April 9, 2009
I don’t understand a lot of things. Recently I realized I don’t understand the Chinese form of government. This seems important because China will someday buy whatever is left of the United States. Any way you look at it, China is the major economic force of the future. I feel as if I should understand how they roll.
I suspect that if you quizzed most Americans, they would say China is a communist dictatorship. I had a hunch there was more to China than the cartoony image I learned in school. So I spent five minutes with Google to see what I could learn.
First of all, there are 1.3 billion Chinese, but only 73 million of them are members of the Communist Party. The party has a monopoly on power. They decide who gets to run for office. The Communists manage a vast bureaucracy that apparently has provisions for weeding out the idiots. I make that assumption based on the fact that the country functions at all, given its size and complexity. Check out this chart of the Chinese government.
Although the Communists run the show, I assume most citizens have the right to join the party and work their way up the ranks. So merit appears to be important in their system. Obviously any big political system will have its share of corruption and favoritism. It’s unclear to me if China is better or worse than the United States on those measures. But I imagine that getting caught with your hand in the public till in China means death. Here it means reelection. Advantage China.
Chinese citizens can vote for their local leaders, at least from the slate of candidates deemed appropriate by the party. And those local leaders in turn select higher level leaders, and so on. Is that less fair than the political systems in so-called democratic countries? Philosophically, it might be less fair. On a practical level, that’s not so clear.
As far as I can tell (in five minutes) you don’t get to be the head guy in China unless the Communist Party supports you. So it’s far from a dictatorship. And the party has a huge incentive to pick the most effective leader. There’s a lot to like about that system.
Unlike the political system in the United States, the Chinese don’t base policy on superstition. They are more pragmatic. If you think God is talking to you, you probably don’t go far in the Communist Party. Advantage China.
Obviously you have to include in this discussion the issues of human rights. China comes up short on that measure compared to western democracies. But what is less clear is whether the majority of Chinese would prefer it otherwise. Perhaps they appreciate the lower crime rate, for example.
If the Chinese had a more free press, would the citizens be better off? I appreciate the free press telling me that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell political influence. But in China he would already be executed, whether I read about it in the newspaper or not. Advantage China.
China’s government is more like a large business enterprise. IBM doesn’t have a free press reporting about its manager’s decisions, but that doesn’t make them less effective. They weed out the crooks and idiots in their ranks because it is in their best interest to do so. China’s Communist Party apparently has a similar system. Would a free press make much difference in their case?
I started this discussion by admitting my ignorance. That situation hasn’t changed much since I wrote this blog post. Feel free to correct any misconceptions here.