The idea has been floating through the media for quite some time now. I have occasionally presented it on this blog. The liberal democracy that everyone believed had emerged victorious in the clash of civilizations has been eclipsed by the authoritarian capitalism practiced by the current Chinese government. Links here and here and here.
People tend to copy what works. They emulate their betters. If the Chinese system seems to be working better than American-style democracy, nations around the world will reject the democratic model and embrace the autocratic model. As I have often pointed out, if America wants the world to be more democratic, it must show that democracy works. If anyone imagines that nations are going to line up to have their own versions of the Resistance, of Black Lives Matter, and of public debates about manspreading and transgendered restrooms… he is smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes. If democracy in America has descended to the level of mindless frivolity and disruption for the sake of disrupting-- especially when these stifle economic growth-- do not expect the world to become more democratic any time soon.
We might say that it’s all about the best form of government. From another angle, we might say that after eight years of Obama the American people were tired of the culture wars and wanted to get back to business. Perhaps that was one of the reasons, a reason that transcended ideology, that they voted for Trump, but especially why they voted for Republicans. Now, if the Republicans prove that they cannot govern… that will change the equation.
On Monday of this week Tyler Cowen offered a similar argument about the role and the influence of the Chinese example. For obvious reasons I find the argument persuasive.
Allow him to present his case.
First, he points out that the Chinese example is pushing Western democracies in a more authoritarian direction:
I believe that much of Western politics is becoming more authoritarian and less liberal because of the greater presence of autocracies on the world stage, most of all because of the success of China.
He should have added that Western democracies have been showing weakness in the war against Islamic terrorism. They have veered toward more feminine values and attitudes. Empowering women-- in Germany and Sweden-- has been shown to promote weakness and empathy. This is provoking a reaction, one that often shows a more macho version of masculine values.
Cowen believes that the issue is power, not freedom or prosperity:
Individuals have a mimetic desire to copy or praise or affiliate what is perceived as successful, and a lot of our metrics of success have to do with power rather than freedom or prosperity. So if there is a powerful system on the world stage, many of us will be drawn to it and seek to emulate it, without always being conscious of the reasons for those attractions.
Here, a caveat is in order. There is more to it than power. China has produced an enormous amount of wealth in the past forty years. It has accorded its citizens far more economic freedom than they ever had. People do not emulate China for its will-to-power. They emulate its success, its prosperity and its economic freedom.
As for the measurement of Chinese success, Cowen makes the case persuasively:
It’s not just about the emerging economies in general, but rather one such economy in particular: China. By purchasing power parity measures China is now the No. 1 economy, and the world’s leading exporter, in addition to its longstanding role as the world’s most populous country. It has had an almost unbroken string of high-growth years since 1979, often at double-digit rates, and it avoided much of the negative fallout from the financial crisis. Its geopolitical influence and its military have been gaining on the U.S. or Europe for decades.
Nations around the world are asking themselves whether they can produce prosperity by following liberal values… freedom to expression, human rights. And they have been answering that they would rather not:
Nonetheless the economic successes of China and some other countries may have helped create an underlying crisis of confidence in liberal ideas and values. In Africa, for instance, Ethiopia and Rwanda have been improving living standards fairly rapidly, but they too have moved toward authoritarianism systems.