Home > Analysis, economy, history, politics > African Economist Dambisa Moyo: Is China the new idol for emerging economies?

African Economist Dambisa Moyo: Is China the new idol for emerging economies?

Dambisa Moyo – Is China the new idol for emerging economies

It is refreshing to see public intellectuals other than Eric X Li speak openly against the blind faith that most westerners place in their own brand of democratic governance and market capitalism (a faith that they attempt to impose on the rest of the world). However, I wanted to voice my skepticism on two of Moyo’s assumptions that I noticed in this linked video.

Assumption 1: western countries actually followed their own prescriptions for economic development

The first (unspoken) assumption that Moyo seems to make in her TED talk is that the West succeeded as a result of their widely advertised model of ‘democratic governance + free market capitalism’. In reality, during the period (1500s – 1800s) when the West rose to prominence above the rest of the world, few if any western countries were “democratic” – in name or, more importantly, in practice. Even those that guaranteed some form of citizens’ rights, such as the British Empire, simply colonized and oppressed weaker societies overseas, and exploited colonial subjects’ labor and material resources to develop economically. The American rise to power in the 1800s follows a similar path – a combination of foreign aggression (against Native Americans) and domestic oligarchical rule (monopolistic tycoons that resemble those of modernday Russia). Furthermore, most western countries adopted some form of mercantilsim when it came to foreign trade. In fact, prior to leveeing a personal income tax, the primary source of revenue for the US federal government was tariffs on imported goods. It was no doubt ‘capitalist’, but far from the brand of free market/free trade capitalism that the West advocates today. So judging from a historical perspective, the REAL western model of development was neither democratic nor market-driven.

Assumption 2: High per capita income can effectively preserve a democratic system “come hell or high water”

The second (verbally articulated) assumption is that high incomes can maintain the stability and survivability of a democratic system. Moyo mentioned the $8000 per capita benchmark toward the middle of her TED talk, claiming that this is the point at which a democratic government is able to retain longevity. She may be correct in the sense that the $8000 milestone is the point at which violent rebellions and sudden social upheavals cannot overthrow a democratic government, but a high income hardly protects a democracy against internal political decay. The US has a per capita income of more than 5 times that amount, yet we see democratic governance being eroded across the board in the US today.

The electoral system is gradually transforming from a one-man one-vote system back to the one-dollar, one-vote system reminiscent of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Major media outlets are getting bigger and becoming concentrated in fewer hands. Simultaneously, in a society where economic resources increasingly determine political outcomes, the disparity of wealth between the economic elite and middle/lower classes is rapidly widening. Finally, Orwellian laws and practices that monitor every aspect of a citizen’s life are quickly becoming the norm, and the people appear to be unwilling and incapable of stopping this erosion of individual liberty. If such trends continue, the US could very well become an authoritarian state in all but name, or a “illiberal democracy”, as Moyo describes it.

That said, despite some of her questionable assumptions, Moyo makes a persuasive appeal for keeping an open mind and avoiding ideological blinders – a thesis that appeared to be well-received in the audience.

  1. Black Pheonix
    December 1st, 2013 at 11:28 | #1

    There is a simpler point to it:

    As viewed from Chinese history, as China’s population grew, older political systems that used to be sufficient eventually become unable to maintain stability.

    Size of population, size of area, cultural diversity, technological advances, all add to stresses on the system.

    Thus, periodically, systems must evolve or collapse.

    “Democracy” actually is too old to be useful. It is most suited for young nations with very small population, very short memories, and having no reservations about making inhumane sacrifices.

    As history of Athens and Rome illustrates, such “democracies” are born in blood and cannot go long before their history of precedents of mistakes accumulate into stagnation and dictatorial control.

    It is simply illogical for the West to ask the rest of the world to repeat their mistakes, when they know themselves to be going down the wrong direction now.

  2. December 1st, 2013 at 13:54 | #2

    One thing every nation should copy China on is the GFW. Start protecting their citizens from foreign Internet services. Our world need not function that way, but how the U.S. and U.K. are secretly stealing everyone’s information have completely polluted the atmosphere.

  3. Black Pheonix
    December 1st, 2013 at 15:17 | #3


    The idea is not so much protect one’s people directly, but rather protect one’s own ability to govern and hold an unified “native government”.

    The Western societies, in the name of “human rights”, is propagating the myth that the West, by stealing and leaking information of foreign governments, is somehow protecting the People of the foreign nations.

    Such is the degree of lunacy that has come out of the former colonial powers, who worked so long and so hard to prevent “home rule” and independence of much of the World.

    The World’s slogan should be “home rule above all else.”

    Having Western powers imposing various standards is fundamentally a tactic of divide and conquer.

  4. December 1st, 2013 at 22:17 | #4

    @Black Pheonix
    You are right, of course.

    Narrowly speaking of developing countries and China, China should productize the GFW and either give it away free or sell it nominally to help protect the developing countries.

  5. Black Pheonix
    December 2nd, 2013 at 06:43 | #5


    More than that, China should engage the non-Western nations to share information on how the West has spied and stolen information from them.

    And to find any dirty secrets that the West wants to hide from the World.

    Recently, I read that the British actively engaged in destroying files relating their illegal activities during the Colonial Era in various nations around the world.

    I’m sure many more such files exist still.

    China should lead the charge to find such files and share them with the World, to help the World understand what the West was and IS doing.

  6. December 3rd, 2013 at 11:08 | #6

    What about the view that China is the new colonial master in Africa but actually only imported around 8% of total mineral export from Africa.

    90% of those resources go to OECD countries aka the rich countries. So when the “rich” countries speak of giving aid to Africa, we should ask why so many corrupt African dictators hide their wealth, mainly in Europe. Why do democratic European countries allow this outrage to continue?

    Is the aid really aid when it has to be used to purchase services from the aid donor countries and hire their grossly overpriced consultants? But of course the west control the mainstream press so we will never hear about this injustice or even discuss it.

    I have read quite a few of Dambisa Moyo’s article. She based her conclusion on the facts and figures she discover. As such she comes to the conclusion that China as a single country has contributed the most positive and fair development to African countries. However, to my disappointment, if you can’t tell from this speech. She is basically asking why the democratic west is being outdone by undemocratic China?

  7. ersim
    December 3rd, 2013 at 11:35 | #7

    Having read her bio in Wikipedia, it’s no surprise how her perspective of economic and political “development” of the West if painted positively. Somebody whose Alma Maters are Oxford, Harvard and American Universities shouldn’t be a shocker why she sees “great white master’s” so called accomplishments at the expense of the “other”.

  8. December 3rd, 2013 at 12:53 | #8


    I find her approach to the TED audience pragmatic and reasonable, and I wouldn’t judge her by her alma mater. After all, she is talking to an audience that most likely has a deeply ingrained sense of moral exceptionalism, if she is too harsh in delivering her message, it’s likely that they’ll tune her out altogether.

    I think the assumptions she take for granted are intellectually flawed (as I’ve pointed out in the main body of this blog post), but I understand why she would frame her lecture within those ingrained assumptions, regardless of whether she actually believes them.

  9. December 3rd, 2013 at 13:28 | #9

    @Mister Unknown

    Btw, she is quite a prolific writer.


    I do agree she already presented a very neutral position.

    For example, are we right to equate Europe= rich and Africa = poor? This is the argument I am having problem with. Europe is pretty much depleted in energy and mineral resources and have to import nearly all of them. So resources wise, Africa is actually the rich continent. But in our mind we are prejudiced to believe Europe is rich and Africa is poor.

    As she sells her book to a mainly western audience especially the English speaking world. I think it is hard not to adjust the presentation for the sake of the market. For example, she got my attention with the book titled “How the West was Lost?”

    So in much the same way, when we judge the moral of Europe or the US against China. Do we judge base on the standard of living or on their international conduct for the last fifty years or so. From what I see, the only advantage of the OECD is that they have the highest standard of living. Nobody ever question the sustainability of their lifestyle if extrapolated to the whole world nor do we question the flow of mineral and other resources. To me, moral represent justice not standard of living.

  10. ho hon
    December 3rd, 2013 at 22:15 | #10

    Having gone over the entire speech, I think the issue is not about the assumptions. Moyo’s most powerful message, I personally think, is her urge to us all, to create prosperity for “people around the world”. And it is the unspoken key issue.

  11. December 4th, 2013 at 04:59 | #11


    she got my attention with the book titled “How the West was Lost?”

    What impressed you? She had recommended the U.S. defaulting (especially to China) as a way to get out of its malaise…

    With the assumption that China is at the root of many of U.S.’ problems…

  12. December 4th, 2013 at 08:41 | #12

    As you can tell I am actually more critical than Mr unknown. I don’t like her view that somehow the west is inherently morally, economically, technologically superior. I am one of those few individual who see Africa as richer than Europe.

    Like I have said, she actually do research and try to speak with the data found. However, she still comes to the biased conclusion that the west should be the role model. Maybe, it is as ersim said, she is trained in the UK and US.

    And maybe I am not that clear but I think her bias comes from the fact that the west has a markedly higher standard of living than the rest. I didn’t want into get into the immeasurable bs of freedom and democracy. Because I know that the average people actually value standard of living above all else. As we have already knew, economic prosperity is the foundation of a good standard of living. It is a prerequisite for freedom and democracy, not the other way round.

    Also, as someone who is so familiar with both the Chinese (East Asian) model and Western model (which actually have several variations), I know China doesn’t lack freedom or democracy. For example, in China to get round the internet firewall, just get a VPN; need to have a dozen kids or get around the hukou limitation, get a HK passport! And in China actually everyone is free to progress, no one is holding you back.

    She impressed me because she actually is telling the west China is doing a lot of good things in Africa. It takes a lot of guts, most yellow journalism simply parrot the China evil neo-colonial none sense. And like you I am not happy that she is taking the side of the west. Again, I feel that she has to do that because that’s where her readership is. Unless, she try to translate her work into Chinese and try to make a living there.

    As much as I like to discuss freedom and democracy, I knew deep inside that without a proper economic foundation it is meaningless. She is smart enough to see that the “Chinese model” of phased economic development could be advantageous. That’s what most of her book is about. She is also brave enough to say the so-called aid given to Africa is doing far more damage than good.

    Btw, this video of her is way too short. I will try to find some of the longer talks she has given before.

  13. December 4th, 2013 at 10:19 | #14


    I had composed a message criticizing this TED talk last night. Basically I think most of it is junk.

    However, my child cried, and after I got my child settled, my computer crashed … there goes my comment – which was almost done and had almost an hour to compose.

    Oh well … if I get to it, I will write an abbreviated version.

  14. December 4th, 2013 at 14:27 | #15

    I just watched the TVO interview of Moyo, she appears to be one of the most pro-China African public intellectuals that I’ve encountered so far. I am relatively “pro-Moyo” relative to fellow bloggers here despite my initial criticism. I am willing to overlook her deeply ingrained beliefs; EVERYONE (especially us) have such beliefs, and no one’s ideas are perfect or fact-based. How she acts on those beliefs is what matters to me.

    On the other hand, I find it comical (& disturbing) that the interviewer kept referring to China’s infrastructure-for-resource deals as “brilliant” or “clever”. There is NOTHING “clever” about China’s “strategy” in Africa: you give me what I need & I do the same for you – this is the most elementary aspect of trade, and of basic human interaction.

    The fact that even well-educated western intellectuals label this as “brilliant” manifests the deeply ingrained nature of the rapacious western colonialist mindset.

  15. ersim
    December 4th, 2013 at 18:26 | #16

    I find it to be very disturbing how she, coming from the continent of Africa, puts on the pedestal the same people who since the infamous Berlin Conference in 1884 to this day have committed countless atrocities to the peoples of Africa. It seems the Europeans did a great job in brainwashing many countless Africans throughout the generations when the continent was under total colonial rule until not that long ago.

  16. Zack
    December 8th, 2013 at 04:33 | #17

    to compound the point over how and why China refuses to adopt ‘Western liberal demoracy’:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZAx8bJkruU

    tl;dr version: because western liberal style democracies as a system is broken in the 21st century

  17. ersim
    December 8th, 2013 at 05:46 | #18

    I recently read the book “Liberalism: A Counter History” by Domenico Losurdo and gave a very good explanation how “Western liberal style democracy” developed during European colonial expansion throughout the world.

  18. Black Pheonix
    December 8th, 2013 at 06:35 | #19


    It does sound like a post-colonialism self-justification type theory to try to whitewash every thing.

  19. December 8th, 2013 at 07:47 | #20

    That’s a very succinct explanation of China’s rejection of western-style democracy. You can find his full reprot written here:


  20. Black Pheonix
    December 8th, 2013 at 09:39 | #21


    @Mister Unknown

    Very interesting indeed.

    In the extent that the CCP is increasing its efficiency of governing, by carefully managing grassroot “polling”, which is actually quite absent in the West now, ONLY points to the dangerous disconnect in the “Western Liberal Democracies”.

    That is, the Western governments are relying too heavily upon the “voting system” as a feedback from the People, and it is too slow, and too mired in corrupt political interest lobbying money.

    Deliberate form of efficient “Democracy” in the true sense, MUST be more efficient in eliciting feedback from the People, which now China is doing more.

    In that sense, it doesn’t really matter how many “Parties” there are, as long as the “Parties” are willing to listen, and not in the business of creating self-deceptions based upon corrupt lobbying money.

    Another problem of Democracies not mentioned, is that Democracies tend to be very “inward looking”, since representation is only for the domestic “voters”.

    In the 21st century and beyond, we are too global to take only internal concerns.

    That is another slow down in the feedback system: By the time the “voters” feel the impact from the outside world, it may be too late to react to it. (which then cause the politicians of Democracies to “cover their asses” via more self-deceptions).

  21. ho hon
    December 8th, 2013 at 20:37 | #22

    @Black Pheonix

    We are not much better than the ancient Greek philosophers who distinguished the Republic system and the Democratic system. What they despised 2,500 years ago becomes the inconvenient truth today.

    Most of the google search results re “difference between democracy and republic” provide information a bit better than pure BS. I suggest people refer to Aristotle for the key issues.

  22. ersim
    December 9th, 2013 at 16:29 | #23

    @Black Pheonix
    After reading Losurdo’s book, when it comes to the expansion of Western colonialism throughout the world under the figleaf of “freedom and democracy”, those who call themselves “liberals” or even “progressives” are closeted fascist white supremacists.

  23. Black Pheonix
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:44 | #24


    I always felt that “Fascists” are a combination of “liberals” and “conservatives” in the worst possible way.

    They have the zeal and idealism of “liberals”, but they have the backward intolerance of the “conservatives”.

    Which was why I found it most troubling to see the rise of “neo-liberal”/”neo-conservatives”, who originally rose out of the Democratic Party as a zealous faction of less tolerant, mostly White male politicians.

    And also the rise of the Tea Party, a bunch of intolerant self-interested Me-firsters who became zealously ideological.

    In my opinion, the combination of zealousness and intolerance is a dangerous trend in the West.

  24. ersim
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:57 | #25

    @Black Pheonix
    The West has always been ideological fanatics. “Liberals” being the worst ones, in my opinion. At least conservatives are upfront with their self-righteous arrogance. “Liberals” seem “polite” about their self-righteousness.

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