves after China.

I think it is true that western nations are transfering more power from elected politicians and handing it to appointed officials. Personally I don’t like that trend.

107 Eric Rasmusen June 21, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I don’t know about the book, but when I think of meritocracy, I don’t think of choosing the top leader by examination, which I don’t think has ever been done anywhere. It certaintly doesn’t mean oligarchy, with a group of powerful men at the top running things and choosing who will be the titular head of state. Rather, it refers to having a large amount of the state’s power in the hands of civil servants who are chosen by merit, by some non-political means such as blind examination. The top leaders are still chosen by some other means.
Thus, the real question is whether there should be civil service examinations such as the United States used to have before Jimmy Carter ended them because they were thought to be racist, or overt political choice of employees, or choice delegated to existing employees based on whatever criteria they like, which I understand is our current system. Note that the last is not really non political— it just uses the political views of the existing civil servants rather than of the elected leaders. Thus, we get the highly politicized Justice Dept. Civil Rights Division civil servant hiring.

108 So Much for Subtlety June 21, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Eric Rasmusen June 21, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I don’t know about the book, but when I think of meritocracy, I don’t think of choosing the top leader by examination, which I don’t think has ever been done anywhere.

The Dalai Lama was traditionally picked with a series of tests, mainly the recognition of the previous Dalai Lama’s possessions. Whether he was a top leader or not is another question.

109 Miguel Madeira June 21, 2015 at 4:55 pm

I wonder about what people mean when they say “meritocracy”; if “meritocracy” means “absence of favoritism”, I think democracy is probably one of the most meritocratic systems.

110 jorod June 22, 2015 at 12:42 am

What we need is to tweak the system a little. Term limits will eliminate most of our problems in government and inhibit the creation of political machines. The chinese system is really more of an elite system. It was designed by the elite for the elite.

111 Paul Mineiro June 22, 2015 at 1:07 am

” It is possible that the current advantage of democracy is rooted in technology, or some other time-specific factor, which ultimately may prove temporary.”

Sounds like Frederick Jackson Turner. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frontier_Thesis

112 js June 22, 2015 at 7:42 am

Stein Ringen says Opposite of Democracy is not Meritocracy but Autocracy.
But isnt a Meritocracy a specific type of Autocracy. A specific type of Non-Democracy or power with the ruled.
Meritocracy is different however, as the Rulers realize even more than in a Democracy that if they have to rule, they must put the Ruled first.
This is akin to the less greedy greediness of smart capitalists, who realize that the key to a sustainable capitalism is a less greedy one.

113 Butler T. Reynolds June 22, 2015 at 8:05 am

I always feel uneasy when someone says something like, “just look at [Denmark/Sweden/Norway/…]

Especially when you consider that Denmark has a population smaller than Maryland.

114 CJColucci June 22, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Most humans in history seem to have favored meritocratic rule over democracy,

And we know this how, exactly?

115 blades June 22, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Wow, would not like to be stuck in a conversation with the “merit” people at a cocktail party!

Democracy=Freedom as far as I can tell. Course not everyone likes that.

116 chuck martel June 22, 2015 at 9:46 pm

“Democracy, then, in the centralizing, pattern-making,
absolutist shape which we have given to it is,
it is clear, the time of tyranny’s incubation.” Bertrand de Jouvenel

Have his books been banned or what?

117 whizvic@aim.com June 23, 2015 at 5:26 pm

I think that philosophers like Daniel Bell are dabbling in utilitarian issues that
pertain more to organizing and managing societies (for which they are not
trained) than about issues of freedom and individual autonomy (or which as
philosophers they are better equipped to discuss). It is important to keep
motives in mind when evaluating the relevance of prescriptions because
some could be talking about efficiency whereas others are talking about
broader values and those are hardly comparable not to say compatible

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