Will China ever democratize?

by on July 11, 2017 at 1:43 pm in Current Affairs, History, Political Science | Permalink

Probably not, or so I argue in my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is the closing bit:

It is again time for the West to learn from China. The emotional force of nationalism is stronger than we had thought, stability is not guaranteed, and the Western democratic status quo ex ante is less of a strong attractor than many of us had believed or at least hoped for.

In other words, we have our work cut out for us.

As I point out in the column, the world is getting richer but the number of democracies is shrinking.

1 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Countries, with the fewest exceptions, omly adopt govern forms related to their deepest traditions. Most change is superficial. France came from having the Sun King to having Mitterand and Macron, from having a divinely-appointed king to have a super-presidency to Japan, with his Shogun and God-King traditions, Fascism, both under Hiroito/Tojo and Akihito, is natural. Russia had the czars and Stalin, the Red Czar. Hermany had the Kaiser and Hitler and now it dominates the EU. China will remain a totalitarian Communist/Confucian system with its Mandarins zelected by the Gaokao and by the Communist Party apparatus.

2 Falstaff July 11, 2017 at 3:32 pm

This is an undervalued point.

I’m interested in how China can remain true to it’s antidemocratic political system but further liberalize on personal freedoms and maintain legitimacy. And how it’s ruling class can remain meritocratic instead of ossifying into what is effectively a hereditary system.

3 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 3:42 pm

I am not sure any system can remain exactly the way its leaders want it if people are allowed freedom of word, assembly, etc.

4 Thor July 11, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Where — and by what thinkers — is this excellent point theorized?

Who talks about it? Fukuyama? Theorists of nationalism? Azar Gat?

5 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Fukyama is the one who thought Red China and Russia were no more a threat because they now have fast food? Os is it Thomas Friedman?

Many authors have pointed that peoples do not change, for example, Brazil/Portugal’s Antônio Vieira theorized about Brazil’s character. George Kennan associate Rusia’s behavior to the geopolitical situation that shaped its regime. Ruth Benedict studied the Japanese. Is it so strange that regimes do not fall from the sky, but quite the opposite they are shaped by bery human hands?

6 Lien de pierre July 12, 2017 at 12:20 am

Communists said one thing : inequalities will make the human world sink. Too bad getting richer means more inequalities. I’ll prolly start digging a hole in the ground soon.

7 bitcoin miner July 11, 2017 at 10:03 pm

China has the baby giraffe, the white rhino powder, the opiates, all along their silk road. Marco. The bitcoin is stacked up in China and they sell along their silk road polio to American saps, blackjacks like me.

8 Just Saying July 11, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Best Thiago Ribiero post ever

9 reply to just saying July 11, 2017 at 10:44 pm

He is very good sometimes and buffoonish sometimes. He had another good anti-Communist one, showing true and human compassion for the victims of the Chinese version, a few weeks ago. However, as Nietzsche said about Wodehouse, he is fundamentally unsound. Were I a Brazilian patriot I would encourage him to drop the frequent bluster and the frequent (and to tell the truth, ignoble) slander of his hosts’ beloved United States. I am not a Brazilian patriot, although I have tried to translate some wonderful Brazilian poetry: not this but something like it “with a frigate’s anchors for my bridle bits and fasces of harpoons for spears, would I could … leap the topmost skies, to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight” (That is Melville talking about climbing right on off the top of a whaling ship past and through the southern constellations, but I tried to translate something like that once is what I seem to be saying, if only I remembered it thus. The connection to Brazil – look at their flag).

10 Andao July 12, 2017 at 12:36 am

If you think China is a meritocracy you’re dreaming. It’s nepotistic as hell, from government through business. This myth of one exam to determine everyone’s lot on life is just that, a myth. The truly rich and successful are educated abroad, funded by their wealthy parents. Why do you think Xi Jinpings daughter goes to Harvard?

Not to mention Taiwan, which is culturally Chinese, democratic, wealthy, and stable.

11 Thiago Ribeiro July 12, 2017 at 5:20 am

1) Not the only rich foreign to go to Harvard, right (I hope Harvard has strict standards)?
2) Well, I wrote Communist/Confucian. And as Matt Ridley pointed out, even under Mao’s extreme equalitarism, officials who refused to use their power to favor family must have been tge exceptin instead of the rule. And money and connections had their saying under the Emperors, too. The important is that China basicaly returned to its normal point. And the exams are surely an opportunity to rise for the plebeans without Communist Party pedigree and money.
3 ) Taiwan’s “democracy” is, as of now, younger than Mao’s regime was when he died. On the long run, it will only be a historical curiosity.

12 athEIst July 12, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Noah Webster changed many of the “s” s in English to “z”. Select was not one of them. What part of Ohio do you live in?

13 rayward July 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Spot on! Given China’s history, is it any wonder they would sacrifice individual liberty for order and stability (which used to be considered conservative priorities). Today’s China is very different from Mao’s China: the former embraces its past (Han) while the latter rejected its past (the Cultural Revolution). I repeat: order and stability used to be considered conservative priorities. Indeed, the Framers were more concerned about order and stability when they met in Philadelphia. Trump and what he represents (breaking norms and violating institutions) come closer to Maoism than conservatism. I highly recommend Michael Wood’s series on the history of China soon to be broadcast on PBS.

14 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 2:32 pm

The Chinese leaders do not want order per si, they want their own order and world conquest.

15 msgkings July 11, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Brazilian leaders want their own order too, or rather their own ordem (e progresso). Every nation wants its own order. Troll harder.

16 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 3:31 pm

It is totally different. Brazilian leaders do not terrorize dissidents, do not consor the news, do not prop up rofue regimes, do not threaten its neighbours, do not invade Tibet and do not enslave their ownmpwople. I have read on the New York Times an article about the appalling levels of corruption in Red China. Its,leaders stole billions from thempeople they say they represent!!

17 rayward July 11, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Forget China. I repeat: order and stability used to be considered conservative priorities. In America.

18 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 5:29 pm

But not by totalitarian rule and terrorizing the people (unless, for a while, they were Blacks or Indians, I mean). One cannot compare Red China’s savage regime with a Western country. Harding did not conquered Mexico, Reagan did not jail Mondale. Bush I did not persecute Mormons the way China did with the Falun Gong crazies.

19 athEIst July 12, 2017 at 4:56 pm

Harding did not conquer Mexico.

What a novel idea for an alternate history site.
Harding was from Ohio.

20 A clockwork orange July 11, 2017 at 10:35 pm

I’ve always suspect that Americans take such great pride in their heritage because they don’t have one. Conservation cannot exist without renovation. A revolving door says I am already old, I don’t matter anymore. I repeat, all American parents died by 1973. Mao outlived them. By 1984, Thatcher signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration continuing their strong work in these type of declarations. By 1989, as Brazil suffered a loss to the US in soccer, Zhao Ziyang fell in favor to the paramount Deng Xiaoping. The protestor’s hunger strike lost. “One country, two systems” “two countries, one system” “one order, two stabilizers” “two orders of farm grazed cattle” The cattle are being eaten. Great Britain is to blame. The cattle from the stable, they are ordered to be eaten.

21 Josh July 11, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Why am I supposed to care if China “democratizes?” I wish the Chinese people well and hope that they are well governed, but i wouldn’t wish politics on anyone.

22 Borjigid July 11, 2017 at 2:40 pm

I believe that there is still a consensus that democracy correlates with doing well and being well governed.

23 ladderff July 11, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Well, there are a billion Chinese who are a little more skeptical than you are. Rightly so. May they learn from our mistakes.

24 Borjigid July 11, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Darn, I guess I am outvoted . . .

25 Borjigid July 11, 2017 at 3:23 pm

This is the first time I’ve seen an argumentum ad populum used against democracy. It seems self-defeating, but I guess YMMV.

26 Anon July 11, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Not really. India is expected to overtake China in population in 2022 , and while its per capita etc will be lower than China’s , they will vote with you.

27 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 3:27 pm

When do they vote on this?

28 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 11, 2017 at 7:20 pm

What did free markets and representative democracy ever do for us?

Nothing, other than make us the richest, most powerful, nation on earth.

Time for a little American Exceptionalism: That means that in the last 50 years nobody messes with us. We mess with other people, but nobody messes with us. The problem with the alt-right in general and the Trumps in specific, is that they voluntarily abandon those commanding heights. They lower us so far that they put themselves in debt to drunken losers in a post-communist wasteland. That makes us by extension, less than those losers.

Throw them out and regain those heights.

29 chuck martel July 11, 2017 at 10:16 pm

“Representative democracy”. At least there’s a modifier. The US probably wouldn’t be the richest, most powerful country on earth without somewhat free markets and a Puritan quasi-capitalist business environment. More important than those two things is 3,797 million square miles of basically free land and the natural resources on it, swindled or stolen from the original owners. If there had been a true democracy the natives would have been able to keep their property. But they weren’t acknowledged as citizens and couldn’t vote until after 1928.

30 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 11, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Mistakes were made.

But still as an aspirational document, the Declaration has few peers. It gave The US a framework to work on “all men” being “created equal” and to keep working on it, until we started to get it right.

31 Thor July 11, 2017 at 4:57 pm

Whether and how they deal with questions of democracy/rule/consent/governance, will determine whether there are wars and what the level of cash flight and emigration out of China will be…

32 Josh July 11, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Are we now pretending that nationalism and democracy are opposites or at least mutually exclusive the way we use to with comunism?

33 JWatts July 11, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Tyler seems to be implying that, but it’s a stretch of an argument. Nationalism and Democracy are not opposed to each other nor are Nationalism and Autocracy aligned with each other.

34 Massimo Heitor July 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Tyler is saying that. That is absurd. Democracy depends on nationalism and the existence of the nation state.

35 Thor July 11, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Not since Trump. The left now believes that all nationalism is smokescreen for ethnic purity or fascism. I disagree completely with the left and am neither an ethnic purist nor a fascist. (But I do support the President on some immigration issues, as I suspect a majority of Americans do.)

36 Massimo Heitor July 11, 2017 at 5:54 pm

National groups are strongly but imperfectly tied to ethnic/religious/linguistic groups. This is a non-partisan observation. If national tribal groups are linked to ethnic groups, then nationalism is tied to a form of tribal racism. That’s true and not really partisan.

Arguably, family is a similar form of tribal racism, and loving your biological children and biological ancestors more than the children of strangers is tribal and racist.

The popular political morality of anti-racism has logically collided with intrinsic elements of human nature.

37 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 11, 2017 at 7:22 pm
38 Careless July 11, 2017 at 11:56 pm

lol Noah Smith

39 TheAngryPhilosopher July 11, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Apparently so; it seems to be a central thesis of the “literati”, who have disproportionate control over political discourse. I know all too many of these – even the non-lefty ones subscribe to this via “libertarianism”. They feel a stronger kinship with the international intelligentsia than their countrymen; hell, they view the non-intelligentsia segment of Americans with a deep suspicion at best, a burning contempt at worst. Illegal immigrants are afforded all the sympathy they can muster; white Alabamans are hated for the crime of liking their culture and religion.

They are “nationalists” in the worst sense; they love the ideals but not the people. As per Bertolt Brecht, they feel that the American people “failed” last November. They want to dissolve the people and elect another, and to some extent this is what they are doing.

I’m a grad student. It’s a major heresy here to be opposed to illegal immigration in any way, or to be in any way alarmed by Islamic fundamentalism; while at the same time you can feel free to spit on Americans, so long as you target the right groups. I have a friend who posted “the scum of America have spoken” on Facebook after Trump was elected; another is in love with that awful Adlai Stevenson quote (“Mr. Stevenson, with that speech you have the vote of every thinking American!” “Thank you, but I need a majority”). A professor in my department wondered when Trump “would round up the Jews and academics”.

God forbid a nation and its government exist to represent and serve the interests of its citizens!

40 msgkings July 11, 2017 at 7:23 pm

Both sides do this, Angry P. I saw plenty wondering when Obama was going to round up the guns and Christians. But those Obama Derangement Syndrome quotes were from the flyover types, Trump Derangement Syndrome is the purview of the coastal types, and they control the media, and most institutions.

41 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 11, 2017 at 10:35 pm

Tragic that derangement syndrome has spread to Don Jr., he is reporting the most bizarre stuff as if it were fact.

42 albatross July 13, 2017 at 10:32 am

The fact that your opponents are deranged doesn’t mean you’re not also pretty awful. Trump’s presidency is a train wreck *and* lots of his most vocal opponents are nuts. There’s no inconsistency there.

43 EverExtruder July 11, 2017 at 2:15 pm

“…the world is getting richer but the number of democracies is shrinking.”

Due in part because, except in Western civilization, wealth in most other civilizations flows from the central source to the people (not from personal liberty and initiative) during good times specifically because peace and distributive authority has been established by the strong central power. Without victory there can be no peace, and with victory, you know your place and get your “cut”.

The problem with this model is that it only works when times are very good, and is positively lethal when it’s really bad. China’s dynastic history is a model of this in action where the current dynasty gets about 200-250 years before everything goes to hell in a hand basket, they lose the “mandate of heaven”, and a new power struggle results in the next overarching dominating authority.

44 Borjigid July 11, 2017 at 2:47 pm

What? Like 99% of governments, Western or not, the Chinese government derives its income from taxation of the people. Unless the government is being subsidized by foreign powers or a petrostate (or similar), wealth is always flowing from the people to the government.

Western civilization depends on the government having a monopoly on violence just as much as others.

45 Art Deco July 11, 2017 at 2:57 pm

The number of democracies isn’t shrinking. The staff of Freedom House needs something to write about, so they fiddle with the goalposts. Freedom House may be the least deceitful ‘human rights’ lobby, but you can still see extraneous matter seeping into their reports (and salient points excluded). ‘Freedom’ is defined as what’s of interest to the sort of person who seeks employment with NGOs. so you’ll have to rummage to find any complaints about the sort of harrassment of political and social dissidents in Canada and Scandinavia, if you can find anything at all on the subject. You’ll see nothing about freedom of contract or freedom of association. But you will see verbiage about ‘women’s rights’ and [insert train-wreck of consonants].

Could be worse. shAmensty International once declared cop killer Wesley Cook (aka Mumia Abu Jamal) a ‘prisoner of conscience’.

46 Art Deco July 11, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Probably not, or so I argue in my latest Bloomberg column. Here is the closing bit:

Making predictions is generally foolish, most particularly predictions about conditions in perpetuity. Most particularly about events which cannot be quantified. Most particularly outside your field.

47 dearieme July 11, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Who are this “we” and “us”? How on earth did you come to use the barbarism “status quo ex ante “?

48 oxfordian July 11, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Perhaps you are mistaken: perhaps “status quo ex ante” is a (Latinate, albeit not classical Latin) calque on the classical Greek, which I need not quote for you. In the unlikely event you would not be familiar with the alluded-to Greek source, it is of Homeric vintage, and falls easily within a hexameter line. Barbarism indeed.

49 oxfordian July 11, 2017 at 11:11 pm

JD Denniston on Greek particles is what you want to read on the subject. That being said, such constructions are very rare in English: bearing out of the past, standing forth from the past, and such phrases, no matter how you combine or slightly alter the words in them, are mostly unheard of in English, as they were in Latin. We (English speakers) and the ancient Greeks are, after all, not the same people when it comes to expressing ourselves, and we (English speakers) are in many ways a lot more like the Latins than the Latins were like the Greeks, so I concede the point that status quo ex ante is, well, if not barbarous, at least not all that well said. Oh well, every day is a gift.

50 A clockwork orange July 11, 2017 at 11:34 pm

His eyes (eyeballs) flicked up at girl under the light. His irises dilated at the her sight, and his big brown eyes glinted? Is to mean his big brown eyes (erratum) glinted.

The iris dilator muscle is formed by cells. These cells are stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system.[3] When stimulated, the cells contract, widening the pupil and allowing for more light to pass through the eye.

The English name dilator pupillae muscle[5] as currently used in the list of English equivalents of the Terminologia Anatomica, the reference-work of the official anatomic nomenclature,[6] can be considered as a corruption[7] of the full Latin expression musculus dilatator pupillae.[8] The full Latin expression exhibits three words that each can be traced back to Roman antiquity. The Classical Latin name musculus is actually a diminutive of classical Latin, mus,[9] and can be translated as little mouse.[9] In the medical writings of Aulus Cornelius Celsus we can also find this specific name to refer to a muscle instead of its literal meaning.[9] Latin musculus can be explained by the fact that a muscle looks like a little mouse that moves under the skin.[10] In the writings of Greek philosopher Aristotle the Ancient Greek word for mouse, i.e. μῦς[11] is also used to refer to a muscle.[11]

Dilatator in the Latin expression musculus dilatator pupillae is derived from the classical Latin verb dilatare,[12] to dilate, to spread out.[9] Two possible explanations exist concerning the etymological derivation of this verb

51 oxfordian July 11, 2017 at 11:49 pm

That was not responsive – please shepherd your AIs more responsibly, clockwork (and find a better moniker – Burgess would not have approved, in context). Anyway, poor Denniston, genius as he was with respect to the Attic language, could not have understood Homeric Greek as well as one would have wished; that is worth remembering, if one wants to understand Old Greek. I say this not to criticize, or to assert fictional superiority, but merely, from a sense of honesty, to try not to mislead (‘try not to mislead’ is almost a quote from the Odyssey, which I have memorized none of – as compared to the Iliad – but we are what we are). Anyway, clockwork, if you do not want people to skip your posts, as I generally do, be more attuned to what is being discussed! For example, you could have; had you cared: quoted from the no longer available if it ever was available scene in the Rosalindiade where our Shakespeare translated with such gusto and beauty ‘status quo ex ante’ (scene: moonlight: characters: Athenians remembering life as it was long ago in their youth ). We need to care about each other. If you remember nothing else remember that. (Dearieme, you make me laugh often: thanks for that).

52 oxfordian July 11, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Everybody knows that books printed on Cambridge presses have a vinegarish smell that the Oxford published books don’t. (See, that is how to be responsive).

53 oxfordian July 11, 2017 at 11:54 pm

I have always wondered why that is. Also, why did the Lord of the Rings paperbacks have that Finnish forest smell in the 1980s – was that the paper itself or was it an added scent? If anybody cares and knows, feel free to answer (the answer is not otherwise available on the internet, so you would be the first). (See, that is how to be responsive).

54 oxfordian July 12, 2017 at 12:04 am

I don’t expect an answer on the Tolkien (I have asked before in more populated places than this); yet maybe it is worth while to speak with compassion to those who shepherd bots, or try to. Maybe not, too: but it is always worth while, on a beach (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Antarctic), to throw back a stranded starfish; you can’t throw them all back into the lifegiving ocean (Homer again) but the ones who you help appreciate it. So there’s that , eh ? (Canadian participles).

55 a counterclockwise witness July 12, 2017 at 12:54 am

That I am Aeolus blown westward on a westering Schiff by the object, the wind, itself is responsive. Your oeillade notwithstanding, I was trying to show that the anatomy of the meaning in terms like “bearing out of the past, standing forth from the past” “the way things were before” cannot be swept under the rug. I have no spada but this spade. I am not interested in chicory for coffee. There is copious dew collecting on your starfish, and it yields in grateful shade. The truth is a sternwood notion, not the knouts you would seek to whip me with, for I will not flinch, not with any regard to your eviction. I stand covered by my ground. You know nothing of Gersualeme Liberata or the first intifada.

56 Bill July 11, 2017 at 3:10 pm

China has a number of state owned enterprises, and as those disappear or later sold off, you’ll probably see competing enterprises where there is now only one which is managed by the state.

What happens when you have a number of competing enterprises? Some will seek government favor; others will lose favor and make efforts to undermine government favor or control. From thus springs a middle and ownership class which would demand change.

Do you think they will not seek or demand voice. You could have democracy spring from this, if they enlist the masses for support, or you could have corporate fascism, essentially a cartel of economic interests controlling the economy.

57 Mike W July 11, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Another economist’s prediction…put it on the pile with the rest.

58 Massimo Heitor July 11, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Cowen writes that democracy conflicts with nationalism. No, democracy is completely dependent on nationalism.

The open border ideology championed by Tabarrok and Caplan quite explicitly calls for undermining democracy and undermining democratic elections to allow outsiders to gain full membership and their own voting rights in their nation of choice.

The open border ideology also publicly admits that mass immigration is incompatible with democracy. From the open borders website:

“Certain American ideals would die of their own increasing impracticality, e.g., ‘equality of opportunity,” the social safety net, one person, one vote”

The open borders ideology is quite knowingly and deliberately undermining democracy. Caplan and the other main voices in that group are all quite dismissive of democracy.


“democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried”

I’m sure there is a better model of governance than democracy that hasn’t been tried yet.

59 msgkings July 11, 2017 at 4:00 pm

You’re sure? State your case.

60 ladderff July 11, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Do your own homework. You could start with, say, Aristotle?

61 msgkings July 11, 2017 at 4:25 pm

But his ideas aren’t any better than democracy. It’s no fair saying “benign philosopher-king” because of course that doesn’t exist and even if so, who gets to choose who gets the job?

62 Massimo Heitor July 11, 2017 at 6:28 pm

You didn’t even hear my idea. I don’t believe in the “benign philosopher king” model as you put it for exactly the reasons you said.

63 msgkings July 12, 2017 at 12:40 am

I know I didn’t hear your idea. I asked for you to state it, then ladderff came by talking about Aristotle. I’d love to hear your idea for what would work better than democracy. No credit for theoretical fantasies that work great in the dorm room discussions but can’t work in the real world of real people as they are: communism, anarchism, etc.

64 Massimo Heitor July 11, 2017 at 6:25 pm

My case is simple: People should vote with their wallet and with their feet, not with a ballot. It would be better if people choose whichever government that they wanted to live under and could exit and choose another with minimal transition cost. The governments would need to compete for customers to survive or be replaced by more competitive governments. This is partially in line with open borders ideology. It is completely antithetical to the idea of democracy, where incoming demographics are automatically given full voting membership and ownership simply by choosing to enter. Think of a retail store like a restaurant: customers buy what they want and effectively vote with their feet and wallet. Customers don’t get to vote on the management team and they aren’t given proportional ownership of the store just by walking in the door. A vote with your wallet/feet system allows people to maximize benefits to themselves, while limiting their ability to harm or simply take from rival groups. Needless to say, this is an early concept; there are many implementation obstacles that I haven’t thought through or seen others think through.

65 msgkings July 12, 2017 at 12:42 am

Sorry didn’t see this when I posted above. Clever idea but it only works when people have wallets big enough to move from nation to nation. Almost no one has that. File under seasteading and other great in theory not much use in practice ideas.

66 Alistair July 12, 2017 at 12:00 pm

People are getting richer and costs smaller, so might be feasible one day.

67 Massimo Heitor July 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm

This has completely practical near term applications:

– Private cities exist now. Do a search for private cities in India or Honduras.

– This isn’t just for the wealthy people with big wallets. If the people of poor nations are desperate to flee to wealthy nations, the poor people are clearly voting with their feet as to which governance and which civilization they want to live in. Their national independence, and national sovereignty mean much less to them than a chance to live with nicer governance. The world should repurpose the land of the failed nations, or parts of the failed nations, redraw borders, and choose governing bodies accordingly.

– Google almost runs an entire city of Mountain View for employees now. Maybe Google should expand to run cities for people who want to live in a Google city.

– Even within US government, there should be a stronger push for voting with your feet and wallet. Don’t vote on a health care policy with a ballot and have it aggregated to the national level where a vote means nothing, vote with your wallet and buy what you want.

68 msgkings July 12, 2017 at 1:03 pm

That’s my point, all this massive redrawing of maps that they “should do” is basically impossible to pull off in the real world. It’s like anarchism, you just can’t get there from here.

69 msgkings July 12, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Also to your specific points, those private cities are terrible especially the one in Honduras. Is that even still there?

“The world should repurpose the land of the failed nations, or parts of the failed nations, redraw borders, and choose governing bodies accordingly.” – this is what I mean, do you really think in a world where the US, China, Russia, and the EU are all battling it out that they could agree on how to do any of that? And would any of the “failed nations” agree? Of course not, this is just dorm room chatter.

Whatever Google is doing in Mountain View, everyone there are still subject to the laws, regulations, and taxes of CA and the US. It’s not a different mode of governance.

There “should be” a lot of things the US govt does better, but it’s hard to see how it can do so. And anyway we’re pretty far downstream from “there’s a better way than democracy” here.

70 Alistair July 12, 2017 at 12:01 pm

I think Nozicke got to this one about 40 years back.

71 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 5:31 pm

“I’m sure there is a better model of governance than democracy that hasn’t been tried yet.”
And there will always be. Communism will always work too, unless it is tried.

72 TheAngryPhilosopher July 11, 2017 at 6:18 pm

‘democracy is completely dependent on nationalism.’

Welp, I posted my own comment below before seeing this. Agree 100%, you beat me to it.

73 Anonymous July 11, 2017 at 3:58 pm

If you think what we have in the West is instability, wait til China faces a down period. Instead of the instability of voting for deplorable things, they’ll have the instability of civil war.

74 anonymous reply to anonymous July 11, 2017 at 10:52 pm

No they won’t. It will be like the United States in one of the various years of financial crisis in the 19th century, or Argentina from a few years back, at worst.

75 Todd Kreider July 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Cowen again makes three important claims about China without evidence:

1) “…at times many commentators thought a democratic China was not so far away.” This isn’t my memory of the past 20 years. I predicted in 2000 that China would be a fledgling democracy by 2015 and what several China history and political science graduate students told me “never”, “maybe in a hundred years”
with only one saying “maybe after 2050” as I argued they seriously estimated the power of exponentially increasing computer power on open communications.

2) “Today, as restrictions on political speech and opposition increase, hardly anyone thinks this is a realistic scenario.”

Again, both are stated as fact without evidence. From around 2010, I started to notice some Chinese political scientists state that they thought China would democratize around 2020. I think Cowen should explain how he knows more restrictions have been placed on political speech compared with 2010 or 2000.

3) “…. the middle to upper middle class is still a minority in China, and will stay so for a long time. A smaller country can build up in percentage terms a larger middle class, by exporting, than can a very large and populous country.”

The size of the middle class has exploded in China over the past 15 years as GDP per capita has increased from $4,000 a person in today’s dollars to $15,000 with cities on the East Coast at $25,000 to $30,000. China should keep growing at 5% to 7% for at least five years so in 2022 will be at $20,000 per capita. The gini coefficient is high but not so high to keep the large middle class from continuing to mushroom.

76 msgkings July 11, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Your prediction in 1) failed, but kudos for continuing to make more predictions in every thread about the end of aging and disease in the next 20 years with sublime confidence.

77 msgkings July 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

That is a reply to Todd Kreider at 3:59PM

78 Todd Kreider July 11, 2017 at 5:05 pm

You win some, you lose some. I did insist in 1985 before the Gorbachev era that the Soviet Union would end within ten years and that democracy would come to Russia. *Everyone* who heard that thought I was crazy yet it happened six years later. Not a real robust democracy, apparently, but far more freedoms than in the 80s.

It is only 2017, two years off my prediction while the future China historians and political scientists (American) insisted on 2100 or never. I bet I’ll have been way closer…

The health prediction was in 2002 when I wrote that deaths from all major diseases will be slashed by 2020 due to exponential computer power that gives better early detection, greatly expands knowledge of diseases and potential treatments, stem cell improvements, etc. I meant an over 80% reduction over the 2000 baseline for cancer, stroke, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. I’m on target for stroke and heart attacks/ disease but off for cancer and Alzheimers. There as well, I will only be off by a few years.

I never said the end of aging in 2002 nor in recent years. A major slowdown is clearly coming with aspects reversed. Anyone under 50 today will likely live into their second century with great health.

79 msgkings July 11, 2017 at 5:16 pm

“Anyone under 50 today will likely live into their second century with great health.”

Sweet, I’m in with a few years to spare!

80 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 5:34 pm

I have almist two decades to spare.

81 carlospln July 12, 2017 at 1:13 am

“Anyone under 50 today will likely live into their second century with great health”

Ahh, blind faith in technology never ceases to amaze.

Memo to Todd: it would help if we understood how life works. You know – at the molecular level.

82 Todd Kreider July 12, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Not blind faith. It’s just that people like you and Tyler don’t read anything about advances in various areas including medical. As I’ve said, Paul Kugman is just as clueless as Tyler.

You are the type who laughs at things like the stem sell advances of the past 20 years and when it becomes common a common therapy in 2021 will say how “totally obvious” it was all along. It isn’t just Cowen and Krugman who have been clueless about technology, but they have been among the most vocal.

83 Alistair July 12, 2017 at 11:59 am

Can you give me a Loan now? If you live past 110, I promise to repay you at 5% over base rate.

Of course, if you’re dead, I owe you nothing.

84 Todd Kreider July 12, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Of course I deliberately picked age 50 as the cut off to keep Tyler, around age 55, and AlexT who is 50, on their toes… They will be blogging post – Singularity and Tyler will insist nothing has really changed since 1920.

85 y81 July 11, 2017 at 4:29 pm

“nationalism is often a stronger political motivator than democracy; just look at either Turkey or Brexit or some of the currents within the Trump administration.”

Prof. Cowen seems to have a typical intellectual’s definition of democracy: it means the system that produces the results he wants. Otherwise this passage is inexplicable. I don’t know much about Turkey, but neither Brexit nor anything the Trump administration is doing is notably undemocratic.

86 KM32 July 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Technically, the goal should be good and fair governance, right? A society that is orderly, with the same rules that apply for everyone, and a possibility for people to progress in their personal lives. Democracy happens to be one of the better ways of doing this, but giving people a vote is no guarantee of success, and a lake of a vote is no guarantee of failure.

87 TheAngryPhilosopher July 11, 2017 at 6:08 pm

“nationalism is often a stronger political motivator than democracy”

I don’t get this. Are you saying that Nationalism is opposed somehow to Democracy? Because Nationalism seems more or less necessary for a healthy democratic polity.

Everybody needs a group identity. If people identify primarily with a national sub-group, you get political factions on identity lines – not a pretty sight, see Iraq’s nice cozy democracy. If they primarily identify with super-groups, you get national policy subverted to the interest of non-citizens, also not pretty. If they identify with groups which are both a sub-unit of the nation and have members outside, you get both, which is the worst. I can’t think of a democratic country that prospered without a robust nationalist or patriotic ethos.

88 Edgar July 11, 2017 at 6:19 pm

So “nationalism is inevitable”, eh? When was it ever not? And what is wrong with that anyway? Since Tyler does not explain what he means by “nationalism,” preferring instead to use it to imply some sort of nefarious anti-democratic, lets just go with the OED which defines “nationalism” as “Advocacy of or support for the interests of one’s own nation, esp. to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. Also: advocacy of or support for national independence or self-determination.” So “nationalism” by its very definition is pro-democracy. It puts the interests of one’s own nation above other interests such as that of the COMINTERN or the EU. Competition in markets is good, competition between nations apparently not in Tyler’s utopia where every nation puts the good of others before its own.

Tyler also seems invested in the non sequitur “inequality likely will stay high, to the detriment of democratic forces.” Highly democratic large nations with large poor populations and high gini indexes include Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Chile, Columbia, and Botswana.

Then of course he has to get in a big sulky pout because his favorite corrupt politician lost the last presidential election in the US: “Furthermore, the current political performance of the West is not in every way the ideal exemplar for democracy.”

Then another sulky non sequitur pout: “that nationalism is often a stronger political motivator than democracy; just look at either Turkey or Brexit or some of the currents within the Trump administration.” Yes, I am looking. What does Turkey have to do with Brexit or the Trump Administration? I guess Tyler just wants to make sure no one is fooled into taking him the least bit seriously. But just in case, he follows up with “as the number of democracies in the world (sadly) declines. With global growth continuing at roughly 4 percent a year, the link between income and democracy isn’t actually so strong these days.” Huh? Even he can’t keep his lines straight. Is it “There’s just not enough demand in global markets to elevate all or even most of the Chinese people, and so Chinese inequality likely will stay high, to the detriment of democratic forces” or is “the link between income and democracy” not so strong? Make up your mind man!

Since he can’t figure out what exactly he wants to say, he closes with a third sulky pouty wallow in disappointment of Hillary Clinton, World Savior, going down in flames: “The emotional force of nationalism is stronger than we had thought, stability is not guaranteed, and the Western democratic status quo ex ante is less of a strong attractor than many of us had believed or at least hoped for.” No, the emotional force of Trump-hate has reduced even the few remaining columnists I am tempted to read to a state of blubbering incoherence.

89 godfree Roberts July 11, 2017 at 7:09 pm

China is far more democratic than the USA, for example, though no match for Switzerland.

Constitutionally, procedurally, morally and consequentially, China is a democracy. Article 3 of its constitution establishes democracy as fundamental. Its 3,200 democratically elected (overseen by the Carter Center) representatives have the final say on personnel and all legislation. Its legislation has the support and approval of 93% of its citizens.

Constitutionally, procedurally, morally and consequentially, the USA is not. Democracy is nowhere mentioned in America’s constitutional documents. The US is a republic and has always been. There is no direct election of the head of state. Its legislation has the support and approval of 20% of the electorate.

90 TheAngryPhilosopher July 11, 2017 at 9:13 pm

Wow, democracy is mentioned in its constitution? Then it must be so! And come to think of it, North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; not even China has “Democratic” in its name. North Korea must be the most democratic country of all.

Also, 93% approval is nothing! In Liberia’s 1927 election, Charles King won over 1500% of the registered voters; now that’s what I call a popular mandate.

[the above is sarcasm, as if anyone could mistake it for being serious.]

Probably the Chinese government is more popular than the American one; but lots of dictatorships and monarchies are genuinely popular, and lots of democratic governments are unpopular. Thailand’s king was far more popular than any of the representative parts of the Thai government have ever been.

PS. The “it’s not a democracy, it’s a republic!” thing is the most pointless semantic argument running. Only tiny countries can operate on direct democracy; all other democracies are representative governments of one type or another, and this is understood in the common use of the word. “It’s a republic” is not a revelation, stop acting like you’ve discovered some great hidden truth.

91 msgkings July 12, 2017 at 12:44 am


92 Alistair July 12, 2017 at 11:56 am


93 Mr. Econotarian July 11, 2017 at 7:45 pm

“…the world is getting richer but the number of democracies is shrinking.”

This is a fairly recent phenomenon – Freedom House showed a lower percentage of “Not Free” countries in 2016 than in 1986 or 1996. Only 2006 had fewer “Not Free” countries than today. I suspect this is a factor of the Great Recession. Check back in 2026.

94 Bob July 11, 2017 at 7:53 pm

Democracies tend to be more nationalistic and aggressive because the common people demand an assertive foreign policy. When Athens became a democracy it immediately overthrew the caution of the aristocratic previous rulers and embarked on several foreign wars. Almost every revolution in history has been caused by the failure to successfully assert national interests. The American revolution was sparked by the Quebec Act seen as a concession to continental Catholic powers. French reverses at the hands of Austria caused the French revolution. The loss to Japan caused the 1905 , and reverses at the hands of Germany caused the 1917 Russian revolution.

95 Tyler July 11, 2017 at 9:45 pm

64 comments in and no mention of Taiwan, a currently existing Chinese democracy? Not that it’s a full rebuttal to Tyler’s claims, but doesn’t anybody think it’s worth addressing?

96 Harun July 12, 2017 at 12:08 am

And it happened fairly quickly.

Martial law, and then within 20 years…pretty decent democracy.

Chinese people will eventually figure it out.

97 gbz July 12, 2017 at 12:26 am

Even if china were a democracy it would be a single party system run by the communist party for a long time. Core China’s fundamental cultural, ethnic, racial and religious homogeneity make it predisposed to a centralized governance structure, whether that be a king or party. How long has LDP not run Japan?

Side note — the west’s obsession with china becoming a democracy is almost bizarre to a non-westerner. Its quite evident the chinese people don’t care nearly as much for their democratic rights as americans do. What does that tell us about americans?

98 Borjigid July 12, 2017 at 10:53 pm

You’re assuming the issue at hand, of course you think the discussion is bizarre.

99 gbz July 13, 2017 at 9:51 am

I did not say the discussion is bizarre. Its the frequency, persistence of, and almost paternalistic assumptions embedded within the discussion that are odd. Why does america care so much about china becoming a democracy?

100 Shaun Marsh July 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

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101 albatross July 13, 2017 at 10:45 am

What we want is a good life for our people, which means economic prosperity, peace, and substantial personal freedom and safety. For a long time, the two models for having that were the Soviet/Communist model and the Western liberal democracy model, and it was pretty easy to see that the western liberal democracy model worked a lot better. (Just check which direction the border guards’ guns are facing.)

But Hong Kong before the handover, Singapore, and China all seem like counterexamples–places that have managed to be pretty decent places to live (China isn’t as nice as Singapore or HK, but it’s improving) that are also nondemocratic. The interesting question is how broadly applicable this model is. I think S Korea, Taiwan, and Japan were all a lot less democratic in the past, while they were becoming richer and better places to live, but then they eventually more-or-less turned into democracies.

Are there other good examples of modern countries that have managed to provide peace and prosperity and personal freedom and safety pretty well without being democratic? For personal freedom, I’m thinking in terms of the ability to live more-or-less how you like, read what you like, worship as you please, etc. I’m not so concerned with political freedom (like being able to organize an opposition party or have a protest).

One reason to expect this not to generally work out is that in democratic regimes, the powerful people have to keep a lot of voters happy with them to stay in power, so there’s a reason for them to at least try to deliver peace and prosperity and personal freedom. (This is more-or-less the argument of _The Dictators’ Handbook_.) How else might we arrange things so that the powerful people had the right incentives, but without a traditional democracy? (One obvious possibility is having the powerful people frightened of civil unrest/revolution–that might cause them to act to keep the public happy even when they never had to stand for an election. But it might be cheaper to just hire more secret police and soldiers to put down the uprising.)

102 albatross July 13, 2017 at 10:48 am

Nitpick: Maybe one other model that works is big-city machine politics in the US–the machine might try its best to set things up so they always win elections, but they still have to worry about a huge surge of popular anger putting them out of power despite their best efforts, so they have some incentive to keep the people happy. I suspect that’s closer to the Singapore situation (nominal democracy but one party keeps power forever) than the China situation.

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