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Topics on Democracy (Part 2) — A Model for the 21st Century

( A short thesis exploring the problems and viability of implementing a democratic system from a developing country’s point of view. The thesis concludes with an introduction of an interesting hybrid system that seems to be taking shape in the ongoing political evolutionary process in China.
This article is the final part of the 2-part series on democracy, and was first published on Jun 3, 2009 on the following website : chinablogs.wordpress.com )

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Topics on Democracy (Part 2) — A Model for the 21st Century

Jun 3, 2009 by Chan

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A former work colleague once asked me what I thought about democracy. I replied :

“Great! We can vote our CEO out if he doesn’t give us a pay rise”.

Realizing I was in need of an injection of creative fantasy, he decided to go along with the flow, and replied :

“But if we were all to do this, the company would collapse”.

I said “Fine. By that time, we would have enjoyed our stay and made some big bucks. So we will just move on to the next company, and repeat this all over again”.

I was of course only joking. I can’t imagine any company taking on that path any time soon. But if there was such a company, I am sure everyone would be piling up to apply to join that company. And we would be telling everyone else how great such a democratic system is.

We would of course be correct. Such a company would be an ideal place to be in. But is that in the best interest of the company?

Well, it depends. There are advantages and disadvantages. One obvious advantage is its ability to attract the best and the brightest talents (assuming everything else being equal). The most obvious disadvantage is that a true democracy by nature can never be as efficient as an authoritarian command organisation.

We can list more advantages and disadvantages. But before we get too carried away, it should be worthwhile to first consider whether this would even work. And if it would, what are the preconditions for having such a system.

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Preconditions of a Democratic System :

The strength of democracy lies in the ability of the system to allow the majority to influence the outcomes of decisions that affect everyone.

Such systems even when correctly implemented can only be as good as the quality of the collective decisions of the majority polpulation within that system. In order for the strength of such systems to translate into actual strength in reality, the majority population must be of a high quality standard.

A brief analysis should reveal at least 3 necessary preconditions :

1) First, as the above conversation shows, the voters must have loyalty to the company.

2) Second, the great majority of the voters, no matter how minimal their roles and responsibilities are in the company, must be sufficiently educated in order to be able to understand why certain actions and policies need to be taken by the CEO.

3) Last but not least, the voters need to be relatively selfless. That is, they need to put the common good above their own interests. That would often mean putting the interests of the company above their own.

These are merely the most fundamental preconditions, without which such a system would not work. Or at least it won’t work the way it was meant to. However, in reality, in order for it to achieve its true potentials, the list would need to be a lot longer. It would, for example, be extremely destabilizing for such systems if the voters cannot differentiate what is reasonable expectation, and what is not. This is especially true when we have a crisis, such as the financial crisis we have today. Under such scenario, democracy could easily become a child’s game of musical chairs, where the CEO is simply there to warm the seat until the next election.

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National Democracy :

As the idea of democracy is not destined to reach the desks of our corporate CEOs any time soon, it should be wise to redirect our focus on the more practicable topic of national democracy. So how does the above translate to a national democracy?

The obvious question is whether a corporate democracy is the same as a national democracy? The answer is no, it’s not. But it is similar enough for us to adopt the same preconditions discussed above to apply to a national democracy.

Under both cases, the quality of the majority voters is the key to whether a democracy would succeed or not. If the average Joe Blow on the street is not the kind of person you would entrust important tasks to, then the chance is the average Joe Blow on the street is also not the kind of person you should entrust the fate of your nation to.

Given that is the case, it should be, at least in theory, much easier to establish a corporate democracy than a national democracy. A corporation can always control the quality of the people joining itself. However for a country, no matter how strict our immigration laws are, there is no way of controlling the quality of the existing population and those young ones coming in through the maternity ward.

This problem of lack of control of the selection process for the existing population and the newborn arrivals would not be a big issue for a wealthy country. Wealthy nations invaribly have relatively educated populations, and the resources to educate newcomers. Poor nations do not. THIS, is where the problems lie.

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To Democratize or Not to Democratize :

In this world, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. And seldom do we find silver bullets that fix age old problems without itself causing problems.

Regardless of the debate on whether democracy is the best political system, democracy itself does not work for all countries. In my view, nations without the ability to satisfy those 3 minimum preconditions would not reap benefits from such systems. Unfortunately, that disqualifies all 3rd world countries and most developing countries in the world.

Indeed, a group that cares only about where to find the next meal is hardly the best group to tell us who and how to run the country. A group without the necessary education is unlikely to make correct decisions on whose policies would bring their population out of poverty and misery.

The most important thing for a developing country is to lift its citizens out of poverty and misery. This invariably forces the goverment to make tough decisions. If a person is sick, he/she needs to take the appropriate medications. If a country is sick, it needs to adopt the necessary unpopular corrective policies. Such painful policies would never gain the support of those who do not have the capacity to understand the complex reasoning behind the policies.

While there is no reason to think that deveoping countries can never adopt a democractic system of government, it does mean that it is in their own interest to delay that adoption until such time that it has the necessary requirements to make it viable.

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Does Democracy Really Work? :

Now that we have established the minimum preconditions for a workable democracy. The next question is: Does democracy actually work?

To answer that, we would first need to get a common understanding of what “work” means.

Most in America seem to believe that George W. Bush was not the best candidate for the top job of supreme commander. Indeed, most in the world seem to agree. If general elections, being the most integral part of democracy, were meant to pick the best person for the job, then we can safely conclude that democracy does NOT work.

In order for us to claim that democracy works, we would first need to come to the consensus that general elections are NOT meant to place the right persons into office.

Indeed, that IS the main difference between a democracy and a meritocracy. The most fundamental element of democracy is the democractic elections. Democractic elections are essentially popularity contests. THIS, has to be a serious cause of concern for developing countries.

There are at least 2 serious flaws with such a system for developing countries.

First, popularity can be bought, and IS usually bought. This happens in both developing and developed countries alike. This can be done directly, through the purchase of air time and paid advertisements. Or it can be done indirectly, through the promise of personal benefits such as tax cuts, etc, which clearly has no relevance to the candidate’s suitability for the job, and often may not even be in the best interest of the country.

Secondly, such contests of popularity often plays on the emotions of the masses. This may not be a serious problem for first world countries except perhaps when in a crisis. However, it can be a very dangerous set up for developing countries. This is especially the case if the country has a belligerent uneducated majority population.

Developing countries, more than any other countries, need strong governments and strong leaders that know what they are doing, and can make tough decisions and then enact them. Such popularity contests that depend completely on the feel good factor of an uneducated population is almost a guarantee for that country to keep its “developing” label.

The supporting factor behind democracy is its inherent fairness to the majority. But for a developing country, this “fairness” is an irrational one. It is fair only because it unnecessarily keeps every person as poor and miserable as every other person in a country that may stay as “developing” for an unreasonable amount of time.

Democracy can work for wealthy first world countries. Whether it IS actually working for these countries depends a lot on your perspective. But there is no doubt that one can afford such luxury in these countries. However there can be little doubt that democracy does NOT work for developing countries.

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The Chinese Model :

If democracy requires preconditions that can not be met by poor developing countries, then it may be worthwhile to explore viable alternatives. The following is a brief introduction of an interesting hybrid system that seems to be taking shape in China.

(a) From the Bottom :

China has long stated that it would never adopt a Western style democracy on a national level. However it has at the same time been experimenting with the idea of democracy on local levels continuously since the 1980s.

The first experimental elections were held in the early 1980s in remote villages. Today, more than 600,000 villages across all of China conduct open, competitive elections every 3 years. These are very much like the city council elections in Western countries, and are monitored by American NGOs based in Atlanta, USA that operate around the world. These open and transparent competitive elections cover more than 1 billion of its citizens, accounting for approximately 75% of the entire population.

This is almost certainly only the first step in an evolutionary process. Provided there are no major social upheavals (which often have the effect of turning the clock backwards in China), these democratic elections are expected to eventually be expanded to include at least one, or maybe more, higher level administrative divisions.

(b) From the Top :

While the top Chinese leaders today are not elected through universal suffrage, they are not dictators either in the original sense of the word.

No leaders in China are born into the position, and no leaders can overstay their set terms. The national leaders don’t happen to fall on the leader’s seat. There is a selection process not very different from the selection process of party leaders in most democratic systems. In China’s case, the leades are appointed for a set term by an experienced panel that includes current leaders and national advisors.

This is essentially a meritocratic system that is in use today in all major corporations worldwide. The benefit of such a system is its inherent ability to place the right person in the right job.

The chosen candidate is then put in an “apprentice” position within the cabinet for a maximum of 5 years. This safeguard procedure would ensure that the right person is chosen for the job. This also enables the new leaders to be proficient in handling the immense responsibilities by the time he/she gets into office.

(c) Combining (a) and (b) — The Final Model :

The resulting model would then be a hybrid system where the local affairs and demands of the population would be handled by local authorities that are elected by the people themselves through democratic means, while the macro management and foreign affairs would be handled by capable people trained for the job and are selected based on their abilities by an experienced panel.

This system is not only more effective and efficient than a democratic system, but should also be inherently fairer than both democratic systems and monarchy based systems. Unlike a monarchy based system, there are no hereditary leaders. And unlike a democratic system, there are no campaign cost burdens and considerations which tend to limit the average person’s ability to apply for the top job. This new system would ensure that ALL members of the society have equal access to power.

At the end of this evolutionary process, the eventual hybrid system should have most of the humanistic benefits of a democratic system combined with the stability inherent in a single party system, while at the same time preserving the effectiveness and efficiency of a meritocratic system.

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Conclusions :

Although there is no guarantee of success at the end of this political evolutionary process taking place in China, the case is compelling for a new system that suits both developing countries and developed countries alike. At least on the surface, it does seem to be a well balanced compromise that is likely to be superior to the current systems. It remains to be seen whether it is or not. But personally, I think it looks very promising.

At this point, I like to share with you a quote I found in one of Cam Hui’s articles on the SeekingAlpha blogsite ( which was in turn taken from Fabius Maximus’s blogsite ) :

Mao Tse-tung … (on 27 February 1957, declared that) … Only socialism can save China.

After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaopeng took control in 1979 and modified this: Only capitalism can save China!

After the fall of the Berlin (wall) in 1989 the remaining true believers said Only China can save socialism!

It’s now 2009, the western banks are burning, and everybody knows that only China can save capitalism!

It would be ironic if one day in the not too distant future, we would add to the quote above that : “Only China can save democracy!!”

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  1. Chan
    July 6th, 2009 at 08:43 | #1

    This is the final part of my 2-part series on democracy, and also the last article to be published here on FM in the foreseeable future. As expected, some will agree with the article and some won’t. Unfortunately I won’t be able to participate in the discussions.

    As mentioned earlier, I will most likely disappear from the blogoshere altogether for the foreseeable future.

    As a parting remark, I just like to say one thing :

    Many on my opposing side seem to regard anyone with pro-China views as xenophobic. Indeed, many here have accused me of many things, including this latest accusation of xenophobia. While I am probably going to disappear indefintely, and therefore have no need to defend myself, I will nevertheless highlight my own case as an example to counter these senseless accusations against others on my side of the debate.

    There are clearly both Chinese and non-Chinese on both sides of the debate. You don’t need to be xenophobic to be on either side. In my case, I have always debated on China issues without ANY consideration whatsoever on the race or sex of the person on either side of the debate. I do not, and have never thought race, sex or star signs are important in any of these debates. I am sure most, if not all, on my side have the same view. In fact, if anything, I am most probably the OPPOSITE of xenophobic as I value the friendship of people such as Michael McCrosky more than that of my Chinese friends. (Not that I have ever met him personally)

    ( And also, just as a side thing, I once spoke more Gaelic than many of my past Irish friends. Clearly I learnt Gaelic not because it is a useful language. Of course not. But because of my genuine interest in engaging and impressing my friends in (what I though at the time was) their mother tongue. I don’t think too many xenophobic ultra-nationalistic Chinese would learn Gaelic out of interest! )

    I will leave FM and the blogosphere with this same remark I made earlier :

    “…. Unfortunately, the (personal attacks) persists. I would sincerely look forward to the day where everyone would just focus on the issues at hand and debate purely on the subject matter. I have seen many here with better minds than myself. There is no reason we cannot focus our debates purely on the subject matter”

  2. Wahaha
    July 6th, 2009 at 08:59 | #2

    The key flaw of your argument is #3 “Last but not least, the voters need to be relatively selfless.”

    This is very naive and simply impossible.

    1) People can only be relatively selfless why they have very decent life and feel secure for their future and their family members, which even very few developed countries can claim that.

    Hence, democracy failed to deliver materially worldwidely, in other words, you utopical model is built on vast amount of wealth, which is the situation in 60s amony west country.

    2) You dont understand how democracy is implement. Like currently in West, I believe majority of people are willing to scrafice more or less for their countries, but if a few of them refuse to scrafice, then no1 will be willing to be selfless. that is the problem.

    You talk about democracy like CCP members talked about communism before 1949.

  3. Chan
    July 6th, 2009 at 10:05 | #3

    Hi Wahaha,

    I mentioned I was not going to debate. But I can respond to yours very quickly, so I’ll do that. (But I won’t be continuing. So I will let you have the last word)

    I wasn’t promoting democracy. I was just trying to explain that democracy doesn’t work for developing countries (WITHOUT saying whether it would or would not work for developed countries). As for the system that seems to be evolving in China, I was just trying to explain what is taking place over there. So NO, I wasn’t promoting democracy.

  4. barny chan
    July 6th, 2009 at 10:34 | #4

    Wahaha, you either didn’t read Chan’s words in their entirety (broadly, he’s on your “side”), or you’re simply hardwired like an attack dog to bark at the very mention of democracy.

  5. huaren
    July 6th, 2009 at 18:40 | #5

    Hi Chan,

    Thx for this essay.

    “”“Great! We can vote our CEO out if he doesn’t give us a pay rise”.”

    For me, one of the key problems is indeed this. Democratic countries such as the U.S. cannot stop spending. Different groups of citizens fight to gain more benefit from the government. Politicians don’t want to be voted out of office, so they usually end up borrowing to keep the citizens happy.

    If the debt continue to rise, and inflation starts to chip away at standards of living by a lot, it is conceivable that a lot of citizens will indeed immigrate to other countries.

    “I said “Fine. By that time, we would have enjoyed our stay and made some big bucks. So we will just move on to the next company, and repeat this all over again”.”

    Top 25 regions with highest debt around the world.

    Source: http://www.indexmundi.com/g/r.aspx?t=100&v=94&l=en

    Country Amount ($Billion)
    ——- —————–
    1 United States 12,250
    2 United Kingdom 10,450
    3 Germany 4,489
    4 France 4,396
    5 Italy 2,345
    6 Netherlands 2,277
    7 Spain 2,047
    8 Ireland 1,841
    9 Japan 1,492
    10 Switzerland 1,340
    11 Belgium 1,313
    12 Canada 758.6
    13 Australia 757.9
    14 Austria 752.5
    15 Sweden 598.2
    16 Hong Kong 588
    17 Denmark 492.6
    18 Norway 469.1
    19 Portugal 415.5
    20 Russia 384.8
    21 Greece 371.5
    22 China 363
    23 Korea, South 342.7
    24 Finland 271.2
    25 Brazil 230.3

  6. Wukailong
    July 6th, 2009 at 19:47 | #6

    Indeed, the argument about voting out the CEO is a common one when people propose more democratic measures in a company. I’m not sure if it’s true, though – the same thing have been said about the workers’ movements too. Just imagine all the horrors that would happen if brute labor would be able to have a say in any decision!

    As for meritocracy, Bush has two degrees (a bachelor in history and an MBA). Rice has a Ph.D in political science. Does this make their policies somehow more qualified? How do you evaluate a person’s merits to be able to find the right person for the job?

    As for the statistics of debt, I think it needs to be compared to the sizes of the populations of the countries listed. I note that Hongkong, which is based on a sort of meritocratic system, has around the same level of debt as the countries slightly above and below it in the list, and they also have approximately the same populations. Also, note that all of these countries are among the richest, if you want to draw alternative conclusions…

  7. July 7th, 2009 at 00:28 | #7

    @Chan,

    I like this post. It is well written…

    But in some ways – I’d like to echo a little what Wukailong mentioned in #6. If the democratic processes cannot guarantee proper decision making, why should meritocracy guarantee proper decision making?

    The Qing gov’t was perfectly meritocratic (at least on paper) – but meritocracy did not mean it did not become short sighted, overzealous at self preservation at the expense of the long term prosperity of the Chinese people, or corrupt…

    I personally think there is something else beyond just democracy vs. meritocracy that makes for good governance. Democracy can work in certain contexts. Meritocracy can work in certain context. Both can work … both can fail …

    Another thing is that I think I have to disagree with your assessment that democracy is for developed wealthy countries and not for poorer developing countries.

    I know that’s a popular thesis these days, but if that’s really so, shouldn’t a country like the U.S. have become truly democratic only in the 20th century, when it truly became first world and rich? Maybe you do think the U.S. only became truly democratic this past century … Or are you making the developed vs. developing distinction only in today’s context?

  8. Wahaha
    July 7th, 2009 at 00:51 | #8

    Chan,

    I didnt see where you said you wouldnt debate.

    I will still point out the flaws in your essay :

    1) I mentioned #3 is impossible, even in developed countries. The huge amount of debt is partly cuz there is no way to control greediness under the idealism of liberty, by the rich, the middle class and the poor.

    2) You didnt pay attention to how democracy is implemented. for example, I believe most people are willng to scrafice something for their country, but if one refuses to corporate, then there will be 10, then 100, then thousands. Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the problem, and tried to change that, which is very clearly shown in his Inaugural Address :

    ……
    If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.

    With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.
    …….

    3) Government consists of people too, if government can abuse the power, people can molest their government (through activitists) too. You think those elected mayors and governers were idiots who had no clue about the potential rish of giving away money like papers ? Of course they know, but they have no choice, otherwise people wouldnt vote them. This becomes a huge issue when government has to make long term plan, like in India, government has huge trouble building up their infrastructue.

    Freedom should be given ONLY to those responsible people who know how and why they can use it, otherwise it will cause huge damage to the society, and even to people themselves. You didnt mention how government deals with irresponsible behavior and purposely misleading people.

    4) There are huge different between a corporate CEO and a leader of city or country. As in general, people know little about something that is no related to his daily life, they get the information about outside world through politicians and media, this allows politicians, activitists to manipulate people’s mind, sometimes misleading people, like the great leap in China in later 1950s; like the Iraq War 6 years ago. Whether the politicians and activitists work for people or not largely depends on how good he can stir the pot, rather than his ability or if he really work for people or not.

    But it is almost impossible for a corporate CEO to manipulate the minds of his employees, employees can see what is going on, what is going on in their company is part of their lives.

    Therefore democracy almost always looks great locally and maybe the best way to solve minor problems, but simply not a good way to solve economic problems of large scales, problems of urgency, like building infrastructure, handling economic crisis, making longtime plans in developing countries or in developed countries.

    Didnt you notice that those human right activitists always pick up individual incidents to prove their points but never show people the whole picture ?

    5) How to limit the power of the rich. I have said lot about that, but this is obviously the case in developing countries, you didnt say anything about that. It is not good that government has too much power, it is not good either that the rich have too much power.

    BTW, Democracy is indeed far better a political system.

    You are a chinese, you know that thousands of people died for communism before 1949. Lot of them were well educated chinese, what mistakes did they make ? they made mistakes cuz they follow textbooks, not facts. Your essay is pretty much the same way : all theory, no facts.

  9. S.K. Cheung
    July 7th, 2009 at 06:21 | #9

    This post is well written, but seems like a rehash of the meritocracy thread on this blog from a few months back, even though it was done independently.

    The comparison of democracy on a nation level with the functioning of a corporation is not novel. However, major differences have been downplayed. First, a corporation has one overriding objective- to make money for shareholders. From the perspective of a shareholder, there is “democracy”, since they get to vote at AGM’s on a board of governors which appoints the CEO, and at times they can vote for the CEO directly. On the other hand, a nation has diverse and varied objectives, and does not benefit from the uniformity of thought that a corporation would. Second, while a worker or shareholder can take leave of a company if the vision of the company differs from their own, such choice is not available (at least not nearly as readily) to citizens of a country, which to me argues for those citizens deserving of being able to give more input into the direction of their country.

    “If the average Joe Blow on the street is not the kind of person you would entrust important tasks to, then the chance is the average Joe Blow on the street is also not the kind of person you should entrust the fate of your nation to.”
    —that assumes that you are smarter or more qualified to make a decision than Average Joe. On what do you base that assumption? And while you may not entrust him, he may also not entrust you…so what then? You don’t want him to vote, and he doesn’t want you to vote…so you both don’t get to vote? Who decides? I think it’s very paternalistic to presume that one person is more qualified to identify the leader of a country than the next person…which is why I think every citizen should get to contribute to that decision, if they so choose. I think even poor uneducated people have priorities, and while their aspirations may not be as noble or sophisticated as yours, it seems appropriate that they get to speak for theirs in the same way you would get to speak for yours.

    The hybrid model of which you speak has already been referenced by others. It may be a good thing, assuming that it’s a hybrid of “the good parts” of the 2 systems from which it is derived. Obviously, I don’t think a meritocracy system has that many “good parts” when it comes to running a nation. If the bottom-up democratic system proves to be a good and viable system, why must there be an artificial ceiling of its applicability. If, as you suggest, 75% of the population can partake in such an exercise now, why would such a system suddenly be inadequate in selecting the top dogs? As for the meritocratic system, my question from the previous blogpost remains: who gets to decide the first person of merit, upon whose judgment all further meritorious individuals will be identified and selected? It’s a chicken and egg conundrum…someone has to be the first to identify all who come after, but who decides on that someone? As for a hybrid system not having cost burdens, you already said the “bottom up” half consists of elections, which, by your description, is a cost burden. And how can all people have equal access to power, if the winners of the top posts have to curry favour from the “deciders”?

  10. Chan
    July 7th, 2009 at 16:43 | #10

    If there is one thing I’ve learnt in the last 2 days, it is that it is very easy to declare my intention to quit the blogosphere, but very hard to actually do it. I may instead gradually phase myself out in the next couple of days.

    In the meantime, I will take the lazy route of replying only to the easy-to-respond comments until I genuinely disappear.

    ————————————–

    Allen and Wukailong,

    The difference between democracy and meritocracy is not that one guarantees placing the right person in the job while the other doesn’t. It is that one focusses on merit while the other on popularity when choosing candidates for a job. Unfortunately neither guarantees the right person for the job. However I would imagine merit is a lot more relevant when filling positions.

    ————————————–

    Allen,

    Personally I do strongly believe that democracy does NOT work for developing countries as per the reasons summarised in the article. As for developed countries, perhaps it is debatable. As mentioned in my article, it depends a lot on your perspective. From my own perspective, I tend to believe it doesn’t really work. But as suggested in my article, I do however believe they can afford such luxury in any case. (This is not to say the situation cannot change in the future)

    I am not sure the Qing example is applicable since the real “CEO” is the emporer. As for the American example, you are right. I do think they only became democratic recently since there was no universal suffrage until around 1965.

    ————————————–

    Wahaha,

    I am not entirely sure where you are coming from, and therefore can’t carry on a debate. But I am happy to assume you are right in any case.

    However, regardless of whether we are going to debate, I would love to know your position. So if you don’t mind, I would love to know which parts of the article you agree with, and which parts you don’t. And for the parts you don’t, which of those you are actually debating against.

    If you do decide to do that, you may need to be specific. So just highlight the lines in the article like the format SKC uses or the format that I normally use (see Comments section of my other articles)

    ————————————–

    SKC,

    I am assuming we are in agreement on the corporate democracy example. As I said in the article, corporate democracy is not the same thing as national democracy. But I hope you also agree that the preconditions are still the same regardless, since that was the point of the corporate example.

    As for who to entrust the fate of our nation to, I would much prefer someone highly qualified. Perhaps I am wrong, but most in developing countries don’t give me the impression they would understand the complexities behind economic and political decisions.

    As for the “democratic” element of the hybrid system, I wasn’t actually promoting the idea. I was simply reporting what was taking place in China. It wasn’t an endorsement on my part. As I said, it is a compromise, though a well balanced one in my opinion.

    As for the issue of “cost burden” : The elections described in the article are local elections, very similar to city council elections in Western countries. These are seldom very expensive, and therefore cannot be compared to the cost of national elections.

    As for the “favour from the deciders” you are referring to, that is an assumption you are making. In my opinion, even if your assumption is correct, it would not be above and beyond what one may expect from potential party leader candidates in a Westminster system if China was to choose such a system.

  11. Steve
    July 7th, 2009 at 19:37 | #11

    @ Chan: Nice post. I think you’ve stated your position well and handled the disagreements just as well. The initial post and comments have remained pretty reasonable for FM. I’m not sure why you feel the desire to quit the blog or not want to continue discussion on your side. I think you’ve handled it just fine so far. It also seems that no one has really objected to all your positions, just parts of them here and there.

    The democracy vs. meritocracy argument is an interesting one but one, I feel, that tends to get sidetracked in the theoretical rather than the practical. If we could have a system where the most qualified person who can do the best job is always elected, sign me up! But no system is either democratic or meritocratic. Those are simply elements of much more complex political systems. What I’d like to do is break down each one by method, then list their strengths and potential weaknesses.

    Democracy is a method of election. Rather than appointing officials, the people those officials would govern are allowed to elect the officials themselves. Those elections are typically within the context of a constitutional republican form of government. To be successful, democracy presupposes several conditions:

    1) That the rule of law is above any one individual
    2) That the constitution is set up in such a way where one candidate doesn’t have overwhelming advantages vis a vis that candidates’ rivals in an election. For instance, if the media is state sponsored, the party running the state would have an enormous advantage over another party’s candidate.
    3) That financial advantages are not so overwhelming for one candidate that the opponent is not able to get out a message in a comparable way.
    4) That the military is apolitical and does not interfere in the election cycle.
    5) That all parties adhere to the constitution.
    6) That the constitution has the ability to be amended but that the amendment process cannot be controlled by any one party. In other words, amendment to the constitution is a difficult process.
    7) That the constitution contains checks and balances so that the governing party cannot engage in “mob rule”.

    Those are the ones that come to mind. I’m sure others can add to them and might have difficulties with a few, but that’s fine and just makes for a more lively discussion.

    Democracy presupposes that “group-think” is more accurate than individual opinion, even if that individual opinion comes from an expert. This has been borne out in, of all things, gambling. Experts picking the outcome of sporting contests are never as accurate as taking the average of a public poll’s picks. It’s kind of a law of averages thing. Democracy also has the ability to reject an elected official who is tight with his cronies but not doing a good job in the public’s eyes. It can also prevent nepotism in politics and keep government from turning into an inherited oligarchy.

    Democracy can be hijacked by a charismatic leader who is not really suited for the job but has the power of persuasion. Democracy can be used by an elected official to “bribe the people with their own money” or to “buy votes” using income redistribution. Fund-raising for elections can result in wealthy individuals or organizations “buying” preferential treatment. Because of modern technology, money has become more and more relevant in the election process.

    From a philosophical point of view, the democratic concept is that the government works for the people and the people are the true boss of the government with the ability to hire and fire according to perceived performance.

    Meritocracy is a tricky term, in that it is more of a philosophy than an electoral system. To be successful, meritocracy presupposes several conditions:

    1) That the method of choosing the official corresponds with that official’s ability to perform in the job.
    2) That the “Peter Principle” does not come into play.
    3) That qualifications for one position have relevance in the new position.
    4) That the selection panel is utilizing the merit performance parameters and not political considerations.
    4) That the existing constitution under which the meritocracy operates contains checks and balances so the technocrat doesn’t achieve too much individual power within the system.
    5) That there is a method for removal of incompetent administrators that is not based on political considerations.
    6) That the rule of law is independent of the bureaucracy.
    7) That the military is apolitical and does not interfere in the election cycle.

    Again, I’m sure many of you can add to that list and some might want to subtract from it.

    Meritocracy is based on the assumption that “qualification” corresponds with competence. It also presupposes that the competent individual is more gifted than “group-think”, so just the opposite of the democracy concept. It will typically use the example of the “benevolent dictator” such as Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew as proof of it’s superiority.

    Meritocracy can be hijacked by a false sense of competence. As an example, George W Bush went to prep school at Phillips Academy, undergrad at Yale and an MBA from Harvard and was an extremely popular Texas governor. Condoleezza Rice was provost at Stanford before starting her political career. I would not consider either to have been very competent at their White House job. Meritocracy has to be defined in some way. Is it defined by education? Former professors have frequently made terrible government officials by dint of their “know-it-all” attitudes. Henry Kissinger, anyone? Is it defined by work experience? Donald Rumsfeld had plenty of that. Is it defined by private business experience? Dick Cheney ran Halliburton. I’m using American examples since I’m American (and picking on Republicans but I could just as easily have picked on Democrats).

    Over time, Meritocracy can easily turn into oligarchy. I believe they are called “little princes” in China. The sons and daughters of party bigwigs are given leadership positions far beyond their capabilities since the senior party officials know that they can only get their progeny into office if they also help get their fellow party member’s progeny into office. It can be very difficult to prevent this legally. Corruption is more easily achieved in a meritocracy because the required checks and balances to prevent it are more difficult to enforce. The law can become what an official says it is. Cronyism is more likely under a meritocracy.

    Politics in a democracy is not like a business. Former CEO’s have mostly proven to be unsuccessful politicians because politics is not an autocratic discipline. The key ingredients are compromise and working with people. Because democracies tend to be adversarial, the competing interests tend to keep an eye on each other and expose the other’s corruption. Politics in a meritocracy can much more easily become autocratic, since the appointed person is considered an “expert” and there is no one to check an abuse of power.

    In a meritocracy, if an appointed official is truly qualified for the job and is honest and competent, this official will usually outperform a democratically elected one. But if the official is not qualified, honest or competent, that official will usually under-perform a democratically elected one.

    From a philosophical point of view, the meritocracy concept is that the people work under the government because the government officials are superior to the people. The people cannot be trusted with the selection of government officials, but this job must be performed only by the most qualified individuals already in the government.

    So in the end, for me it comes down to competence, honesty and a properly written constitution. Personally, I trust the people more than I trust clever officials, just on the law of probability. What I mean is that you never know when you’ll roll double 6’s, but if you roll the dice thousands of times it’ll come up almost exactly at 35:1 odds. The larger the sampling pool, the more accurate it tends to be. Also, competence in no way alleviates greed or avarice.

    Chan, I’m sure you disagree with my position but that’s what a blog debate is for. In the end, we all look at the arguments and make personal judgments. Much of it comes down to individual philosophy and interpretation of history. Neither method is perfect and it’s easy to shoot holes in each of them, but that doesn’t disqualify either position from having merit.

  12. Wukailong
    July 7th, 2009 at 20:43 | #12

    @Chan: I want to echo Steve’s sentiments. You’ve been saying that you’re going out of business for quite a while now. 🙂 I don’t see the need though – you’re one of the real gentlemen on this blog, so please keep posting and commenting here!

    As for whether meritocracy or democracy places the right person in the right place, I basically agree. I don’t see any necessary contradiction between popularity and merit, but I’ll have to get back to that… More later.

  13. Brad
    July 7th, 2009 at 20:59 | #13

    Something is missing in this democracy debate: the “why” and the “objectives”.

    Democracy is nothing else but a model of government that a society can use to achieve collective “objectives”. Government form is the “means” to achieve the “ends”. The means chosen should suite the ends. There are limitations and applicable conditions to any model or theory.

    What government model is the best? IMHO, it really all depends on “what” do you want to achieve, what your situation is.

    If the collective demand put personal freedom higher above anything else, then choose Democracy.
    If the collective demand put efficiency higher, then choose Dictatorship. These are certainly overly simplified statements. However, it highlights the pros and cons of the 2 contrasting systems.

    Democracy respects individual rights, but is slow, and inefficient.
    Dictatorship on the other hand has military style efficiency. Both system can fail.

    Countries differ drastically. Modern societies are very very complex animals, which requires a compatible design of the governing systems for each different society. There is no silver bullet kind of government form that will fit for all.

    A mature civilization will tend to follow the China model, which is more open minded and capable of taking the ingredients of every known government models. A practical engineering approach is probably more important than the model itself: study, design, test, modify, and scale it up. In the end, a balanced government approach will triumph any single form government.

  14. Wahaha
    July 8th, 2009 at 03:32 | #14

    “However, regardless of whether we are going to debate, I would love to know your position. So if you don’t mind, I would love to know which parts of the article you agree with, and which parts you don’t. And for the parts you don’t, which of those you are actually debating against.”

    Chan,

    I can see you have deep thought about democracy, I am very impressed. but your argument missed the most important factor : human factor.

    I will list two major argument I disagree :

    1) The 3 preconditions : the 1st one cannotbe realized under democracy, see explanation in my post # 8, item2; the 2nd cant be true as most people’s decisions are driven by greediness, fear, jealousy, hatred and love, not by intelligence (otherwise Hitler wouldnt be elected, there would be no CV and there would be no housing bubble), educated or not. the 3rd is impossible, otherwise, communism might be a good idea.

    2) you said “This problem of lack of control of the selection process for the existing population and the newborn arrivals would not be a big issue for a wealthy country….” and “population can be bought ..”

    you focus on the selection process, but you forgot the most important process in any political system, that is the process of making decisions.

    Ask yourself : who would a government official have to take care of ? in order (THE HUMAN FACTOR) : #1 his family , #2, the people who have impacts on his financial situations and political future. #3, his close friends, people of his kind, etc, #4, the people.

    No matter the government official is elected or appointed, that order doesnt change for most govenrment officials.

    #1 caused corruption, in democratic countries or in non-democratic countris, (unless the official himself is a millionaire, see former president in south korea and Taiwan); in a democratic countries, the #2 consists of the rich, whether in developing countries or developed country, that is the reason why people’s government doesnt work for people, at least in developing countries.

    Unless you were talking about election for the sake of election, you didnt hit the point why democracy doesnt work in developing countries.

    *******************************************************************************

    You said “The resulting model would then be a hybrid system where the local affairs and demands of the population would be handled by local authorities that are elected by the people themselves through democratic means, while the macro management and foreign affairs would be handled by capable people trained for the job and are selected based on their abilities by an experienced panel.”

    I am impressed by the model you presented above, as I strongly believe democracy is the way to solve micro problems and looks like authoritarian way is the way to solve macro problems and make long time plan. But again, the human factor, here is the problem : can the macro management be implemented under democracy? cuz in general, few big plans can make everyone happy. Like the current crisis, I dont see how US and Europe can solve the financial crisis while making majority happy, let alone make everyone happy. (China went through a very painful period in 1980s, breaking iron bowls.)

    **************************************************************

    In summary, you argument doesnt consider the human factor, and political system is about how human beings interact with each other and work with each other. If you read my previous post again, you can see all my argument is about human factor.

  15. Wahaha
    July 8th, 2009 at 03:41 | #15

    Also, Chan,

    There is one thing very people mention when talking about democracy : The people.

    Liberal talk about people like “people are always right .” like “customers are always right”. That is simply not the case, people can be wrong, usually more often than government (unless the priority of government is not economy.) Remember how chinese people act when chinese government tried to break the iron bowl system ?

    So one of the big problems under democracy is that people can force the government doing the wrong thing (like California proposition 13) or block government doing what is necessary (like Chicago airport expansion plan.)

  16. Steve
    July 8th, 2009 at 04:06 | #16

    @ Wahaha: Those are both very good posts. The only comment I’d like to make is that “democracy” didn’t create Proposition 13 or the Chicago Airport expansion defeat but the system under which that democracy was used, in other words, the laws governing the implementation of those proposals. For instance, in California you need a 2/3 approval rate to raise taxes. Politicians desperate for income will call taxes “fees” to try and get around the law, etc. The 2/3 approval is a law, not a function of democracy itself. An autocratic ruler can create bad law just as easily, in fact, probably more easily. One just substitutes for the other. Both can be good or bad.

    I do wish you’d stay away from comparing anything to pre-WWII Germany. There were factors involved at that time that were unique and not normal to any democracy. Democracy was brand new in Germany after the first war and government institutions were very immature. Throw a depression, huge war reparations and crippling inflation on top of that and no style of government could survive for long. People were going to vote for change. The housing bubble was a much better example.

  17. S.K. Cheung
    July 8th, 2009 at 05:56 | #17

    To Chan:
    we agree on the corporate governance structure as an analogy to a certain degree, but not entirely. In the corporate structure, there are 2 groups with vested interests: the employees, and the shareholders. From the employee perspective, it is a merit based system; but from the shareholder perspective, to me it is fairly democratic, as I said earlier. Also, as I suggested, a corporation usually does not have varied and competing interests; it’s there to make money. We can then discuss whether it makes money for the benefit of the employees, or of the shareholders. Realistically, probably both. So in fact, to me, it is unclear whether a corporate model exemplifies a merit based system or a democratic system. Either way, I think a direct application of a corporate analogy to nation governance is flawed, because it tries to apply a scenario with one overriding objective (ie company making gobs of money) to one where there are varied and competing interests.

    Of course, it is ideal for a nation to be led by someone highly qualified. But the question is who should determine the requisite qualifications, and who should judge which person is in most abundant possession of them. In a company, the answer may be clearer, because the question is relatively simple. But if the objective is to pick a person best suited to turn around the economy, but also to improve access to health care, to appoint Supreme Court judges who espouse my values, and to ably represent my country on the world stage, I think my opinion would be as good as anyone else’s. I certainly wouldn’t want to cede the right to make that selection to a clique whose members I also didn’t select.

    As for the democratic part of the hybrid, my question still remains. If it’s good enough for some aspects of governance, why is it not good enough for others? Why need there be a ceiling beyond which the people are unable to have a choice? I can agree with the argument that people know the local issues and thus may be better equipped to make choices in that arena, as opposed to, as you say, foreign policy. But my question would then be: how much foreign policy experience did China’s leaders have before “the deciders” tapped them for the top job? And ultimately, to me, if my country’s foreign policy has an effect on me, then I’d want a hand in determining who formulates said policy on my behalf.

    “These are seldom very expensive, and therefore cannot be compared to the cost of national elections.”
    —this point is well taken.

    “As for the “favour from the deciders” you are referring to, that is an assumption you are making.”
    —it seems human nature that, if I get to decide who gets the plum jobs, potential applicants will be engaging in some brown-nosing to get the inside track. I think it unlikely that a merit-based system will occur without a healthy dose of politicking, behind closed doors no less. THe difference with our system is that for us, that amount of politicking might get you the privilege of standing for election, whereas in CHina, it gets you the keys to the office.

  18. Chan
    July 8th, 2009 at 17:56 | #18

    Brad,

    Very well said.

    —————————–

    Wahaha,

    Thanks very much for clarifying. I don’t think there is any major disagreement between our thinking. And therefore nothing to debate about.

    As I said earlier, I wasn’t promoting democracy. Those 3 preconditions I listed were, as I said in the article, merely the minimum requirements necessary for implementing a meaningful democracy. I was not suggesting they should be the only factors to consider. Nor did I specify whether any country has actually achieved those minimum requirements. I guess maybe my article was not clear enough.

    But I hope I’ve made it clear now.

  19. Chan
    July 8th, 2009 at 18:02 | #19

    SKC,

    I agree with some of the things you said, but clearly not everything. The main ones we don’t yet agree on are as follows:

    (1) I guess the main problem I have with democracy is not just on the issue of who does the choosing, but also the fact that popularity is used as the basis for selection. As mentioned in my article, it may not be a problem for developed countries. But in my opinion, it would not work for developing countries.

    (2) RE : “… if my country’s foreign policy has an effect on me, then I’d want a hand in determining who formulates said policy on my behalf”

    In the current democratic systems, only the leader is democratically chosen. All the other roles in government are filled by people appointed in a meritocratic way. So I guess many of your arguments against meritocracy would also hold for democratic systems.

    (3) RE : “The difference with our system is that for us, that amount of politicking might get you the privilege of standing for election, whereas in CHina, it gets you the keys to the office”

    Very good point. But in this case, it would hardly make any difference in practice since both sides of a Westminster system would presumably go through the same closed-door procedure of selecting their leaders. And therefore the final winner, whoever that is, would still be someone who went through that process you despise in order to receive those keys.

    ———————————–

    SKC, I think you are a wise person. We may be on opposing sides on these debates. But if my predictions are correct, within the next 5 to 10 years, most Chinese, including you and me, will eventually be on the same side. The world is changing fast, and China is changing even faster. I believe much of these debates today will become irrelevant. Do remember my words, and look back in a few years.

    But in the meantime, I will let you have the last words.

  20. Chan
    July 8th, 2009 at 18:06 | #20

    Steve and Wukailong,

    Thanks so much for those kind words.

    —————————–

    Steve,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I agree with many of your points. But as I mentioned to Allen, I do believe democracy would not work for developing countries as per the reasons summarised in the article. As for developed countries, perhaps there is more room for a debate.

    However, as mentioned in my comment at #19 above, even in a democracy only the leader is democratically chosen. All the other roles in government are filled in a meritocratic way. So most of your arguments against meritocracy would also hold for a democratic system.

    Perhaps you don’t agree. I will let you have the last word Steve.

  21. Chan
    July 8th, 2009 at 18:18 | #21

    Hi all,

    I posted the 1st comment on this Comments section a few days ago. I ended that comment by these words :

    “…. I would sincerely look forward to the day where everyone would just focus on the issues at hand and debate purely on the subject matter. I have seen many here with better minds than myself. There is no reason we cannot focus our debates purely on the subject matter”

    Judging from the comments so far on this last article, it seems I have finally seen that day. Perhaps this is the right time to move on.

    In case some of you may be wondering, I am leaving for personal reasons. But I hope to be back one day in the future. Just not sure when that would be. So you will probably not see me again in the blogosphere for quite some time. In case if I don’t come back, good luck to everyone. And many thanks to FM for inviting me to post here in the first place.

    Good luck and goodbye!

  22. huaren
    July 8th, 2009 at 18:31 | #22

    Hi Wukailong, #6,
    It is true. There can be many interpretations about debt.

    One is that you borrow heavily from the rest of the world to catapult your own development. As long as your can create new industries and reap rewards from them, then your chance of paying the heavy debt off are higher.

    But the most direct is that you are borrowing from your future generations and creating a mess for them.

    Hi Brad, #13,
    I like your comments a lot also.

    Hi Steve, #11
    I like your nuanced view in general.

    Hi Chan
    I hope you continue to be active in the blogs whenever you have time.

    Guys,
    This is a bit along the lines of what Brad started saying. Another aspect to this kind of debate has to account for the citizens view on “what they have to loose.”

    If you are a developed country and you can see that you are clearly ahead of everyone else, then you tend to want to favor policies around minimizing damage to your way to life.

    If you think you are behind, and your leadership is fostering an environment where lots of wealth are created, you tend to not want to rock that. When you have lots to loose, your mindset change.

  23. Steve
    July 8th, 2009 at 19:24 | #23

    @ Chan #20: Thanks for moderating this very civil debate. I believe everyone involved really enjoyed it.

    Back in 1989, I said repeatedly that China wasn’t ready for a democracy and I could understand why the government put their foot down. Now I might not have liked the way they did it, but I believe democracy would have been a disaster for China back then. There were no institutions of democracy in place. To have an election isn’t democracy. It’s just a way to vote in a new dictator. Factors such as income, level of education, cohesiveness of the society, etc. all play a role in whether democracy fits a specific country. The argument, in my mind at least, is where that magic line is when democracy becomes viable.

    I’m not sure exactly what you meant when you said that only the leader was democratically elected and the rest were based on a meritocracy. In the USA, we elect officeholders from President down to Senator, Congressman, State House and Senate, Mayor, City Council, Board of Education and in some states, even our Judges. Government bureaucracy is not democratic but I also wouldn’t call it a meritocracy. Are you familiar with government bureaucracy in the States? It’s certainly not the best of the best; more like the worst of the worst.

    One democratic country with a bureaucracy that IS a meritocracy is Sweden. They have a very professional and competent bureaucracy but they’ve had a competent bureaucracy for hundreds of years. It’s a self-perpetuating body of competence. I am insanely jealous! That’s why countries that try to copy Sweden’s socialism always end up in difficulty. They can’t copy Sweden’s bureaucracy that administers the socialism.

    Good luck, Chan! Hope to see you back one day. 🙂

  24. Steve
    July 8th, 2009 at 19:29 | #24

    @ huaren #22: “If you are a developed country and you can see that you are clearly ahead of everyone else, then you tend to want to favor policies around minimizing damage to your way to life.

    If you think you are behind, and your leadership is fostering an environment where lots of wealth are created, you tend to not want to rock that. When you have lots to loose, your mindset change.”

    I agree. As Dylan once sang, “When you got nuthin’ you got nuthin’ to lose.” Back in 1989, people had nothing to lose. These days, they have a lot to lose so they are naturally more conservative and less tolerant of anyone who rocks the boat. So the question becomes, is the CCP maintaining their popularity because of nationalism or because of financial reward? Or does the financial reward keep the older people happy while nationalism keep the college students and other youth in check?

  25. huaren
    July 8th, 2009 at 20:04 | #25

    Hi Steve, #24,

    I think its “financial reward.” People can see the buildings going up, roads built, and income increasing so they are enjoying a lifestyle their parents could only dream of. This is very true with my relatives there both from the country side and those who live in tier 1 or 2 cities.

    My view on Chinese nationalism:

    1. To be honest, I think many Chinese are afraid of it as well. For me, I am a firm believer in China’s “peaceful rise” and normalization with her neighbors and the world. Nationalism can be hard to contain and works against that.

    2. “Westerners” are concerned about Chinese nationalism, just as Chinese are afraid of nationalism anywhere else.

    3. Governments when performing well, they don’t rely on idealogy to justify their policies. For the last couple of decades, I think the CCP knows they have been doing “well.” Government tends to be more idealogical when they want to justify irrational decisions.

    For me, Chinese nationalism is probably fueled more by “Western” media than anything else. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. I know this is a serious accusation. We probably ought to have a thread on it as a topic.

    My feeling is as more Chinese citizens come online and see all the raw comments, this “nationalism” situation could get worse.

    We talked about how Chinese citizens view their government differently than from the “West.” I cringe thinking about the Chinese citizens visiting places like CNN or NYT and especially the comment sections, because the mountain of ignorance there is probably a bigger mountain than the one we are trying to move at FM. 🙁

  26. Steve
    July 8th, 2009 at 20:39 | #26

    Hi Huaren #25: What you hear is what I heard. Everyone I knew is pretty happy with life these days as compared to life ten or twenty years ago. After all, everything is relative so as long as things are getting better, there is reason to be optimistic. Anyone who’s read my comments in the past knows I am very optimistic about the future when it comes to China and the Chinese people.

    I think any rational person would be concerned with xenophobic nationalism, whether in a foreign country or in their own. I was concerned a few years ago when it happened here in the States. To this day, I abhor the Patriot Act, which to me has nothing to do with patriotism. Freedom fries? Ridiculous! “Are you with us or against us?” Xenophobia is the perfect breeding ground for true racism. Fortunately its net effect only lasted one election cycle.

    I guess because I’m not Chinese but lived there, I see both sides of the “stupid, racist comments” debate. I just stopped reading the comments section in the major media when the article concerned China because.. what’s the word… vituperative comments on both sides made me nauseous. So I would not classify it as just a “western” problem because there are two very large mountains of ignorance.

    Chinese citizens view their government differently than non-Chinese do. But I think to categorize all non-Chinese countries as viewing China in the same way is simplistic. I believe the range of opinion from one country to another and within each country is quite wide.

    If you cringe at reading comments in the CNN or NYT sections, you might also cringe to read the comments that Chinese citizens write about other countries in the Chinese blogs, usually to the effect of going to war and kicking butt over some perceived slight. They’re just as bad. Weird thing is, I believe it is a non-representative sample (hasty generalization fallacy) on both sides. I think the majority of people in both countries have a genuine respect for each other. They just don’t write comments in blogs and online media reports. So we end up arguing over something that isn’t even accurate, which of course makes the arguments just as xenophobic as the racism comments we read.

  27. Wukailong
    July 8th, 2009 at 21:09 | #27

    When people raise the argument that electoral costs for national elections are so high in multi-party democracies, what is this based on exactly? Certainly, is it easy to get the feeling that enormous amounts are spent on the presidential election in the US (for example) when you look at absolute numbers.

    “According to required campaign filings as reported by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), a total of 148 candidates for all parties raised a collective total of $1,644,712,232 and spent $1,601,104,696 for the primary and general campaigns combined through November 24, 2008.” [1]

    However, if you divide the amount spent with the size of the population in 2008 (not just eligible voters), 304,059,724 [2], you get around $5 per person. Is it really that extreme? Considering what I’ve heard about ballooning costs, I certainly expected much larger sums. Also, when comparing different countries, including authoritarian ones without elections for national leaders, we should also factor in additional costs in non-democratic countries, like all the extra work done for surveillance [3].

    I am open to the possibility that non-democratic countries get rid of electoral costs and so save a lot of money, but I’m not convinced. If somebody has a compelling argument that electoral costs are indeed too high and that this is a structural problem in all democracies, I’m happy to hear it.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2008 (under campaign costs)
    * Before people begin to lambast me for using Wikipedia as a source – if there are indeed errors in these figures, then please provide the correct ones.
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population
    [3] I’m aware there’s a lot of surveillance going on in the US post-911. That could possibly be used to challenge my argument.

  28. raventhorn4000
    July 8th, 2009 at 22:35 | #28

    Actually, WKL,

    Your figure is only the FEC figure, which doesn’t include what lobbyists spent on supporting various issues and candidates, and various extra spent on the campaign.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2008/10/23/cost-of-2008-election-cycle-53-billion/

    This article cite the cost to be more like $5.3 billion. Though an argument can be reasonably made that other “hidden costs” are not included still.

    For example, Corporations and industries regularly plan and discuss and spend money in “anticipation” of the next election cycle. Political activist groups conduct “indirect campaigning” by publicly attacking issues instead of candidates, even though the issues clearly target some candidates with more hostility and others with more support. (Funding for issue campaigning in US is not limited by campaign contribution laws.)

    *There are no clear figures for these “hidden costs”, but they are substantial, more than the actual election costs themselves.

    *
    Not lambasting you for your Wiki citation, just the actual figures and calculation methods.

    🙂

  29. huaren
    July 9th, 2009 at 05:25 | #29

    Hi Steve, #26,

    “Chinese citizens view their government differently than non-Chinese do. But I think to categorize all non-Chinese countries as viewing China in the same way is simplistic. I believe the range of opinion from one country to another and within each country is quite wide. ”

    I do agree that Brits, Canadians, Americans, etc. all view China differently. But to me, on many issues they also view China in similar ways. If we look back at issues discussed lately on FM – 6.4, Tibet, Olympics Torch relay, and He Kexin’s age. Actually, I think “bias” is probably too washed out in some instances. I remember around 3.14 2008, CNN doctoring an image where the rioters with bricks in hand were cut out from a picture taken by a tourist. The doctored image then fit their story of the Chinese troops all over town to “repress” the population.

    “If you cringe at reading comments in the CNN or NYT sections, you might also cringe to read the comments that Chinese citizens write about other countries in the Chinese blogs, usually to the effect of going to war and kicking butt over some perceived slight. They’re just as bad. Weird thing is, I believe it is a non-representative sample (hasty generalization fallacy) on both sides. I think the majority of people in both countries have a genuine respect for each other. They just don’t write comments in blogs and online media reports. So we end up arguing over something that isn’t even accurate, which of course makes the arguments just as xenophobic as the racism comments we read.

    Well said – I think for those of us interested in fighting this ignorance, we ought to keep this in mind – lot more frequently.

    I am not sure how much the Chinese media are contributing to this ignorance for the Chinese population.

    To me, the “Western” media, being capistalistic, have to manufacture ignorance – that’s the current unspoken business model.

  30. Raj
    July 9th, 2009 at 13:30 | #30

    huaren (29)

    I am not sure how much the Chinese media are contributing to this ignorance for the Chinese population.

    To me, the “Western” media, being capistalistic, have to manufacture ignorance – that’s the current unspoken business model.

    The Chinese media is little different from the foreign media in being driven by the need to sell copies of newspapers and obtain viewers – they’re “capitalistic” too. The only difference is that being controlled so heavily by the Chinese State that they avoid writing/saying anything that can be taken as criticism of the CCP as a whole or national government.

    The Chinese media does contribute to ignorance of other countries by being selective in discussions about things like democracy, omitting opinion polling on matters like what Taiwanese people think about unification or just by repeating tired propaganda. Given Chinese people’s access to information is more limited than it is over here, the Chinese media’s reporting has a larger effect on their views of the outside world.

  31. jc
    July 9th, 2009 at 13:58 | #31

    To Allen@#7:

    You stated:

    “I know that’s a popular thesis these days, but if that’s really so, shouldn’t a country like the U.S. have become truly democratic only in the 20th century, when it truly became first world and rich? Maybe you do think the U.S. only became truly democratic this past century … Or are you making the developed vs. developing distinction only in today’s context?”

    My thinking is that this is more or less comparing apple and orange. When U.S. was developing, it’s not like the world is already as it is today now. Also it took a while for U.S. to sort out most problems and come to what it is today. China is already way behind and it probably can not afford to spend another 200 years to wade through the same process. I’ve seen a lot of corruption in China that would have not happened if it has democracy, but I’ve also seen a lot of development and progress in China that would have not happened if it has democracy. So it all comes down to a balance of what you give and what you get.

  32. huaren
    July 9th, 2009 at 20:09 | #32

    Hi Raj, #30,

    I mostly agree with your first paragraph. In general, I agree the Chinese media is “controlled” by the government (I personally don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing for China at this point) and will not be super critical of the government.

    Don’t forget that the need to be polarizing in capitalistic media will tend to blow things really out of proportion. The fact that the Chinese media tend not to blow things really out of proportion or as polarizing is not necessarily a sign of overt government control.

    On this “control” of media by the government – there is one more idea – which is being “controlled” does not automatically mean you are “bad.” The U.S. media is “free”, but they generally took GWB’s stance on the Iraq invasion.

    Regarding your second paragraph – I think it is safe to say that every media within every country contributes towards their citizen’s ignorance of the world. The difference is on to what varying degree and on what type of issues. I think this is something really worthwhile looking into.

  33. Wahaha
    July 10th, 2009 at 01:33 | #33

    Steve,

    The Hitler’s election showed that people’s decisions are not driven by intelligence.

    California proposition 13 was pushed by people. This example is to show that people can be totally wrong. and it maybe the case that macro economic decision should be made by few experts, not people. (like BC mentioned)

    *****************************************************************************************************
    BC,

    I am sorry i cant say I agree on the time-table you talked to SKC.

    In NASA, 36% of scientists are Indians, which proves that Indian people are very intelligent.

    Now read this :

    http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/randomaccess/entry/the-chinese-think-big-we

    Which shows that elected are bunch of morons, in the eyes of India Intelligentsia.

    Democracy, or the democracy we know, has serious flaws, too much for China, at least until Chiense population stablizes. You didnt address how to bypass the flaws.

    CCP has done one thing that almost make certain that China would be in chaos under democracy : no other party of comparable size to CCP or a powerful leader opposite to CCP. You know Taiwan, South Korea, Poland and Russia all had leaders that people could follow, China doesnt. HuJia was widely hated by Chinese for helping seperating China, now there is Ai Weiwei who couldnt even speak clearly about his art. The result for this is that every political incident is local and isolated. Unless China’s economy comes to a stop or go south, there is nothing country-wide can happen like 20 years ago (also remember money can buy stability.)

    and West media has been doing best pushing people towards CCP, the incidents in Tibet and Xinjiang have convinced lot of Chinese that west wants to divide China. As Chinese have deep believe that a united China is necessary for a strong China, What west has done is convining Chinese people “Only CCP can save China.”, especially for those who were born after Mao’s era. (as you see, Mao becomes more and more popular.)

    Unless you want democracy at any cost, the democracy you mentioned will take long time. Personally, I think the (REALISTIC) priority for China (democratic or not) is to push for the reform of judicial system (though I have no clear idea how to do that.)

  34. Steve
    July 10th, 2009 at 02:56 | #34

    @ Wahaha: Do you know the circumstances behind Hitler’s election?
    Do you know the circumstances behind the passage of Prop 13?

    Just wondering…

  35. Wahaha
    July 10th, 2009 at 03:35 | #35

    Steve,

    Correct me if I am wrong :.

    about California proposition 13,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_13_(1978)

    Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann were the most vocal and visible backers of Proposition 13. Officially titled the “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation,” and popularly known as the “Jarvis-Gann Amendment,” Proposition 13 was placed on the ballot through the California ballot initiative process, a provision of the California constitution which allows a proposed law or constitutional amendment to be placed before the VOTERS if backers collect a sufficient number of signatures on a petition. Proposition 13 passed with almost 65% of those who VOTED in favor and with the participation of nearly 70% of registered voters. After passage, it became article 13A of the California state constitution.

    About Hitler,

    Hitler was appointed chancellor cuz Nazi party gained power.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_Germany

    The Third Reich arose in the wake of the national shame, embarrassment, anger and resentment which resulted from the Treaty of Versailles……

    Even though the Nazis had gained the largest share of the popular VOTE in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, …..

  36. Steve
    July 10th, 2009 at 04:29 | #36

    @ Wahaha: I’ve also relied too much on Wiki in the past and been burned for it so I’m more careful now.

    The history of Prop 13 starts well before Prop 13 existed. The California legislature (then as now controlled by a permanent gerrymandered Democratic majority) figured out that they could increase the value of property one year and then increase the tax rate the next year. Back and forth, they did this over and over until senior citizens could not keep up with their tax payments while on fixed incomes and people were losing homes because their salaries weren’t keeping up with monthly payments which ballooned as the rates and valuation increased.

    Thus was born Prop 13. People were frustrated so Jarvis and Gann came up with Prop 13. The legislature then came up with an alternative proposal but by this time, the voters had had it with them and didn’t believe anything they would propose. So Prop 13 passed though it wasn’t good legislation. What people read about is the proposition itself, but seldom are the conditions that created the situation mentioned. In effect, the legislature created Prop 13 by their connivance and greed. So I wouldn’t quite blame the voters for that one.

    Weimar Germany was the first democratically elected government in Germany’s history. It was strapped with huge reparations costs, massive inflation (at one point, people carried money around in wheelbarrows) and enormous unemployment. People were starving and desperate. When Hitler was elected, it was as a reformer and populist. This period was known as the Gleichschaltung and it was when he turned Germany from a democracy into a totalitarian state and murdered his political rivals. The key event was the Reichstag fire which suspended constitutional rights and allowed the SA (Brown Shirts under Ernst Rohm) to intimidate voters before the next election. Even then, his coalition barely won the election and the Nazi Party did not win a majority of the vote. They then passed the Enabling Act which eliminated the constitution and gave all power to the Nazi Party. From that point, the country was a totalitarian state and all political party rivals were banned.

    On June 30, 1934 (Night of the Long Knives or Operation Hummingbird) he wiped out the leadership of the Brown Shirts using the SS and Gestapo, especially Ernst Rohm who was a party rival, and assumed his undisputed leadership within the party and the government.

    So it’s a complicated process in a country where the institutions of democracy and rule of law were not firmly established. People were out of work and starving. The Nazi party usurped the constitution in a bloodless coup. They were able to get the support of the Army (who didn’t like the Nazis) by promising them increased funding beyond what the Versailles Treaty allowed.

    What I’m trying to say is that I would not blame the voters for either one of these situations. Prop 13 was inspired by bad government and Hitler’s rise to power was inspired by desperate times, no real democratic institutions and a blatant disregard for the law and the constitution. None of these can be considered an indictment of democracy. I’m not saying you can’t criticize democracy; as it’s been pointed out, democracy has its strengths and weaknesses. But I’m not convinced either of these particular examples really apply to the current democracies or the situation in China.

  37. Wukailong
    July 10th, 2009 at 07:02 | #37

    @Steve (#36): Great post! I would like to add what somebody said about Hitler: “People didn’t go to the voting booths thinking: ‘This guy wants to start a new world war and plunge the country into chaos. Sounds great, let’s vote for him!’ Instead, they voted for order and better economy.” Hitler’s popularity soared as the economy went down the tubes, especially in poor provinces.

    During the first years of Nazi rule, the prospects probably seemed great for a lot of people. Growth rates went up, people got jobs, and Germany seemed to be back to reclaiming its role in the world. We all know what happened later.

    I agree Nazi Germany and China can’t be compared. But it’s good the example was brought up, because it works both ways – comparing the Olympics in Beijing 2008 to the ones in Berlin 1936 simply isn’t valid, but unfortunately quite common.

  38. Wahaha
    July 11th, 2009 at 03:30 | #38

    ” What people read about is the proposition itself, but seldom are the conditions that created the situation mentioned. ”

    Steve,

    That is what I have been talking about : rarely do people have big pictures. In Mumbai, government simply cant move those people who live in slums. Even there is an exmple out there, Shanghai. Even now, all the educated Indians know What Shanghai looks like, but they still cant do anything to change Mumbai, why ?

    When Jarvis and Gann came up with Prop 13, who DARED to oppose that ? that would be equivalent to political suicidal.(or if this was not the case, then most of elected are morons.)

    Hitler was a great speaker, one of the greatest speaker ever. Nazi gained power largely cuz of his ability of convincing germany people who were desperate at the time. That is what I said, people’s decisions were driven by greediness, fear, envy, hatred and love, not intelligence.

    As people dont think intelligently when they dont feel secure for their future, they usually have little ideas about the direction their country should go and how country-wide plan should be made. If you have a look of the history of West, you can see every step of their development (before 1960s) was guided by the elite, not by people. and When people gained the right to talk about what is right and wrong, … well, most of developed countries were in debt to sustain their development, even with huge technology breakthrough.

    Think of following questions :

    1) With all the technologys, how come “No debt, no development” in almost all developed countries ?

    2) You know Obama administration is talking about 2nd stimulus plan, right ? didnt they say economy should start turning around now ? Are those decision-makers who graduated from Harvard, Princeton and Yale more stupid than Chinese decision makers ?

    Of course not, so there must be OTHER FORCES that drove them to make certain decisions and give optimistic speechs. Do you honestly believe what Obama said about economy 5 months ago was what he believed ?

    Who was he trying to convince ? the American people.

    3) Last question, we see so many protests against governments in democratic countries, how often do you see that those activitists organized protest against the rich, the group of people who benefit most under democratic system AND media pay much attention ?

    I think it is really funny that in democratic societies like Taiwan, South Korea and India, people are so angry at corrupt government officials, but never throw their anger on the rich.

  39. Wahaha
    July 11th, 2009 at 03:38 | #39

    So like Chan said,

    On macro scale, people should let government, the elite, the best educated to make plans for their country, their cities and their states.

    But

    1) the system must provide certain way to prevent government officials abusing the power.(the problem in China. CCP must solve it, otherwise it will be overthrown sooner or later, depending on the economic situation.) OR WORKING FOR THE RICH.

    (that is my opinion) so if a system can accomplish above, it really doesnt matter much if it is multiple party system or single system, (a little like Singapore.) and I dont know if such system is posible under one party system. That is why I asked the following qusetion before :

    It is possible that free media and authoritarian govenrment coexist ?

    2) People must give government some power so the govenrment can implement the best plans for people’s future. The more urgent the situation is, the more power a government needs.

    People cannot treat their government like slaves or a bank with infinite money (this is always the case under democracy), that is ridiculous. How can you expect a slave to help you when you are in trouble ?

  40. Steve
    July 11th, 2009 at 06:10 | #40

    @ Wahaha: Wow, you bring up a lot of good points!

    I agree about the big picture. In fact, many of us understand the big picture better in other countries than we do our own. We take the situation in our own country for granted because we see it day by day, but notice inconsistencies and biases outside of our own culture. One example is that of a missionary who laughs at and demeans the gods of others for being illogical and a pack of storybook lies while never questioning his own god’s ability to walk on water, raise people from the dead, etc., never realizing that both stories started out as metaphors in the first place. That’s what FM is all about, to try and create a common bond to bridge those differences.

    Interesting story: The Catholic Church had a world conference on meditation scheduled for Bangkok one year. At the conference, the Catholic and Buddhist clergy could come to no mutual understanding because they didn’t share any rituals, yet the Catholic and Buddhist monks who meditated understood each other perfectly and got along famously. Because they shared the same experiences, their spiritual outlook ended up being in the same place. To me, that’s the perfect example of seeing the ‘big picture’.

    It wasn’t that anyone didn’t dare to oppose Prop 13 when it appeared, it was that the alternative (which was actually decent legislation) was proposed by the same legislature who had created the mess in the first place and had no legitimacy with the public. Once the proposition was passed and came into being, it eventually became the third rail of California politics. These days, it’s like social security, medicaid and medicare as being political suicide to anyone who touches it. But the major problem in California wasn’t the voters or the politicians, it was really the political structure which didn’t allow a true choice to the voter in being able to turn over the legislature. Most political problems aren’t voter problems, they are structural problems where the voter isn’t able to make a difference.

    Hitler never convinced a majority of the German people. The Nazi party never did get a majority of the votes in any election. Democracy was overthrown with a “soft coup”. Your point about Hitler’s speaking ability caught my attention. When we hear him speak, it tends to sound overblown to our ears and we wonder how he managed to capture the crowds. But if you listen to most evangelical ministers, they use the same cadence. It consists of a calm start that slowly builds until it is highly passionate. Once it reaches a crescendo, it then drops precipitously back to the initial cadence where it then repeats, ad nauseum. So it is still an effective speaking style. Charlie Chaplin imitated it perfectly in the 1940 movie “The Great Dictator”.

    You mentioned that every step in the development of the United States was guided by the elite. I’d say that is true of every country. Right now, China is being ruled by “the elite”. You don’t think Hu Jintao is elite? Remember, most of the American elite of those days hadn’t been born rich but were self made. Isn’t it the same in China? Aren’t the Chinese people concerned about the rise of the so-called “little princes”, the sons of the current elite? That seems pretty universal to me.

    The US didn’t take on substantial debt until the Vietnam War, when LBJ didn’t want to raise taxes to finance an unpopular war. Since then, politicians figured out they can bribe people with borrowed money and neither party has stopped the process. When laws are passed to make it hard to do, the politicians find clever ways to get around the law.

    Japan developed without debt until the end of the “bubbling years”. Even now, she self-finances her own debt. Taiwan, South Korea and China have all developed without taking on debt. I would not agree with your thesis, though I would agree that many countries have tried to finance development with debt. Debt is the substitute for a low savings rate among the populace.

    I’ll steer clear of the Obama questions since they have nothing to do with a possible future Chinese democracy and are too off subject for this post, though you certainly raise good questions.

    To answer your last question on how often people protest against the rich, they do it at every WTO conference and some of the demonstrations are quite violent. The violence is usually caused by outside agitators. I need to point out, though, that these outside agitators are not sitting 10,000 miles from the scene of the demonstrations but are active participants. That’s why I’m still waiting for proof about the involvement of the WUC in planning the violence during the Urumqi riots.

    To be honest, most of the protests I’ve been seeing in democratic countries concern events happening in other countries, and are carried out by expats from those countries. For instance, most of the Olympic torch demonstrations in the developed world seemed to be carried out by expat Tibetans or out-of-state participants and not local people. In fact, I think they annoyed most local people.

    Wahaha, I personally don’t see how a free media can exist side by side with an authoritarian government. It’s just too easy for the government to interfere. When I lived in Taiwan, rather than a free media there were two sets of “party” media, both ridiculously biased in their reporting. Regardless of what side of the debate your are on, both sides of the media are filled with inaccurate stories that are heavily biased. Every normal news article is in fact an undisguised editorial. I think the biased media is the single biggest hindrance to the develop of a mature democracy in Taiwan.

    Throughout history, ALL authoritarian governments have had to deal with massive corruption. It’s one of the major weaknesses of authoritarian rule. Typically, in the beginning of the authoritarian era the corruption is under control but as time passes, it gets worse and worse. If China can come up with a solution, they’d be the first to do so in recorded history.

    Those were both very nice posts with great points!

  41. Wahaha
    July 11th, 2009 at 06:47 | #41

    To answer your last question on how often people protest against the rich, they do it at every WTO conference and some of the demonstrations are quite violent.

    Steve,

    That is not kind of “the rich” I talked about, people still protest against their government for giving up ground to the government of other countries, like the protest in South Korea against beef import.

    Corruption is a big problem, but was not a patent for authoritarian. If a politician in democratic country is not corruptive, he must be a millionaire. If you check those union leaders or activitists, who is not corruptive ? the only difference is people can deselect him, hence people feel good, but money is still gone.

    I think I have made my point very clear, I wont explain further. American economy (not politics) holds the key for the deomcracy in China in next 30 years.

    For democracy succeeds in China in the future, China needs a strong pro-democracy leader. If West keeps supporting the seperatism of Tibet and Xinjiang, such leader will not appear. Then the only way democracy will be realized in China is the collapse of China’s economy, like indonesia. ……. and money can buy stability.

  42. Steve
    July 11th, 2009 at 17:29 | #42

    @ Wahaha: We really don’t have any fundamental disagreements, though now I’m not sure just who think the “rich” are. I just think the idea of the “west” supporting the separation of Tibet and Xinjiang isn’t accurate at all. Are there some organizations supporting that? Sure, but where we differ is that you think governments are supporting it and I don’t agree. I guess there’s no resolving that question.

    Governments want to deal with other stable governments. North Korea is not a stable government that can be trusted, so governments avoid dealing with them if at all possible. The Chinese government is stable and can be trusted in many areas, so other countries would rather deal with a government they know and understand rather than a speculative government they can’t predict.

    Wahaha, if you can’t see the difference in corruption between China and a typical western nation, you’re certainly not going to believe me. Since I’ve done a lot of business in both countries, I have VERY practical experience with this. There is a certain amount of corruption in all countries, all types of governments and in business practices in every country. But the level of corruption varies enormously from country to country. Needless to say, it seems you’ve already made up your mind so unless you start to do a whole lot of future business in China, nothing I say can cause you to change it. Oh well…

    BTW, Indonesia’s current government has cut down corruption tremendously compared to the past. In the past, the government was authoritarian with sham elections, now it’s a stable democracy.

  43. Wahaha
    July 11th, 2009 at 18:55 | #43

    Steve,

    Well, what is the “rich” ?

    The rich is the group of people who benefit most from the system.

    Bill Gates is a genius, he became a billionaire cuz he had the talents, the system is hardly a reason he became a billionaire,…… until microsoft lobbyed the congressman and senators for favorite policy.

    That is the rich I have been talking about. So in china, government officials get money for themselves with the protection of the system, hence they are the rich in China, I talked about. But the rich and government in China are bound together as one group, hence, people are not allowed to mess up with the govenrment.

    In democratic countries, the rich shop for politicians to get favorite policy or insert their people into important department (like treasure department) to get favorite policy. Goverment is a shield between those people and ordinary people. Therefore, people are allowed to mess up with government, the rich are safe. During the good time, they are the ones who benefit first and most, during hard time, they are the first one to be saved and last to suffer.

    That is why I strongly believe democracy is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich, government is just shield to prevent people messing up with the rich. People in developed countries havent felt that cuz their lives usually are much much better than other countries, but in India and Russia of 90s, it is no doubt that the rich exploit the common people and protected by the system.

  44. Steve
    July 11th, 2009 at 19:08 | #44

    @ Wahaha: Good explanation. Then could we ask the question, “Which system has the lowest number of poor and largest number of middle class?” Being we live in an imperfect world, we might also ask, “Which system does the least amount of damage and provides the most opportunity for the largest amount of people?”

  45. Wukailong
    July 12th, 2009 at 00:12 | #45

    Wahaha’s definition of rich seems to be “rich and powerful”. Historically, the word “rich” meant both, so I guess it makes sense.

  46. S.K. Cheung
    July 12th, 2009 at 06:48 | #46

    To Wahaha:
    “The rich is the group of people who benefit most from the system.”
    —this is a better answer than what you gave on another thread, where you said “the rich” take the most out of a democratic system. Still haven’t heard from you exactly what they were/are taking. “benefit” is at once more specific, and also less so. Sure, one could say that those who become more rich and powerful are ‘benefiting” most from any given system. But are they doing so at someone else’s expense (which might be a bad thing) or are they simply doing the best work within the confines of the system in which they find themselves (which seems perfectly ok to me)?

    In any given system, hopefully there will be more who benefit than those who don’t. In that sense, I don’t think there’s a difference between a democracy and CHina. Furthermore, even among those who benefit, some will benefit more than others. That such a scenario can occur both in a democracy and in China suggests that such “benefit” is not the vital distinguishing feature between the two. Which is why I said long ago that “benefit” is more a reflection of the economic system, and less of the governance system. So I’m still waiting to hear why China with a democratic system will suddenly forget how to economically benefit her people.

  47. Wahaha
    July 12th, 2009 at 15:31 | #47

    Still haven’t heard from you exactly what they were/are taking.

    SKC,

    India

    Russia,

    Do I have to give evidence for those two countries ?

    The rich gave Chen ShuiBian millions of dollars, how much return did they want ? couple of millions ?

    The rich gave the family of former South Korea president 6 million dollars, how much return did they expect ? 6 million dollars ?

    Do you know how AIG spent 200 billion dollars ? Let me tell you, 13 billion of it was given to Goldman Sachs, and Goldman Sachs stock price now is at 140. Get a picture why government had to give AIG 200 billion dollars ? Why was the 700 billion dollar plan passed within a week even though majority of the people were against it ?

  48. Wahaha
    July 12th, 2009 at 19:04 | #48

    SKC,

    Here is a link :

    http://www.russiatoday.com/Top_News/2009-06-30/The_Great_Bank_Robbery__How_the_Federal_Reserve_is_destroying_America.html?fullstory

    You believe your media is free from anyone’s control, have you seen any reports like the one above from US media, UK media, French Media or any other democratic countries ?.

    Your media is just a tool of the rich, and yeah, it will report any conflict between government and people, between people and people, BUT NOT between the rich and the ordinary.

    BTW, with all the free access to internet and news, how many westerners read reports from other countries ? one out of 10,000 or one out of one million. No wonder, you have “free” information, as your media know you will read only your media report.

  49. Wahaha
    July 12th, 2009 at 21:06 | #49

    could we ask the question, “Which system has the lowest number of poor and largest number of middle class?”

    Steve,

    I am confused by your question.

    Are you comparing China to West ?

  50. Steve
    July 12th, 2009 at 22:08 | #50

    Hi Wahaha: No, just a general question. It seems we concluded that all systems contain some degree of corruption so the question becomes, which system in China would benefit the largest number of people over the long run if the definition would be to create the largest middle class and smallest lower class possible.

    I don’t believe it is a good idea to compare China with other countries since her historical experience is vastly different. Such comparisons on both sides, to me, just waste space since they serve no purpose. However, using the past experiences of other countries as a guide to China’s future is fine, since it can establish some kind of benchmark. However, China has its own unique reality so no comparison can be used in its entirety.

  51. raventhorn4000
    July 12th, 2009 at 22:28 | #51

    Steve,

    If one is to “benchmark”, current China is like 18th and 19th century England, rapid industrialization, rapid urbanization, pollutions, big businesses, corruptions, and still a significant percentage of poor. (though, China currently is probably a little better than 19th century England in terms of average education level.)

    The comparison is sound, because China’s current policies are almost entirely geared toward rapid modernization efforts.

    Additionally, England during the industrial revolution saw the power shift from the land owning gentry toward the growing middle class of business owners. In turn, this led toward more political liberalization.

    The traditional theory of “middle class rise” in Capitalism, includes also the critical component, that economic power shifts from “Land” toward “business”.

    To be sure, Industrial Revolution England had plenty of corruptions. New business laws had to be made to deal with abuse of the system by the old land owning gentries and allow liberal growth and protection for the new businesses.

    English parliament reformed massive number of its traditional laws, especially relating to land, wills, and contracts and corporations, to properly guide the system.

    On voting rights and democracy, England in the 18th century (beginning of industrial revolution), actually passed laws to remove voting rights from several groups. Only Anglicans could hold public office, and Catholics were forbidden from voting in Ireland, etc.

    These laws were only repealed near the end of the Industrial Revolution.

    *
    So if we charts the progress of English development and English Democracy, we can see that Democracy was not necessarily a component in the growth of the Middle Class in England.

    The key, was, the power shift away from “land”.

  52. S.K. Cheung
    July 13th, 2009 at 05:16 | #52

    To Wahaha #47:
    “The rich gave Chen ShuiBian millions of dollars, how much return did they want ? couple of millions ?”
    —I don’t know; do you? But did “the rich” get their return on investment at the expense of the poor? If so, then that’s a problem; but if not, then that’s capitalism, baby. If you have a problem with that, then it’s capitalism you have a problem with. I don’t see what that has to do with democracy. And since CHina has a capitalist system as much as any other country, you should have a problem with her too.

    You’ve spent a good number of pixels complaining about the bailout. Again, having to do the bailout is not ideal; however, it seems unfair to criticize the bailout without at least considering what might transpire without said bailout. Now, it may be that the bailout turns out to be worse than not having done the bailout…time will tell. But again, what’s that got to do with democracy? All that being said, I think the “retention bonuses” for the AIG-financial products division employees is nauseating, but I think the Obama administration is actively looking into that.

    To #48:
    criticism of the Fed is hardly news. Some might even blame Greenspan for the housing bubble that started this entire mess. How is that RT article groundbreaking, exactly? Besides, it’s an op-ed piece. It’s fantastic that someone writing for RT has such an opinion, and isn’t shy about sharing it. What exactly does it prove?

    “BUT NOT between the rich and the ordinary. ”
    —what type of conflict did you have in mind? How about big oil and their huge profits and the average Joe? Heard much about that? On a “greener” front, how about wind turbines off Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and the natives complaining about spoiling their view? I mean, seriously, dude.

    “one out of 10,000 or one out of one million. No wonder, you have “free” information, as your media know you will read only your media report.”
    —your capacity for conspiracy theories is second to none. Next you’re going to tell me that all of our various media outlets are all in cahoots together, with the grand plan of pulling the wool over our eyes, at the behest of god-knows-who. Hmmm, my daily Kool-Aid ration hasn’t arrived yet, wonder what’s taking so long….

  53. Steve
    July 13th, 2009 at 14:34 | #53

    @ Wahaha #47: Chen Shuibian owes his initial presidential victory to the “black gold” politics of the KMT, which he never came close to equaling, though it seems he tried his best to do so. And why did the KMT have so much “black gold”? Was it because it was an authoritarian government with no competition, no checks and balances, no independent courts and no oversight? Taiwan still hasn’t built up strong independent institutions and that is the reason she is still undergoing growth pains under democracy. Even now, it’s still way too easy for the government in power to manipulate the courts and bureaucratic institutions, in spite of democracy rather than because of it.

  54. raventhorn4000
    July 14th, 2009 at 01:49 | #54

    “Even now, it’s still way too easy for the government in power to manipulate the courts and bureaucratic institutions, in spite of democracy rather than because of it.”

    You can pretty much use that to explain every corruption/failure in any democracy. But it would still mean that “democracy” doesn’t work.

  55. Wahaha
    July 14th, 2009 at 05:14 | #55

    “You’ve spent a good number of pixels complaining about the bailout. Again, having to do the bailout is not ideal; however, it seems unfair to criticize the bailout without at least considering what might transpire without said bailout”

    SKC,

    You mean I should talk about how democratic government functions when it has a deep pocket ? Well, when government has plenty of money, democracy looks great.

    *****************************************************************************

    “criticism of the Fed is hardly news. Some might even blame Greenspan for the housing bubble”

    Yeah, it is government’s mistake.

    Under democratic system, the rich are the ones to benefit most and the first to benefit during good time; they are the first to be saved and the last to suffer.

    Will you stop unless you can deny the above ?

  56. S.K. Cheung
    July 14th, 2009 at 05:51 | #56

    “Well, when government has plenty of money, democracy looks great.”
    —wow, coming from you, even with the qualifier, that’s quite a statement.

    “Yeah, it is government’s mistake.”
    —I thought the whole point of your RT article was that the Fed is beyond even the reach of government. Assuming you subscribe to that view, then it might be the Fed’s mistake, but how would it implicate the government? Can you blame something/someone for the actions of an entity over which it has no control?

    “Under democratic system, the rich are the ones to benefit most and the first to benefit during good time; they are the first to be saved and the last to suffer.”
    —I think the rich benefit the most from just about any system this side of true blue communism, simply by virtue of being rich. I don’t see how “democracy” has anything to do with that. You can ask the same thing of CHina’s system, where the gap being rich and poor is ever-increasing. Who is benefiting more from China’s system? Who is getting richer, and who is staying poor? And I don’t think even you would suggest that CHina’s is a democratic system. So I think you’re still conflating the pros and cons of a capitalist system with that of a democratic system.
    Also, assuming suffering begins when you’ve exhausted your nest egg, then of course the rich are last to suffer simply by virtue of having a bigger nest egg than the guy living paycheque to paycheque. That has a lot more to do with balancing a chequebook than the democratic system.
    As for the rich being the first to be saved, that seems like an overly-broad statement. It also goes back to whether a bailout of certain companies/industries, with the presumed trickle-down effect throughout the economy thereby affecting a huge number of people, is better, or whether taking the exact same amount of cash and doling out “stimulus cheques” to individuals a la GWB is better. I honestly think it’s too early to tell. You obviously have your opinion, to which you are entitled. As I said before, time will tell.

  57. Wahaha
    July 14th, 2009 at 06:04 | #57

    “—wow, coming from you, even with the qualifier, that’s quite a statement.”

    So you agree democracy is built on wealth ? finally there is something we both agree.

    ************************************************************************************************
    I thought the whole point of your RT article was that the Fed is beyond even the reach of government

    Wrong,

    the point is there is no one to control the rich !!!!

    **************************************************************************************

    I wont argue any more, just tell me, can you deny my last statement ?

    As you didnt answer that, I guess, you cant deny.

    If a system cant limit the power of the people who benefit most from the system, then it is not real democracy. It is my opinion that majority of the people in developing countries (not industrialized) will be hopeless in poverty under democracy. You dont agree, fine, show me counter example.

    later.

  58. S.K. Cheung
    July 14th, 2009 at 06:31 | #58

    “So you agree democracy is built on wealth”
    —no, it’s not built on wealth. But I can accept that it’s one factor in determining a society’s readiness for democracy, including education, rule of law, etc. This is something dating back eons ago from discussions with Buxi. However, to equate democracy to the economy alone, to me, is baloney. You should be getting that sense by now.

    “the point is there is no one to control the rich !!!!”
    —dude, the only way this “point” makes any sense in light of your previous statements is if you are referring to the Fed as the rich. If that’s your point, then clearly I can’t help you.

    “I wont argue any more, just tell me, can you deny my last statement ?”
    —ummm, if you didn’t notice, 2/3 of my #56 was in response to your “statement”. What is with folks like you and your penchant for yes/no answers. So sorry to break it to ya, but you guessed wrong.

    “If a system cant limit the power of the people who benefit most from the system, then it is not real democracy.”
    —first of all, where on earth did you get that premise? Second, how is democracy unable to limit the power of any one group?

    “It is my opinion that majority of the people in developing countries (not industrialized) will be hopeless in poverty under democracy.”
    —fantastic. How will the majority of people in developing countries fare under a governance system other than democracy? Better yet, how well are the majority of Chinese people doing the CCP system (keeping in mind all we’ve heard about per capita GDP etc)?

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