Americans are convinced that ours is the best government in the world. Yet, today, there’s plenty of indication that many things are, in fact, not working in the District of Columbia. Bipartisanship has become a unicorn—often spoken of, but rarely ever seen. Ideological issues such as abortion, gun control and religion have polarized the politics of the nation, poisoning the well of cooperation from which we must draw for the tackling of key issues such as health care reform, climate change and the national debt. The problem with making unpopular decisions? No party wants to be the one responsible for making them! And so it goes—the toughest decisions get put off until later, and democracy marches on.
Say what you will about China, when Beijing sets its mind to something, for better or worse, it usually gets done. Take, for example, this CNN article discussing how China has just recently cleaned our collective clocks in clean energy investing. Along similar lines, Beijing is also intent on going for Detroit’s jugular in hybrid and electric vehicles. And what is Washington doing? Playing ostrich with the spiraling national debt, or vowing to quit playing altogether because the other kid won a round.
Look, I am a Chinese-American. And before you start with the “if you like China so much, why don’t you go back there” bit, let’s just get off our high-horses for one second and objectively look at this situation. As a relatively privileged nation, we’ve always had the luxury of debate and discourse, personal freedoms and respect for the rights of the minority. All these are wonderful things! But, they cease to be so wonderful when “what I want” becomes the sole objective, and “what anyone else wants” becomes entirely irrelevant. With everyone pulling in different directions, each trying to simply overpower the other, the nation goes nowhere fast. At the same time, we see our cushion of privilege growing thinner, and a resurgent China looming in the rear-view mirror, gaining fast.
Of course, Chinese government isn’t perfect either, I’ll be the first to admit that. But is there something to be said for the utilitarian nature of efficient centralized governance which gets things done? In the vein of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, I think this generation of CPC leadership is, in fact, relatively enlightened. Who can forget the images of Wen Jiabao in Sichuan just after the earthquake? And with a leadership that has the power to make life better and better for the vast majority of Chinese people day after day, China has truly become a land of opportunity. No doubt, the gap between rich and poor is growing and the rights of the few are often brushed aside. But the question remains, in a lifeboat full of squabbling people who can’t decide which direction to row in and a dwindling food and water supply, doesn’t someone need to take charge and simply get the boat going in some direction, any direction, even if some folks in the boat disagree?1
Hence the great trade off of government. To paint in broad strokes and risk some coloring outside the lines, or to paint in fine strokes, which results in cleaner work, but at a bigger price? To let each pull in a different direction, or to have leadership and one decided direction, even if it may be an incorrect one at times? To afford the inefficiencies of debate, consensus and minority interests, or to address the greater good in a utilitarian manner, even if at the risk of alienating the minority? Finding the correct balance is a pivotal issue for every form of government. And frankly, in many respects, the costs and inefficiencies inherent in true elective democracy are expenditures and luxuries that many non-first world nations can ill-afford.
I’m not saying China’s choice is right for everyone. All I am saying is, why do we assume that our American choice must be right for China, and everyone else in the world? Shouldn’t it be possible for each nation to select the balance between the greater good versus individual freedoms for themselves? Beijing, with far more mouths to feed, and being decades behind on development, has opted for a form of governance which more clearly emphasizes the well-being of the whole over the freedoms of the individual. Perhaps it’s a cultural issue,2 but the vast majority of the Chinese people are generally happy with the direction of the nation in the past 10 to 20 years. Why, then, do Americans insist on seeing the Chinese government as being so evil?
China feeds 20% of the world’s population without aid from the WFP, oh, and is the world’s third largest food donor. And the notion that Beijing’s entirely totalitarian and not open to new ideas? Not true! It’s just that when the ideas have a distinctly Chinese flair, some folks don’t care for them. Even the good news of increased living standards for the Chinese people is a threat—the Chinese are eating all the meat!3
Let’s stop the nonsense and admit that China’s simply following a different model of governance. So far, I wouldn’t say that things are going too badly on the whole. Of course, Chinese government is FAR from perfect, especially at the lower, regional, levels of government, but there’s something to be said for all that China’s recently achieved while Washington has simply become more and more partisan with each passing day, emphasizing rhetoric over consensus as the nation continues to recoil from the recent depression. And, if you don’t believe me, did you ever think you’d ever see a New York Times article like this, showing what increasing numbers of America’s best and brightest are doing?
America was once the greatest experiment in government in the world–the shining “city on a hill.” Today, Beijing’s running the next great experiment in government, a gradual evolution from classic communism to a social democracy with Chinese characteristics. Have recent events made Americans so nervous about our “city on a hill” status as to wish failure upon China, and fault-find its every step?
- Recall that, even in our system of checks-and-balances, SCOTUS is given life tenure so that it may make unpopular decisions without fear of retribution. That even SCOTUS has become too partisan is a whole other can of worms. [↩]
- The very foundation of America’s existence is based on anti-big government. [↩]
- Meant for Americans of course! [↩]