A lot has been discussed on this blog recently with regards to censorship, most of the discourse so far have revolved around the justice and standards of censorship. I want to take a different but related direction, and discuss yet another myth propagated by the democracy/freedom advocates – the notion that “free” societies are always more innovative than their “non-free” counterparts. To what extent is this actually true? More fundamentally, where does innovation come from, what actually stimulates innovation? How does innovation come about? I won’t pretend that I have all the answers, but here are some of my observations so far.
Unsurprisingly, classic mainstream thought in the West suggests that “free-thinking” people and societies will be more innovative, and this is seen as a results-based justification for all types of freedom, political or otherwise. While this makes intuitive sense and is emotionally satisfying for mainstream western thinkers, history has demonstrated otherwise at least a few times.
The clearest example of this occurred in World War II. The most innovative power (in terms of technological and organizational prowess) during that time was not democratic America or UK, but Nazi Germany. They were researching, developing, and/or implementing military concepts that were decades ahead of their time – be it combined arms mechanized warfare, modular force structure, precision-guided attack, long-range standoff munitions, stealth aviation, guided air defense systems, satellite launch capabilities, the list goes on. These concepts and capabilities – directly copied from the Nazi war-machine – form the backbone of the world’s modern armed forces today. The Wehrmacht was – second to none – the most technologically (& arguably organizationally) sophisticated armed forces during the war (not to mention the most fashionably dressed as well, thanks to Hugo Boss himself), and Germany certainly did not lose the war due to a lack of innovation.
The other notable example is the space race between the US and USSR. The Americans claim the first human moon landing as the ultimate achievement that led to its so-called “victory” in the space race. While the innovative American propaganda defined “first to the moon” as the the “moment of victory”, the USSR was in fact the leading pioneer in practically EVERY other notable achievement in human space exploration, be it the first manned space station, the first probes to Venus and Mars, the first space docking, etc.
We can also look back to the US during its industrial revolution in the late 1800s/early 1900s. American politics during that period can be characterized by one word – exclusion; exclusion of African Americans and practically all other minorities, exclusion of women, and exclusion of the working class. The American political economy was dominated by a merchant oligarchy that formed monopolies, suppressed unions, and trampled on workers’ rights. Yet that did not stop the US from becoming the most vibrant emerging market and innovator of its day, especially in the field of industrial and operations engineering.
What we see from these examples is that innovation has resulted from a combination of resource devotion and urgent necessity. In both these cases, the lack of political participation did NOT hinder the ability to study and apply the principles of mathematics, chemistry, physics, electrical engineering, or any other sphere of natural science. The fact that Russian scientists and engineers were so highly sought after following the end of the Cold War is a testament to this reality.
A more recent and more familiar example is America’s utilization of the internet as an engine for economic growth. Many would characterize this recent phenomenon as the manifestation of freedom’s triumph. And indeed there is some degree of validity to that, for without the support of a vibrant and mature venture capital market, I doubt many of today’s great American internet companies would have arisen. So in that sense, some degree of ECONOMIC freedom is necessary to allow society to take advantage of new scientific and engineering accomplishments. I would say the ability to utilize existing scientific accomplishments for economic development is what gave America an edge over the former USSR. On the other hand, the existence of the internet (as we know it today) would not have been possible, had the US government not funded its development through organizations such as DARPA and NSF. Once again, we go back to the two aforementioned ingredients of innovation – resources (both intellectual and capital) and necessity/motivation (be it the promise of security and/or wealth).
While we’re on the topic of government funding, I also want to address the role of the state in innovation. A key element of innovation consists of making new discoveries on the scientific frontier. Those who buy into liberal economic dogma would suggest that the highly competitive private sector always performs more efficiently in every sphere of life, be it science, healthcare, or defense. But I subscribe to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s opposing perspective (see YouTube link below for a far more articulate explanation than mine). Science is a standardized process used to provide explanations of and collective knowledge about currently UNKNOWN phenomenon. When we stand on the edge between the known and unknown, pushing that frontier is often expensive, dangerous, large scale, and it ALWAYS provides UNKNOWN economic risks and returns. Any form of profit seeking organization has to be able to valuate the risks and rewards of a venture in its cost-benefit based decision making process, but science is by definition a venture that provides UNKNOWN risks and returns. Therefore, the private sector, as its currently organized, has never and will never push the frontiers of scientific discovery. What they do best is finding ways of commercializing and utilizing EXISTING, KNOWN knowledge; whereas non-profit-seeking organizations such as the state are the only type of institutions that could effectively provide NEW, PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN scientific knowledge on the frontiers of discovery.
So far, we’ve identified the key elements that drive scientific and technological innovation – resources and motivation. We’ve also identified the conditions under which such innovation can thrive and benefit society – healthy, non-profit-seeking support for scientific exploration and discovery, along with a vibrant venture capital market that can utilize existing knowledge. There is little empirical or theoretical evidence that suggests political freedom is a genuine and necessary prerequisite for scientific innovation or development of a knowledge-based economy.
Consider, too, that China invented almost everything on earth prior to 1800–mostly during times when innovation was actively discouraged or ignored. Start here for a brief overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_and_technology_in_China
what people-and by people i mean propagandists and ethno-nationalists like the anglo supremacists that seem to comprise much of western media/scholarship- tend to forget that what really drives innovation is not ‘freedom’ or some other arbitrary construct, but rather, NECESSITY.
Necessity dictates what people will pour their resources into and necessity dictates what results from it. Hence resources poured into the material sciences will obviously produce more tangible benefits than say the same amounts of resources poured into ‘liberal democratic principle classes’ or ‘western philosophy’.
What compels innovation? need and necessity. The reason why we will eventually unlock the secret to nuclear fusion is because we will eventually have poured enough resources into it. The same applied to nuclear power and space travel. Resources were allocated for those areas of science. To somehow assume that pouring those resources into a fucking ‘liberal democracy ethical wing wang BS’ is going to somehow boost ‘innovation’ is as ludicrous as giving money to paris hilton and expecting a cure for cancer based on the karma effect.
Very good post. Like to expand a bit…
First people often overlook where innovation may lay. For instance, in infrastructure building, China’s GaoTie (a type of the HSRs in China and so far fatality-free) requires 0.1mm variation in track height, and 0.5 cm spatial variation in its power line, which carries 27.5 kv electric current. Building it stretching thousands of KMs, require tons of innovation, especially given the timeline and the cost. From my vantage point, China, as it industrializes, simply out-Japan Japan and out-Germany Germany.
If freedom begets innovation. Just by watching an average Brazilian dances and compare to an average German and observing which one is more conceptually free, you would think Brazil should be a far more innovative country than Germany. Or you can pretty much make the same observation between an average South American and an average North American, with the former likely being freer. Most of these countries have the wares those popular pundits think China is lacking: one person one vote, freedom of speech as the way common Westerners understand, yet why many of these nations aren’t that innovative? For instance, you are hard pressed to make a case that Mexico is more innovative than China…
To me an innovative society requires 3 things:
* A highly educated mass.
* Incentivization for innovation.
* Organizational skills.
All the rest is just sideshow.
The Internet (w/ the capital I) might have its origin in government agencies such as DARPA and some government-funded projects, but it didn’t have to. In the early to mid-90s when the Internet started taking off, TCP/IP was just one possible candidate linking the world together. There were at least SNA (IBM), SPX/IPX (Novell), Decnet (DEC), and a few other competitors. The thing was, TCP/IP was just a perfect candidate then most of the dynamic Internet companies (Cisco, Sun, etc.) endorsed. Had there not been DARPA, something else would win it.
An analogy would be today’s Linux movement, which had very little government involvement. With it being loyalty-free much like TCP/IP, many vendors put their weight behind it.
To me, what has made these movements (the Internet, Linux) spectacularly innovative isn’t its early government-funding, but rather the 3 critical factors I listed above. If not for the highly educated labors, the profit incentives, and the modern corporations, none of them would’ve panned out the life-changing ways they have been.
In the Western world, there is the strong ongoing undercurrent of anti-business and anti-corporation, i.e. the Occupied Movement, “Corporations aren’t people”, etc. There are a few heavily contested elections that are interesting to watch. If the West is to turn left in the decades to come, I am afraid what has brought the highest living standard in the West will be molested to death.
While on the same topic, many people for different reasons including the misguided idea that China isn’t “free”, believe that China will be stuck in the Middle Income Trap. Au contraire, China is actually a developed economy annihilator. China is leading and is about to lead many developed economies in the 3 critical factors — pretty soon China will render many of them (now PIGS and soon others) submerged economies.
good points, Jixie; i have to say that all this diatribe about ‘China neer being able to innovate/stuck in middle income trap’ appears to stem from that much used past-time of sinophobes and euro/americo-centrists: wishful thinking. That somehow talking about a particular thing, promoting that thing will somehow make it somehow, someday come true. Gordan Chang and his consumers are a textbook example of that.
Just when I thought we closed an argument and I agree to disagree you bait me with another and I can’t resist :-).. Hmm…
Despite the use of empirical evidence the article misses or omits one very important one: The scientific and technological innovation in the Western world during the last four centuries is a direct result of the “freedom of thought” and dissemination of ideas that resulted from the ever increasing weakness of the Christian theocracy/authoritarianism.
In fact all the three examples you cite (Nazi Germany vs Allies, USSR vs US, US industrial revolution) even if they were supporting your argument (which they don’t), they would be mere statistical anomalies on the slope of scientific/technological progress in the western world as a function of the demise of religious authoritarianism.
On the specifics of your three empirical examples:
Nazi Germany. Despite the fact that it achieved great progress in certain sectors it also failed due to its authoritarianism. For example, the sages of the Nazi party proclaimed the need “wonder weapons”, all resources got allocated to “wonder weapon”development, thus neglecting logistics the most essential tool in winning a war. The other side being less authoritarian was less prone in misallocation
of resources resulting in the development of Operations Research, which was a far greater factor in winning the war than the V1 and V2 bombs. Another even more obvious example: the fuhrer proclaimed that Jews were evil, nobody dared to question that dogma, so countless Jewish scientists (Einstein included) fled to the US.. No need to finish that story…
A similar case can be made on the space race. The USSR doggedly pursued ever more impressive space “firsts” by mainly trying to leverage ever increasing rocket boost capability. This single minded focus was well suited with an authoritarian state mindset and indeed achieved some impressive results (on the surface). The main result it achieved though, was to activate the other side, which first conveniently defined a new goal. More importantly though the other side having quickly decided that they would not beat the Soviets in rocket power they went after packing more stuff in the same payload which resulted in investment in electronics, integrated circuits etc etc. It is obvious who won in the end (and not only in space).
The third example is also quite unfortunate not the least because it leverages the sad legacy of slavery… The fact is that the US industrial revolution was not successful because of exclusion but precisely because it worked against it. Some idealists would argue that the US industrial revolution was actually accelerated because of the Civil War which ended slavery – I do not completely subscribe to that argument but it has its merits. Even if we factor in the argument of racism (which is more complex than you make it to be), I would argue that inclusion was a defining characteristic
of the era of the US industrial revolution. Inclusion was necessitated and resulted to the gradual enfranchisement of minorities such as immigrant workers. Moreover it was successful because of inclusion and even reverence of figures such as Tesla and Marconi who did not fit the classic Anglo-American model which dominated US public life since independence from the British.
We do not disagree on everything though:
1) I agree with you that necessity is a necessary ingredient in inovaion. However, I would disagree with the chorus (Zack) that the West discounts that. After all “necessity is the mother of invention” is traced all the way back to Plato (arguably one of the pillars of Western thought).
2) I largely agree with the rest of your points on the need of government participation in innovation. However, I would be cautious on relying only on government to achieve breakthroughs.
My personal view is that innovation is really not a tried and true thing.
The industrial revolution was not inevitable. Neither is the computer / information revolution. Technology has so far created better living standards for those who have control over the fruits of those innovations, but that may not be true for the future (e.g. if technology actually leads to a collapse of our ecological environment).
Anyways, I don’t mind those who talk a bout China not able to innovate / stuck in middle income trap. They say it not necessarily because they have any real insights, but really because they want to control China – change China to how they want China to act.
Now they may accidentally be right still. In which case, listening to them can only make China stronger. But the important thing is to make our independent judgement and experiment on our terms.
Innovation is not a science. It’s an art that comes from experimenting. As long as China remains independent and is willing to experiment, I won’t worry too much about what the talking heads say.
Very very few talking heads foresaw global financial crisis of 2008. If you listened to them, you would head with them straight into the financial crisis blind.
It pays to be observant and independent.
Despite the use of some empirical evidence the article misses the most important one: The scientific and technological innovation in the Western world during the last four centuries is a direct result of the “freedom of thought” and dissemination of ideas that resulted from the ever increasing weakness of the Christian theocracy/authoritarianism.
In fact all the three examples you cite (Nazi Germany vs Allies, USSR vs US, US industrial revolution) even if they were supporting your argument (which they don’t), they would be mere statistical anomalies on the slope of progress seen as a function of the demise of god fueled authoritarianism.
And just to prevent use of the Christian argument that a lot of important early scientists were actually devout, I would invite anyone to read what they had to say about their relationship with their god vs the authoritarianism of the church.
On the specifics of your three empirical exampled:
On Nazi Germany. Despite the fact that it achieved great progress in certain sectors it also failed due to its authoritarianism. For example, the sages of the Nazi party proclaimed the need “wonder weapons”, all resources got allocated to “wonder weapon” development, thus neglecting logistics the most essential tool in winning a war. The other side being less authoritarian was less prone in misallocation of resources, thus resulting in the development of Operations Research, which was a far greater factor in winning the war than the V1 and V2 bombs. Another even more obvious reason: the fuhrer proclaimed that Jews were evil, nobody dared to question that dogma, so countless Jewish scientists (Einstein included) fled to the US.. No need to finish that story.
A similar case can be made on the space race. The USSR pursued ever more impressive space “firsts” by mainly trying to leverage ever increasing rocket boost capability. This single minded focus was well suited with an authoritarian state mindset and indeed achieved some impressive results (on the surface). The main result it achieved though, was to activate the other side, which first conveniently defined a new goal. More importantly though the other side, having quickly decided that they would not beat the Soviets in rocket power, they went after packing more stuff in the same payload. That resulted in investment in electronics, integrated circuits etc etc. It is obvious who won in the end (and not only in space).
The third example is also quite unfortunate not the least because it leverages the sad legacy of slavery… The fact is that the US industrial revolution was not succesful because of exclusion but precisely because of inclusion. Some idealists would argue that the US industrial revolution was actually accelerated because of Civil War – I do not completely subscribe to that argument but it has its merits. Even if we factor in sad legacy slavery (which is more complex than you make it to be), I would argue that inclusion was a defining characteristic of the era of the US industrial revolution. Inclusion was necessary and resulted to the gradual enfranchisement of immigrant workers minorities. Moreover it was successful because of inclusion and even reverence of figures such as Tesla who did not fit the classic Anglo-American model which dominated US public life since independence.
We do not disagree on everything though:
1) I agree with you that necessity is a necessary ingredient in innovation. However, I would disagree with the chorus (Zack) that the West discounts that. After all “necessity is the mother of invention” is traced all the way back to Plato (arguably one of the pillars of Western thought).
2) I largely agree with the rest of your points on the need of government participation in innovation. However, I would be cautious on relying only on government to achieve breakthroughs.
and where did i say the West discounts necessity as being integral to invention?!
my post was obviously in regards to the largely touted myth espoused by so many western propagandists that liberal democracies are the only ones capable of innovation. That somehow more ‘freedom’-in the american sense-somehow equates to better innovation, never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of research conducted in the US today is done by foreign nationals.
Mister Unknown says
I don’t disagree that ideological dogma, especially those that are religious in nature, can stifle scientific innovation. If an authoritarian system actively suppresses scientific discovery – as the Catholic Church has done over the centuries, then it is no surprise that scientific progress will naturally slow. This is not an indictment against ALL types of authoritarianism, but rather an indictment against theocratic, progress-inhibiting authoritarianism. Authoritarianism comes in as many organizational and ideological structures as democracies, obviously some will be more effective than others, just as some forms of democracy are more effective than others. In fact, I would say the notion that democracy is the only acceptable and inevitable form of governance, or the notion that free-market economics is the only proper form of economic management are both dogmas in and of themselves.
On top of that, even after the weakening of the church, one must remember that most of Western Europe was neither free nor democratic; they all had pyramidal structures of power where the masses had no real decision making power, & the great majority were imperialistic.
There was no way for Nazi Germany to win the war no matter how innovative they were, given the way that it was carried out in the first place (i.e. invading everywhere in sight in the space of 2-3 years). This is a failure of strategy, not a failure of innovation. The allies had 20-30 times the amount of resources and manpower available to them, so unless Germany found a way to manage their resources 20-30 times more effectively to cancel out that advantage, no amount of innovation during that time would have overcome their inevitable defeat, but that doesn’t mean they were “out-innovated” by the allies, they were simply outnumbered and outgunned.
Pointing to their defeat as evidence of the “failure” of authoritarianism & the “triumph” of western democracy would be equivalent to saying that the US should adopt Vietnamese style socialism just because the US was defeated in the Vietnam War, or that the Soviets should practice tribal theocracy because they were defeated in Afghanistan.
I think I already covered this in my discussion of the space race. The Soviets were good at pushing the limits of scientific achievements, while the US was good at benefiting from existing scientific knowledge. I stated explicitly that both are necessary components of innovation and advancement, this does not undermine my argument against the freedom-innovation dogma in any way.
You are getting your US history reversed. The US was rapidly emerging as an industrial power in the mid-late 1800s, WELL BEFORE it became more inclusive. The slaves were free by then, but had no meaningful political power of any sort. The immigrants and lower class workers remained disenfranchised, and unions were still being violently suppressed as late as the 1930s. Women were not even officially allowed to vote until 1920, never mind obtaining a real voice even after throwing off their status as second class citizens. And keep in mind, just because a class of people were ‘allowed’ to participate in a more inclusive society, doesn’t mean they immediately reaped the benefits thereof (i.e. African Americans, females), nor does it mean they can start to produce the dividends of greater inclusiveness for the rest of the society.
Nowhere do I claim government should be the “only” source of scientific breakthrough. I simply outlined who is MOST effective in what role – non-profit institutions are most effective at pushing frontiers, and for-profit institutions are most effective at commercializing those breakthroughs. It doesn’t mean that governments can’t ever engage in commercialization, or that companies can’t engage in making breakthroughs.
Charles Liu says
Come on, the fact US is not a democracy, had hundreds of years of slavery and was an apartheid state unti 1960’s is ample proof innovation is well divorced from freedom and democracy.
I would even argue to date America has never been a democracy. Never mind the innovation achieved prior to Civil Rights. Even after 1964, our republic is only democratic in the sense we provide for ourselves at the death and deprivation of others.
I like debating with you and Allen.. We always agree on something disagree on something else. That gives me hope that in the end we’ll find common ground on a lot of things. But I digress..
On our subject:
First of all let me say that I too like Allen think that there is no recipe for innovation. We cannot mix three measures of necessity, with two cups of freedom, throw in a pinch of free market shake well and create an innovative society. All we can do is observe empirically whether there is some correlation between a qualitative characteristic (i.e. freedom) of a society and how innovative it is. And to be somewhat objective in that task, first we have to define freedom vs authoritarianism in a somewhat consistent manner. One reasonable way would be to say that the most authoritarian society is one in which absolutely no dissent is allowed (“no questions allowed”), and the most “free” society or state is one in which everything can be questioned (“question everything”). Of course all known societies fall somewhere in between. That would somewhat remove arbitrary judgements about types of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is authoritarianism and has a way of creeping everywhere. You can make attempts to contain it in one sphere but you will ultimately be unsuccessful. For example, the theocratic authoritarianism of the European middle ages prohibited dissent in all sciences (be it social or natural), whereas the political authoritarianism of Nazi Germany left the natural sciences largely alone and restricted social/political sciences. But since authoritarianism creeps through nobody would argue that it would suppress or distort biology research whose findings would disprove the fuehrer’s racial theories. So, trying to define types or styles of authoritarianism that would foster innovation is futile – it is just more or less authoritarianism. For example Nazi Germany was less authoritarian than medieval Europe but that is nor a very useful observation for our purpose.
The second thing we could do to be more objective would be to compare contemporaneous societies in the scale of freedom/authoritarianism and look at how innovative they were or are. For example we can safely say that medieval Europe was much more authoritarian than its then contemporary China and that would be a more meaningful comparison than comparing Nazi Germany and “medieval China”.
Finally since you brought up the subject of democracy (which I intended to leave alone btw), we can just observe that less authoritarian societies tend to evolve to some form of democracy or another (or devolve towards it depending on your politics 🙂 ).
Given that framework we can for example observe the scientific/technological evolution of the Western world and safely conclude that its rate of innovation is directly proportional to its degree of practiced freedom. The roots of the western civilization are considered to be in Ancient Greece. The Greeks by modern standards were an immensely oppressive society (wrt slaves, women, racism etc etc). Nevertheless they were much freer than their contemporary and neighboring societies (Egyptians, Persians etc) – they “invented” Democracy after all, while their neighbors were either toiling under emperors or tribal leaders. It is indisputable that the Greeks innovated much more on every field (math, physics, philosophy, architecture, commerce..) that their neighbors. Also when the Greeks inevitably clashed with the more authoritarian Persian empire (over commercial interests disguised as a quest for democracy btw) they thoroughly routed the Persians despite the fact that the Greeks had much fewer resources at their disposal. The Romans followed the Greeks. The Roman Republic was initially no more restrictive politically than most Greek city-state democracies and the innovation continued somewhat. However innovation stalled with the advent of the Roman empire (far more authoritarian than a republic) and plunged with theocracy in the M idle Ages. The innovation of contemporaneous Chinese, Indian and Arab/Islamic world was much higher, and so was their level of freedom – despite how paradoxical that might seem today Islam was once a “liberal” force. To make a long story short, the innovation rate in the West did not recover for 1400 years and that coincided with the demise of Christian theocracy. If we follow all this I think it will be obvious why we can safely say that the empirical evidence says that innovation is correlated to freedom, and that authoritarianism (be it political or religious) is counterproductive as far as innovation is concerned. Of course you can hope that some form of authoritarianism will eventually exist that will somehow out-innovate “freer” contemporaneous societies. So far this has not happened.. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I am not betting on it.
On your other empirical examples:
1) Nazi Germany. You make the argument that it lost WW2 due to fewer resources. I would urge you to think about what it could have achieved militarily even with fewer resources had it not scared all the Jewish Physicists. I would also urge you to think that the ancient Greco-Persian wars point to the fact that resources do not matter when you are more free to innovate (the keywords here are phalanx and trireme since it seems to me that you are somewhat of a military enthusiast). Finally, even if one concedes the scarce resource argument I would say that Nazi Germany lost because the fuehrer proclaimed that they will go to war and they will win because they are superior and nobody dared to say: “My Fuehrer, maybe we should not go to war because we lack the resources”. So it is plainly obvious that authoritarianism contributed to the Nazi’s undoing, despite some limited progress. You see innovation does not apply only to technology but also geopolitics.
2) US vs USSR in space: I will point out that it was a contest (motivated by politics) and thus it was vital. Even if the Soviets were good at pushing limits in the end they lost the contest.
3) I know US history very well. The second industrial revolution is defined to begin in 1855 or so with the invention and application of the Bessemer/Kelly steel process. The Civil War started in 1861. That is why many argue that the Civil War was a catalyst of the 2nd Industrial Revolution in the US. As for how inclusive US society was at that era. Let’s not again apply today’s standards. The fact is that the US was more inclusive during the second industrial revolution than before it. The slaves were free (i.e. better off than they were before although they were far from equal), the average American had to deal with and accept different people than before 1850 , the unions were suppressed but at least they existed etc etc. So, it is evident again that there is high correlation of greater freedom with innovation.
Finally I will concede that your counter-arguments on “Afghanistan vs USSR” and “Vietnam vs US’ are quite clever (that’s why I like debating with you). But they are qualitatively different than World War 2. WW2 was as close to a “total war” as one can imagine – in a total war all of society’s resources are dedicated to the purpose of winning that war, because the society’s survival is at stake. And under these circumstances motivation/necessity to innovate in all fronts is at its highest. I doubt that anyone would classify Afghanistan and Vietnam as total wars. They were just mere battles in the theater of Cold War (almost a total war in itself but we all know how that ended)..
So, I will conclude that even if some annoying “pro-democracy” demagogues abuse the argument, it is true empirically that innovation correlates inversely with authoritarianism. But you can still hope that an exception will somehow appear, and you also can console yourself with the fact that at their core demagogues are really closet authoritarians :-).
The previous post to Mr. Unknown addresses all of your points, I think. BTW, the post was long and I have to go to sleep. But I have to ask: why does every argument has to deteriorate to a West vs China comparison ? Let’s instead compare China with China 40 years ago. The innovation in China now is much higher and so are the freedoms enjoyed by the Chinese people.
And with that I will rest my case..
When you said “medieval China”, what specific periods did you have in your mind? For example, Qin after it gained modern-day Sichuan and started its legalism reform, or Song in it peak with its neo-Confucianism philosophy and a hint of Buddhism ethos? Speaking of Song, I can’t see why one wouldn’t consider Song people being intellectually and financially freer than modern-day Americans, especially those working stiffs among them. Judged by the high incarceration rate in America and Song’s army being a paid one, I would say physically Song was freer too. Qin was less free than Chu, by the modern Western standards, yet Qin took over Chu. The same can be said between Mongol Yuan and Southern Song.
By ancient Greece, you probably meant the Classical and at least the early Hellenistic periods. The works of the likes of Plato and Euclid were lost in Europe, and were reproduced based on their Persian and Arabic translations. How manipulation-free is the ancient Greek history they recorded? The ancient Greek and Roman histories, as we know them, are far less reliable than the ancient Chinese history.
Don’t forget the killer abs of the Greek soldiers, and the bad makeup of the Persian generals… The wars lasted decades. They were good study of geostrategy — how to build military alliance, how to pick your battles, etc. If you want to draw any other lessons from them, you almost have to hire a British actor or at least do a British accent voice-over.
After the US won the American-Mexican war and gained the Californian gold. Brazil freed its slaves and formed a republic not much later, yet it didn’t industrialize the way the US did. Even during the slavery period of pre-Republic Brazil, children of white/black through marriage were legitimate, and there was a case in which a black woman inherited her white husband’s wealth and became the richest person in a trading town — all of these were simply impossible in the US.
Is the authoritarian form in the American society, corporate America, more innovative than the freer form, the Occupied Movement? There are at least 2 aspects of American society world-beating and highly innovative: its corporations and its military. You can make a strong case within both of them, it’s all but authoritarianism.
Have you seen parties where Latin people and what they call “white people” mingle and dance, and see how much less free the “white people” are? Have you gone and stayed in South America and observe their societies? South Americans are quite good in many art forms including short cartoon films, yet they just can’t compete with Hollywood not by being less innately innovative, but rather lacking the whole organizational structure to channel the innovative energy to some global blockbusters.
I am sorry to say that your reply is a thoroughly confused jumble of judgements and ironies. I will also state that (in case you did not understand it yet) our discussion is on correlation of innovation with freedom. Not on correlation of innovation with race or ethnicity.
1) “medieval China” – was in quotes for a reason. Let’s assume that it means China from 200BC to 1600BC. Nobody would dispute that it was freer than medieval Europe. It was also more innovative (refer to godfree’s post #1). Comparing it modern US while it can satisfy some nationalistic pride is largely useless for our purpose. Different time, different place, different context, different base to build innovation upon. In other words you simply use ex post facto judgements (borrowed by western moralizing liberals btw) to form an emotionally satisfying argument which is quite irrelevant to our purpose. Why ?
2) The works of Plato and Euclid were lost/banned in christian Europe and saved by the freer Muslim societies of the time. What does that do other than prove my argument ? Indeed freer societies do not ban knowledge due to dogma. Even if these texts were altered by Muslim scholars, what does that prove ? Do you think that I am some sort of western supremacist and you are trying to bait me ? Sorry to disappoint you but I happen to be arguing on the advantages of freedom and not the advantages of certain skin or hair color.
3) The killer abs of the Greek soldiers were a result of the ancient Greek reverence of the male body form and their homosexuality. Please don’t be silly.. Indeed the clashes of the Greeks with their less free neighbors are very good studies in geopolitics and strategy. Geopolitics and strategy are also subject to innovation which also benefit from innovation. What is your point ?
4) Brazil. You conveniently forgot to mention that Brazil was (and still is) under the tremendous influence of the Catholic church – institutionalized as an official state religion.
5) Your last argument is thoroughly confused. Have you noticed that OWS, the US military and US Corporations are part of the same society and state ? Have you noticed that Latinos and WASPS are also part of the same society ? But unfortunately it seems that you are subconsciously (or purposely) want to draw back the argument across some racial lines (what else would explain the use of the word “innately” ). Pity..
It appears to you so is because, pardon me being very blunt here, there is a gigantic knowledge gap between you and the level that you can carry a meaningful dialogue. I gave you plenty of hints already. Qin was probably less free than many medieval European kingdoms, but it was militarily very strong. Specifically I was comparing Song and modern-day America, and make a case that Song was intellectually and financially, and quite possibly physically freer. Do me a favor, read up a few books (in Chinese if you can) about Song — its political structure, economy, culture, etc. first. Bear in mind, I am not arguing Song was as innovative or powerful as the modern-day US. As a matter of fact, it was hapless against outside invasions.
Let’s get this out of the way — you don’t know me and you don’t know what makes me tick. Heck I am at an age that Confucius considered himself no long confused. I am comfortable in my own skin at this point of my life. You don’t know what emotionally satisfies me, so please don’t go there.
You didn’t quite get the implication to the movie 300, and the brainwashing messages the movie and the society at large carry.
Travel more, read more and learn more, my friend. I was talking about some parties I went to way south with some gringos and some locals. There is a huge huge world outside of the US, and China for that matter. You know what’s a very typical stereotype of Americans aboard? — Brainwashed Ugly Americans.
🙂 You selectively picked two lines out of my post and went off on two tangents.
And in the process you informed all of us that you know about your “implication” (sic) of the movie “300” and that you have been to “parties way south with gringos and locals”. Congratulations.
Now let me state the following: You do not know me either, you have not seen the stamps in my passport, you don’t even know what passport or passports I own.
Given that lack of knowledge the best we can do is debate on the merits and refrain from assumptions and name calling. If you consider my comment on “emotionally satisfying argument” name calling I apologize -it was an epithet for the argument and not for you.
So the best we can do is to debate on the merits. If you want to go tit for tat on Song vs Qin, vs Carolignian vs Byzantine vs Yuan etc we can do that too, but it would be irrelevant to our subject.
In case you did not get it yet, the argument was about a whole very dark period in western history as compared at a macro level to an equivalent period in Chinese history. Please respond to that and my other arguments (one by one would be nice) and let’s try to figure out whether “freedom” (devoid of racial characteristics) correlates to “innovation”. That is our subject. Not the parties you went to “way south”, neither whether salza is more free or innovative of a dance than the jarabe, the square, the samba or the watusi. ok ?
Check the word. It was a bad form to use “sic”, which is kind of silly, isn’t it? You are basically running your mouth the same freaking way here.
In term of the form of my commenting style — there is a reason why these are only comments. I write them fast and get my 2 cents out in shotgun style.
One step back, allow me to let you into something…
I grew up learning the Communist revisionist history, a retrofit of Marx’s historical progression onto the Chinese history. BTW, in case you didn’t know, Marx’s history progression goes from primal communism to slavery to feudalism to capitalism to socialism, and finally eventually to the heaven of communism. All historical stories had to be revised to reflect class struggles. Anyway, I had to re-learn the history all over again, much like my peers, in the later years. We know what is propaganda when we see it. In my opinion, the free vs un-free ongoing historical revision, and the current binary worldview is all but just another set of propaganda. What I gave you were bits and pieces on why those were all crap. What we now consider “freer” people often weren’t ahead. You need a whole more on your side: luck, organizational skills, strategic vision, etc. There is also a thing called too damn free, i.e. Anarchy to borderline Anarchy, e.g. Yeltsin’s Russia.
Of course a society needs to be basically free to advance, and I am a firm believer a Chinese society’s natural state is largely free. Since we’re on the topic of innovation, even the current state of China, though I have many complaints, is quite possibly good enough.
The irony of this Western freedom propaganda is their own masses are buying it. There was a very nice old lady on TV stating that the Egyptians who protested outside of the American embassy were a very small minority (2000 out of 80 million)… Only a realist Patrick Buchanan pointed to the poll data showing that the vast majority of Egyptians didn’t like America. But gosh, didn’t America support their democratic revolution, you know, freedom and all?
Mister Unknown says
Uhh… NO. By that standard, Russia is a freer society than the UK – for unlike the UK, Russia does not frivolously arrest/punish young people over trivial, incidental twitter/Facebook posts that do not even constitute genuine dissent. A far better standard of “free” and “non-free” societies does not lie in speech, but rather political influence. The masses have more political freedom if they have greater ability to influence public policy outcomes in their respective communities. Furthermore, I would argue that even if the masses can greatly influence government, they’re still not free if their lives are dominated by authoritarian religious or commercial institutions.
Even though I’m only quoting the first sentence, take it as a reply to the entire paragraph. If you want to name the occasional war here & there to prove the “superiority” of freedom over autocracy, then I can do the same. The “free” Greeks may have won against the Persians (& this had just as much to do with totalitarian Sparta as “free” Athens, by the way), but democratic Athens got its ass handed to it by totalitarian Sparta, does that prove the superiority of Spartan totalitarianism over Athenian democracy then? The relatively more liberal, more enlightened, & more cultured Southern Song was conquered by the barbaric Mongol hordes, does that prove the superiority of the Mongol Khanate? The Gauls of France had a relatively freer and more gender-equal society than Caesar’s Roman empire, yet the former was conquered and utterly destroyed by the latter, does that prove the superiority of Rome’s misogynistic autocracy? While we’re at it, how about we go back to the Vietnam & Afghanistan examples as well? The point is you can give anecdotal examples of who conquered whom, and stray further & further away from the topic at hand, but that doesn’t prove anything.
Furthermore, the correlation between greater freedom and greater innovation does not mean that the former has a causal relationship with the latter. I would argue that availability of resources have a stronger causal relationship to both variables. Before the enlightenment began, the black death wiped out at least a third (some suggest this is an underestimate) of the population, allowing the remaining ones more living space. The US became gradually more free after 1850, but I’m sure that had “nothing” to do with the fact that its landmass grew over 3-fold, and its population grew nearly 5-fold right? Diamond outlined this causal relationship pretty clearly. When greater resources are available to a society, a smaller portion of the are forced to engage in subsistence survival, and some members of society (most likely the upper class elites) have more time to engage in non-subsistence activities (i.e. innovation). A few of these innovations in turn benefit the rest of society, and make society “more free”, as a result of more resources for education, better standards of living, more surplus capital for further innovation, and all the other benefits associated with greater choices on the individual and collective level.
Again you’re straying further and further away from the topic of innovation & toward winning/losing wars, and defining practically anything as “innovation”. By the way, most of Germany’s innovations were developed and deployed AFTER they chased away prominent scientists. But I digress. Germany’s loss of WWII only proves that technological innovation cannot compensate for reckless warmongering – perhaps something that the US should be aware of. Furthermore, before you tout WWII as a “triumph of democracy”, please remember that Stalin’s USSR won the bulk of the decisive victories that ultimately led to Germany’s defeat. Had the overwhelming majority of the Wehrmacht not been tied down in the USSR (especially during the latter years of the war), the western allies would have been brushed aside like vermin.
In any case, this goes back to my point about anecdotal examples about wars above. Germany losing a war does not prove the superiority of democracies, in the same way that Sparta’s defeat of Athens does not prove the superiority of totalitarianism.
I’ve already addressed the fact that innovation & discovery needs to be complemented by utilization, pointing out that the USSR “lost the contest” does not diminish my argument in anyway.
You’ve apparently missed the whole point of my post. Nowhere did I claim that authoritarian societies out-innovate free societies, I’m merely dispelling the dogma that the opposite is always true. I’m further arguing that other unrelated factors (resources, necessity, breakthroughs & utilization) have a far greater effect on innovation than political systems do.
Mister Unknown says
Lol, just a quick humorous anecdote: ironically, at both Thermopylae and Plataea, it was Sparta – the original totalitarian state – that led the Greeks to stave off disaster & attain final victory.
I thought you wanted to stay away from wars and battles as proving your point :-). But then it is fun isn’t it ?
Also if you are to point out ironies etc better get all the facts straight. Totalitarian state would not exactly describe Sparta, militaristic yes (I think you are applying in ex post facto judgement here). Also you ignore the fact that Thermopylae was a disaster for the Spartans, and a clear determining factor was Salamis by the Athenians… and btw Caesar’s Rome was still a republic when it destroyed the Gauls, and I already replied on Vietnam and Afghanistan etc etc..
But I agree lets leave wars to authors like VD Hanson because we can go on forever on that subject, arguing about this factor or that factor.
I am however very intrigued by the structure of the second sentence in the the last paragraph of post #18:
I thought you wanted to stay away from arguing about wars, but it is tempting isn’t it ?
Since you are on that subject, I would point out that your irony does not exactly stand close examination: (i) Sparta was militaristic not authoritarian -it would be authoritarian with today’s standards but that is ex post facto. And a bunch of classics scholars still debate the level of “freedoms” in Sparta vs Athens (ii) You ignored Salamis and the fact that Therompylae was a disaster for the Greeks – despite the cartoonish movies.Then I could point out that Rome was still a republic when it routed the Gauls. I could point out that the Mongols were kinda like the Gauls, and I could also point out that I already replied on Vietnam and Afghanistan etc etc. Then you’d come back with something else and we’ll both sound like armchair generals.
So you are right – let’s leave wars aside as arguments.
But we can examine an example close to home (you used empirical examples so you cannot blame me for that). Let’s compare innovation in China in the 70’s and innovation in China in the 90’s. It is the same country, the same land mass, a mere 300M more people (25% isn’t much), the same resources, the same cultural heritage, the same if not less necessity in the 90’s, pretty much the same everything in your factors. Did China inovate more in the 90’s or the 00’s than in the 70’s ? Arguably yes – in all fronts. Was it because of more enlightened leadership ? Or was it because the enlightened leadership aloowed people to be freer economically ? And where does economic freedom stop and political begin ? Why don’t we use that case ?
Finally, I am still admiring the following sentence:
It is nicely crafted and it sounds great. But if you parse it and apply logic, it reminds me of the barber paradox. Well done – and that is a sincere compliment btw.
Charles Liu says
Wow, for someone who claims to know US history very well, you don’t know about Jim Crow and the fact apartheid existed even after 1964?
Black Pheonix says
I’m admiring this sentence:
“But if you parse it and apply logic, it reminds me of the barber paradox.”
How does someone else “parse it and apply logic” in some UNKNOWN way, to remind you of something?
Maybe you can explain the method to your mad logic jumping?
And I mean that in the best possible way.
The scientific and technological innovation in the Western world during the last four centuries is a direct result of the “freedom of thought”
I don’t see “freedom” in west until 50 years ago, though (in my opinion) it plays a big part in innovation, it also play key role in destorying collective effort in society.
Here is what Franklin Roosevelt said in 1933:
Exactly, I mean look at this sentence:
““But if you parse it and apply logic, it reminds me of the barber paradox.”
Mister Unknown’s argument stands by itself. But somehow people have to “parse it and apply logic just to REMIND acyang about the barber paradox. And why would anyone want to do that? This is a thread regarding rethinking the freedom-innovation nexus, not “reminders of the barber paradox”. Classic case of thread-hijacking and spamming with irrelevant ideas. Mods, I am flagging acyang as a troll. (S)he’s not even trying…
Mister Unknown says
My response regarding Thermopylae & Plataea was purely meant as a follow up to @jxie regarding his point about ridiculousness of western propaganda in their movies, not as a continuation of the “who won what war” line of thinking. As I already mentioned, that doesn’t prove anything.
As for China’s development, I already addressed this in an earlier response – development and accumulation of resources is the key factor that PRECEDES and stimulates both innovation and freedom, for it frees a greater proportion of the population to engage in non-subsistence activities. The PRC is no exception here. In China’s case, it was the accumulation of human resources – and I don’t mean just population growth. China’s opening up yielded results not only because it no longer denied itself of foreign capital/technology, but also because it had the necessary foundation to attract it. As much as people hated the Mao years, those 27 years saw radical progress in key areas of human development (granted they started from a low base), which enabled the developmental takeoff in the latter 30+ years of the PRC. Going back to Eric X Li’s debate material for a moment: literacy in ’49 hovered around 15% at best, but by the time of Mao’s death was approaching 70%, life expectancy in ’49 was 43, by ’76 it had increased by more than 20 years. This means despite all the turmoil of the Mao years, by the time he died, people were healthier and far better educated, and naturally more productive. This formed a solid foundation upon which reform and opening up could actually yield returns. Would anyone have invested in China if its people remained the uneducated, unhealthy, and undisciplined “sick men of Asia”? Even if they did, how much lower on the value-chain would China be without the progress of the Mao years?
The point here is that one must take a holistic view of PRC history . If you want to pick and choose timelines, I can point to the fact that the CPC has progressively enhanced its ability to monitor and control its citizens, as well as censor information. In the last ten years, people are less free in some ways under Hu than under Jiang. Yet China is more innovative than it was 10 years ago. Does this prove that decreasing freedom & increasing government control is the way toward better innovation?
Going back to what I said earlier, my central thesis is NOT that authoritarian societies always out-innovate free societies, I’m just saying the opposing dogma is also false.
How will China become world technological power?