Thursday, March 22, 2012

Charles A. Kupchan's "No One’s World"

Charles A. Kupchan is Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn, and reported the following:
From page 99 of No One’s World:
The Advantages of Autocracy Chinese-Style

China’s brand of one-party rule has its distinct advantages. The main one is self-evident: Chinese leaders are able to make policy decisions absent the pulling and hauling of the democratic process. The government must of course manage factional and bureaucratic rivalries, tame corrupt party members and officials, and worry about its popular legitimacy. But it does not have to deal with the constitutional and institutional constraints that are the hallmark of liberal democracy. Deng Xiaoping was notably frank in acknowledging as much: “The Western type of checks and balances must never be practiced. We must not be influenced by that kind of thinking. Efficiency must be guaranteed.” The advantages of this top-down approach to governing are especially pronounced at a time when the Western democracies are confronting sluggish economic growth and divided and angry electorates.

During Mao’s rule, which was marred by the excesses of ideology and his cult of personality, the absence of checks and balances had clear costs. But the Chinese government is no longer on an ideological crusade. On the contrary, it is now ruthlessly pragmatic, mercantilist, and shrewd in its pursuit of political order, prosperity, and national power. The result has been a remarkable track record of leadership competence, economic growth, domestic stability, and expanding geopolitical reach.

Heady projections of China’s continued rise presume sound macroeconomic policy and the investments in infrastructure and intellectual capital made possible by a centralized, autocratic state. China has embarked on a monumental project to build a nation-wide highway network linking every city with more than 200,000 residents. The ongoing construction program is producing roughly 4,000 kilometers of roadway per year and will result in a system of some 85,000 kilometers, surpassing the size of the interstate highway network in the United States.
The above excerpt from page 99 describes the advantages that accrue to China’s brand of “state capitalism.” Beijing enjoys both meritocratic competence and a government able to make command decisions about domestic priorities and spending. The result is a relatively efficient and strategic policy-making process that has produced a long run of impressive growth and the development of a national infrastructure capable of sustaining economic expansion.

Meanwhile, the leading Western democracies are stuck in an economic rut and beset by discontented electorates. Throughout the advanced industrialized democracies, middle class income has been stagnant and economic inequality has been rising for the better part of two decades. Globalization was supposed to have played to the advantage of the open economies of the West, but the entry into global markets of billions of low-wage workers from the developing world has instead come at the expense of the West’s prosperity. Policy responses that might redress these problems have not been forthcoming, in no small part because of a crisis of democratic governance caused by polarization, populism, and the diminishing trust of Western voters in their elected representatives.

Juxtaposing China’s ascent with the West’s economic and political travails is by no means meant to suggest that Beijing’s brand of authoritarian capitalism represents the wave of the future. Not only is it marred by the lack of democratic legitimacy and rampant corruption, but it also depends on cultural and socioeconomic conditions unique to China.

Nonetheless, the Chinese model does represent one of the numerous versions of modernity that will be in play as the twenty-first century unfolds. The Western model promises to bounce back; liberal democracy, free markets, and secular nationalism will do just fine in the decades ahead. But, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Western way will not be universalized. Political Islam will captivate the Middle East; Africa will continue to be run by strongmen; Latin America will embrace its own brand of left-wing populism, and India will adhere to a “New Delhi” consensus that fosters economic growth even while its democratic institutions confront striking linguistic and ethnic diversity, biting inequality, and rigid social hierarchy.

The twenty-first century will not belong to the United States, China, India, Brazil, or anyone else. It will be no one’s world.
Learn more about No One's World at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue