While doing something else, Kathy turned on a “TED” talk. The presenter was an extremely knowledgeable third-world black woman whose name I didn’t get. The gist of her talk was that the eyes of the undeveloped world were on China. China’s growing economic might was turning heads, and causing third-world people to re-evaluate the American model. We are being seen as too thoroughly wed to the idea of “democracy”, as the highest good; while China, whose leadership has not bothered itself too much with that ideal, is delivering upward mobility to its citizens and helping lots of others around the world. China’s will soon be the world’s largest economy. Third-world people are asking themselves which is better – the individual liberties promised by the democratic model, or economic betterment as delivered by an autocratic regime like China? If it turns out to be an either/or proposition, will the Chinese model triumph?
Firstly, is it an either/or proposition? How are the democratic countries doing? Are they delivering economic betterment to their citizens? The Great Recession and the rise of the American and other plutocracies would suggest that economic betterment is no longer being delivered to the citizenry of the democratic first-world. And, one suspects that, as more countries go into economic crisis (e.g. Greece), and more people are put out-of-work and/or driven out of the middle-class, repression will become increasingly common. So, right now, it doesn’t look too promising for the western world.
What about China? It is an autocratic country that, paradoxically, appears to care for the economic well-being of the populace. We haven’t seen this before. Autocracy is usually associated with a fabulously wealthy elite and slavery for everyone else. Is there a cadre of central-planner philosopher kings now running China, who, themselves, don’t aspire to great wealth and power? And, if so, can they be trusted to continue to behave in this way? If China is, indeed, a “model” for other countries to follow, how do they go about it? What university courses will teach them how to centrally-plan an economy while repressing the population sufficiently to ensure the achievement of their economic plans? And what populace, once becoming well-fed, will not, eventually, demand the rights of self-expression and self-determination? I have to conclude, for the time being at least, that present-day China is an anomaly.
This doesn’t answer the question of whether we will have to choose between capitalist democracy or centrally-planned Chinese-style “benign” autocracy. Only time will tell. But one thing seems sure. It is that the world is growing poorer, as it grows more crowded. And a poorer world is likely to end up a world where most people will trade their freedom for a pittance of rice and beans. It is now looking to me like we have seen “peak freedom”.