29 April, 2020

It Is Time For a Libertarian Case Against China


The folks over at Reason magazine have published an essay by Daniel Drezner titled "There is No China Crisis." The essay is a long and meandering piece of apologia for the old DC model for dealing with China. I've written about this model and its failures before (especially see the posts "Give No Heed to the Walking Dead" and "China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order;"  I suppose these two book reviews I wrote for Foreign Policy are also relevant).[1] Given how much I have written about it in the past, I am not really interested in revisiting that discussion now. I'll simply note that it is silly for Drezner to imply that the flaws in the old model were not apparent until we got to the point where a million Uyghurs had been thrown in concentration camps and the NBA was held hostage for not parroting Communist line. The truth is that the interests, ideology, and goals of the Communist Party of China of 2019 were not so different from those of the Party of 2009, and it was around 2009, not 2017 or 2018, that the Party began a clear, decisive shift against the growing liberalism in their own country and the "threats" posed by liberal ideas and orders abroad.[2] What was happening was undeniable by the time of the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012; that America's political class only started taking the problem seriously in the last three years is evidence of just how difficult it can be to dislodge settled minds from their errors.

Which brings me back to Reason. More interesting than Drezner's piece itself is Reason's decision to publish it. Reason is the flagship magazine of the American libertarian movement. I like libertarians and libertarianism. I can't bring myself to identify as one, but someone recently described me as  "libertarian adjacent," and I will not dispute the label. I am on board the "limited government" train, have a fellowship at the Mercatus Institute (to write a book on a topic unrelated to China), and room together with half the Cato Institute. I could be nudged fairly easily into something like what Tyler Cowen has been calling "state capacity libertarianism." If someone can take Cowen's general line of thinking, strip it of its technocratic gloss, and marry it to a Christopher Lasch-style take on republican self government as a good in and of itself, I will be on board. Such a program wouldn't address what I see as the central social and cultural problems of our era, but I am unconvinced that the federal government is the tool one should use to solve those problems in the first place.

With that bit of throat clearing out of the way: from a libertarian perspective, the priorities of Reason's editors do not make sense. I am reminded of a bar-side chat I had with Cato analyst Alex Nowrasteh in 2017 shortly after the "Muslim ban." Libertarians had been so primed by the Obama years, Nowrasteh argued, to focus their fire on things like the college speech codes and Title IX that they had trouble seeing that the ground beneath them had shifted. They couldn't see that in 2017 the Trump administration's policies on immigration, homeland security, etc. were now the biggest threat to libertarian ideals on the docket. So many busied themselves tweeting about campus culture fights when a much larger game was afoot.

I suspect something similar has happened here with Reason and this piece on China. America's foreign policy overreach and the collectivizing press of the European Union has been the driving force behind international statism for so long that libertarians now have trouble readjusting to the new world we live in. If you are actually interested in the extension of liberty across the globe— if you are fighting for the freedom of the human race—then it is important to assess what that world actually looks like.

Start here: one in every five humans on this earth is a subject of the Communist Party of China. This Party believes that it is in an "intense, ideological struggle" for survival, and the ideological threats it faces explicitly includes ideas like "separation of powers," "independent judiciaries," "human rights," "Western freedom,"free flow of information on the internet,""civil society," "total marketization," "economic liberalism," and "freedom of the press."[3] The Party believes that by allowing free markets, free thoughts, and free association into China they would be destroying the source of their power, and with it their ability to lead China into the future. The future they imagine is great: Xi Jinping has described it as "the eventual demise of capitalism and the ultimate victory of socialism." The central task of the Communist Party of China, he urges, is "building a socialism that is superior to capitalism, and laying the foundation for a future where we will win the initiative and have the dominant position." Ever ambitious, the Communists even have a date by which they hope to have secured this bid for "the initiative:" 2049. [4]

It is worth pausing here to reflect upon some of the implications of all this. Important things to note: the Communist Party of China believes that is is in an economic, political, and ideological contest for the future of the their country and the world; while military competition is not ignored by the Party, the central frame through which they view this contest is not geopolitics or military power. It is ideas that bother them. To win their contest for the future, the idea that their society could be more successful, wealthy, and powerful if it were free must be discredited or silenced. The Communists want a future where even the notion of a free, liberal China would sound ridiculous to anyone who hears it—that is, if anyone is brave enough to air it in the first place.

Within China the Party-state has built a vast apparatus of censorship and surveillance to control the traffic of ideas among the Chinese people. (An aside: the possibility that these technologies and innovations might be exported or copied by other countries should by itself be raising libertarian alarms, but I'll leave the development of that thought for a later piece). But in an interconnected world this is not enough. So insecure is the Party in this fight over thought, that it now applies techniques it perfected to defeat ideas within China to the world outside it. The NBA-fiasco is the most prominent example of this. That gambit was made by prominent through its failure. The Party's successes have gotten less air-time. The biggest of these successes have happened in Chinese diaspora communities, where a cocktail of surveillance, blackmail, intimidation, and bribery have silenced critics and brought one foreign Chinese-language publication to toe the Party line after another. Yet the targets are not always ethnically Chinese: the same coercive techniques have been applied to individual researchers, politicians, or media personalities, NGOs, corporations, whole industries and even entire countries. When the Party has enough leverage to win the contest of ideas by silencing them at their source, they do so.[5]

So much for the silencing of ideas. The Communists' vision for discrediting liberalism and free society is a more ambitious project. The current world order, maintains the Party leadership, is built to hold "socialism with Chinese characteristics" down. Xi Jinping has argued that the Party must "transform the global governance system" to something more amenable to authoritarianism.[6]  The Party calls their desired world order a "community of common destiny for mankind," a future where (in the words of analyst Liza Tobin),
A global network of partnerships centered on China would replace the U.S. system of treaty alliances, the international community would regard Beijing’s authoritarian governance model as a superior alternative to Western electoral democracy, and the world would credit the Communist Party of China for developing a new path to peace, prosperity, and modernity that other countries can follow." [7]
What Tobin describes as "a new path to peace, prosperity, and modernity" the Xi has variously described as "Chinese wisdom and a Chinese answer to solving the problems of the mankind," "a new [achievement].... in the history of the development of human society," a "new and greater contribution to mankind," and "new advance in political civilization."[8] Notice the scope of what the Party hopes to reshape. They hope not to remake China, nor even Asia, but "human society," "civilization," and "mankind." As Politburo member Yang Jiechi exhorted in 2018, the time has come for the Party to "energetically control the new direction of the common progress of China and the world." [9]

The Belt and Road Initiative is one attempt to kick start this process. I am fairly bearish on its progress thus far, but the Communists have made clear their intention to play this game on the long term. They hope that by increasing trade with and directly investing in the infrastructure of the developing world they can position themselves as the center of a new world order. Economic heft will be transformed to intellectual heft. A large number of these nations will adopt "Chinese solutions" to their own economic and political problems, be it managing recessions or managing political speech. These solutions will tie them closer to the People's Republic, just as the political and economic transformations of the post-war world drew most of the globe into its intellectual and cultural orbit. The exact shape of the global-ideology to be is still being debated in China, but the consensus is that it must be an ideology that rejects free markets, universal rights, and political liberalism.[9]

Military power and glory is a secondary adjunct to this story. Military supremacy is a means to an end, and that end is the glory of a China as a superpower, raised to the heights of international prestige by its ruling Communist vanguard. Military strength and national unification are thus part of this same gambit to build a new ideological world order (and secure the Party's place at China's head). As Chairman Xi put it, "the pattern of global governance depends upon the balance of power, and the transformation of global governance systems originates from changes in the balance of power."[10] Military bases abroad and fancy weapon shows at home are means of confirming the message China wishes to embed into the international order to their own people: our lack of freedom is what makes us strong. With the Communist Party in charge, no one will ever be able to threaten our stability or our honor ever again.

What should this mean for libertarians? Should it matter to libertarians that one in five human beings live in the grip of a Communist fist? That this Party grows more vicious and authoritarian in its dealings with its own people and more innovative in its search for new technologies and techniques of surveillance? That these same Communists have openly stated their intent to attack and absorb millions who now live free (e.g., in Taiwan)? That their leaders believe they are locked in global competition over the ideology of the future—and that their self described rivals are "liberals" and "capitalists?" That they will not feel secure in their victory until they can control ideas and association in the heart of liberal, capitalist nations? That they now extend their system of surveillance beyond their boarders? That they already use state control of the Chinese economy to coerce corporations, individuals, and entire countries into accepting their will? That their ultimate, self-declared goal is to build a world where capitalism is an anachronism? That to do this they are building a set of statist "Chinese solutions" for the direction of entire economies and societies—solutions they hope will be adopted in other countries? That the tyrants who believe these things and have these goals are on track to directly control the world's largest economy and strongest military within two decades time?

Should that matter to libertarians?

I believe it should. I won't pretend I know the full "libertarian" answer to this problem. But it is far past the time for libertarians—and Reason magazine—to take the problem with the seriousness it deserves. 

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If you are interested in other things I have written about China's Communists, you might also find the posts "A Note on Historical Nihilism," "Xi Jinping Explains His Political Philosophy," "The Utterly Dysfunctional Belt and Road," "Review: Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping" and "Reflections on China's Stalinist Heritage, Parts I and II" of interest. To get updates on new posts published at the Scholar's Stage, you can join the Scholar's Stage mailing list, follow my twitter feed, or support my writing through Patreon. Your support makes this blog possible.
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[1] Tanner Greer, "Give No Heed to the Walking Dead," Scholar's Stage (1 July 2019); "China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order," Scholar's Stage (4 June 2016); "Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World?", Foreign Policy (12 October 2019); "Xi Jinping Knows Who His Enemies Are," Foreign Policy (21 November 2019).

[2] Rush Doshi, "Hu’s to blame for China’s foreign assertiveness?," Brookings Institute (22 January 2019) covers some of this ground, though parallel developments were happening in the realm of internet censorship and media control, attempts to bolster "ideological security" and "cultural security," coercion of dissidents and Chinese diaspora communities abroad, reassertion of state prerogatives in the economic sphere, construction of the Chinese surveillance state, and a general broadening of the Party's presence in every day life.

[3] All quotes taken from the "Document 9" memo. See "Document 9: A ChinaFile Translation," China File (13 November 2013). For an investigation into the origins of these ideas and many other examples of their use, see Samantha Hoffman, "Programming China: the Communist Party’s autonomic approach to managing state security," PhD diss, University of Nottingham (2017). and Matthew Johnson, "Securitizing Culture in Post-Deng China: An Evolving National Strategic Paradigm, 1994–2014," Propaganda in the World and Local Conflicts, 2017, 4(1).

[4] These quotes are pulled from Tanner Greer, "Xi Jinping in Translation: China’s Guiding Ideology," Palladium (31 May 2019). For a collection of similar quotes to the same effect, with analysis, see Dan Tobin, How Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ Should Have Ended U.S. Debate on Beijing’s Ambitions,” testimony delivered to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (13 March 2020).

[5] For a fairly comprehensive summary, see Matt Schrader, "Friends and Enemies: A Framework for Understanding Chinese Political Interference in Democratic Countries," Global Marshall Fund (22 April 2020).

[6] Xi Jinping, "Improve Our Ability to Participate in Global Governance," Governance of China, vol II (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 2016), p. 488.

[7] Quote taken from Liza Tobin, "Xi’s Vision for Transforming Global Governance: A Strategic Challenge for Washington and Its Allies," Texas National Security Review, vol 2, iss 1 (Nov 2018).

[8] Xi Jinping, "The People's Wish For a Good Life is Our Goal," Governance of China, vol I, p. 4; "A Bright Future for Socialism With Chinese Characteristics," Governance of China, vol II, p. 13; Report for the 19th CPC National Conference, "Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era"  (18 October 2017).

[9]  杨洁篪,“近平外交思想为指导 深入推进新时代对外工作,” 求实 (1 August 2018). For those who read Chinese, this entire essay is actually a revealing statement of how all of the pieces of socialist ideology and China's diplomatic strategy fit together. The full section I am drawing from here reads as:
要准确把握新时代中国和世界发展大势。习近平总书记强调,把握国际形势要树立正确的历史观、大局观、角色观。从历史上看,我们前进道路上必然会面临各种难题和挑战,必须勇于从国内国际结合的战略点上进行具有许多新的历史特点的伟大斗争。从大局上看,和平与发展仍然是时代主题,我们要继续高举和平、发展、合作、共赢的旗帜,努力建设新型国际关系,构建人类命运共同体,不断推进人类和平与发展的崇高事业。从角色上看,我国正在日益走近世界舞台中央,我国发展同外部世界的关系将更加紧密,要坚定不移走和平发展道路,更加积极参与全球治理,在国际事务中发挥更大作用。我们要深刻洞悉中国与世界发展新变化,全面认识中国与世界关系新内涵,准确把握中国与世界互动新规律,积极驾驭中国与世界共进新方向。

[10]  Nadege Rolland, China's Vision of a New World Order, National Bureau of Asian Research report No. 22 (January 2020).

[11]  Xi, "Improve Our Ability," Governance, vol II, 489.

19 comments:

Don Clarke said...

I just re-read Drezner's piece because your description of it did not match my recollection of it, and on re-reading it, I still feel that your description of it does not fit. I'm not going to provide a list of quotes - it's after midnight - but to me it's clear that he is not defending the old DC model. Nor is he saying that the flaws in the approach became evident only when China detained a million Uyghurs (and did similar stuff, all in the last few years). He asserts as a statement of fact that it is only in the last few years that the policy elite has changed its views, and mentions some incidents that contributed to that change of views. Surely this is accurate as a statement of fact. It may be that he was one of those who changed their views in response to these incidents - who knows? He's talking about the views of others. He doesn't wail, "If only we had known!"

Lorenzo said...

Having had an ongoing argument with economist Scott Sumner at his Money Illusion and Econlog blogs (he is also libertarian adjacent) I can testify that libertarians (and perhaps economists in general) seem to lack any framing that permits admitting that there is any problem with the Beijing regime that cannot be fixed with lots of globalisation and trade.

Sure, they absolutely agree that the regime itself is noxious, but there is a great gaping hole where anything resembling serious strategic thought might be because they essentially see that as state overreach and political grandstanding that the adults can look down upon as dangerous nonsense. Trade is mutually beneficial, it maximises the connections, and the value thereof, so, outside direct military aggression, that is really enough in itself. If you argue differently you simply do not understand the value of trade and connections and are pandering to political grandstanding and national security state over-reach.

Cavalier said...

I thought this piece was excellent on the whole.

In my experience, libertarians became libertarians because there were domestic issues they found particularly pressing (eg Nowrasteh on immigration, Sarwark on drugs/prison), and libertarianism was the political movement that ardently and independently advocated for those issues.

But libertarians simply do not have the inclination to care about foreign policy. The people in America who DO care about foreign policy are people with other backgrounds and ideological views.

---

I think the other issue is that libertarians generally don't possess and don't want to develop the fact-base to understand specific foreign policy issues. In the absence of facts, people default to ideology (this is why Benedict Anderson's book is so popular, it gives a fact-free way to assess history that lines up with people's ideological priors.) So you see libertarians waxing poetic about trade and liberalism because that's all they have the knowledge to do.

Steve said...

Cavalier: Agreed, and there's another dimension - libertarians (as far as I know - I am not one myself) often sort of see this kind of problem as the sort that government should not be engaged in solving. A government that can respond to this sort of offenses when it is justified, in their view, is one that can and will take the opportunity to do so when there is no justification and it only serves the interests of those in power, whether in order to abuse the electoral system or secure bribes or what have you. It's a frame of mind that, to me at least, both fits the world in a lot of cases and has no framework for dealing with situations like this. Some libertarians just ignore this, others see it and accept it as the lesser evil to an interventionist government of unclear and inconstant motive.
(If anyone is actually libertarian and believes that this is a strawman, a) please let me know and b) I apologize.

Lorenzo said...

And now Scott Summer has endorsed Daniel Drezner's essay in a post and accused you of attacking a straw man in his comments when someone posted a link to this post of yours.

pithom said...

On the contrary, Greer, it is time for a libertarian case for China. China, through it making U.S./E.U. economic sanctions much less burdensome, has had a highly salutary effect on world liberty. Look at Russia and Iran. Sanctioned by the United States, they turn to China to expand markets. This is good for the liberty and prosperity of their people, while American sanctions are bad for both.

The experience of the past century has taught us free trade makes countries more internally free, while deteriorating relations makes countries less free. Compare China and Vietnam to Iran and Cuba to see the difference.

""I could be nudged fairly easily into something like what Tyler Cowen has been calling "state capacity libertarianism."""

I don't get why Cowen is taken seriously by anybody. There is a term for "state capacity libertarianism": Trumpism (that is to say, mainstream conservatism).

"""The central task of the Communist Party of China, he urges, is "building a socialism that is superior to capitalism, and laying the foundation for a future where we will win the initiative and have the dominant position.""""

This is no different from Brezhnev or the Ayatollah Khamenei stating similar things. Who cares? The Soviet Union was the second largest economy in the world. It fell because it failed to offer a better standard of life for its people than even the lowest capitalist countries of Europe. Did the United States win the Cold War by defeating it in Vietnam and Nicaragua, or by making it dependent on American grain imports, showing the internal contradictions of socialist logic?

In a time of stagnating world trade, now is the time to bring down sanctions and trade barriers, not lift them up.

The biggest foreign threat to Americans' freedom of speech isn't Chinese Communism. It's Zionism. It's not China that took down Hamas's Twitter account and enacted anti-BDS laws.

"These solutions will tie them closer to the People's Republic, just as the political and economic transformations of the post-war world drew most of the globe into its intellectual and cultural orbit. "

Again, if the Chinese way is better, let it win. Indonesia adopted the American way in the 1960s. Today, it is a free democracy. Egypt eventually did the same, because the American way worked better. India at first adopted the Soviet way, found it wanting, and then gradually started liberalizing. Functioning systems have nothing to fear from geopolitical competition.

The best way to bring down any political system is simply to demonstrate your alternative is superior. Nothing more or less is necessary. China's lack of liberty is far less relevant for Americans' freedom than that of Israel. North Korea's lack of liberty is far more severe than in China. That does not mean hawkish policies toward North Korea are desirable. Nor, for that matter, does it even mean hawkish policies toward Israel, which currently poses a far greater threat to Americans' liberty than China, are desirable.

Obviously any libertarian should desire greater liberalization on the part of the Party. But the way to do that is not with aggression, but through making the Chinese Communists feel inferior to a genuinely libertarian society in every way.

"But libertarians simply do not have the inclination to care about foreign policy."

On the contrary, they do. That's why Massie and Amash are the most anti-imperialist members of Congress.

Anonymous said...

Great work, but if aiming to persuade and recruit Libertarians, perhaps from a misconceived place of what matters to most who label themselves Libertarians. In general, they just don't have a framework to deal with these ideas.

"Statism" for them is on the whole treated as all the same whether it's a democratically elected legislature or an authoritarian party. It's often the case that such folk prefer the authoritarian state because they are "experts" or "competent people" and not "the mob".

The freedom to trade between societies, for them, absolutely trumps maintaining internal liberalism and intra-society freedoms. If illiberal regimes become the most powerful under conditions of free trade, they "deserve to win".

Ricardian comparative advantage and Smithian division of labour is held to hold to such a degree that, even if China is obviously following an export driven growth model and is also obviously growing while under a hostile regime, it is held that any import restrictions from China can only be "an act of economic self harm" that will weaken the position of Western liberal democracies.

Material living standards are privileged over political freedoms, and attachment to the nation over humanity as a whole is so weak, that any restriction in global freedoms is held as worthwhile for "pulling a billion Chinese out of poverty".

In sum, most self described Libertarians are probably not going to able to conceive of any argument where liberalisation of relations with China is self defeating to the overall amount of liberty in the world. This may not describe the "true Libertarian" that exists in some notional sense, but does describe what emerges from discussion with most pro-business, libertarian-adjacent Conservatives.

You'll have a far better time dealing with median Cons and with Liberals, as their conceptions of the nation and of freedom and their rank order of interests, meshes much more easily with the message you are trying to boost. (Frankly you are by any measure a liberal conservative, and not exactly, really, libertarian-adjacent)

Cavalier said...

@pithom

"Again, if the Chinese way is better, let it win."

There is no celestial arbiter that decides what the "better" way is. There will be numerous despotic men attracted to the Chinese way because it affords them more power, even if it is net-deleterious for the countries they run.

---

"On the contrary, they do. That's why Massie and Amash are the most anti-imperialist members of Congress."

Massie and Amash actually prove my point, they operate as libertarian ideologues and their anti-imperialism is an outgrowth of their ideology. There are very few libertarians who make foreign policy their primary focus, aside from the late Justin Raimondo.

Furthermore, if you're on the outside railing about imperialism, you're not someone who actually shapes and develops foreign policy. That is shaped by mandarins, bureaucrats, think-tankers, advisors, etc. Most of them lean in the other ideological direction. Off the top of my head, only the recently-started Quincy Institute goes the other way.

pithom said...

"There is no celestial arbiter that decides what the "better" way is. There will be numerous despotic men attracted to the Chinese way because it affords them more power, even if it is net-deleterious for the countries they run."

Indonesia. Chile. Egypt. South Yemen. Angola. Zambia. Eastern Europe. Vietnam. Mongolia. India. Ghana. Guinea. Ethiopia. Somalia. All flipped from socialism to the West during the twentieth century because socialism wasn't working for them. The West has to understand that it won the Cold War. If the Chinese Communist way is truly inferior to that of the West, the West will win the second Cold War as well very easily. Burma's, Iran's, and Cuba's day in darkness was prolonged by sanctions. If China's way is demonstrated to be inferior to that of the West, their system will crumble. The backwards always get beaten in the long run. Venezuelas, Burmas, Zimbabwes, and North Koreas are pretty rare in the world, and gradually shrink into powerlessness. They are nothing to fear, and are far outweighed by sensible countries that care about improving the lives of their people. The question is whether the Western way does this better than the Chinese Communist way. If it does, it will be fine without the slightest "toughness" or "containment", both of which are highly counterproductive to the goal of liberalizing China. Look at how Western sanctions against Russia boosted Putin's approval rating to all-time highs and allowed him to deflect from visible economic weakness.

Roger Sweeny said...

Anonymous May 2, 2020 at 6:00 AM, I think you are too pessimistic about libertarians and the libertarian adjacent. Libertarians saw that China got a lot freer after the fall of the Gang of Four, and lots of ordinary people got a lot richer. Everyone has a direction they want history to go and libertarians saw if going their way. They hoped and expected that it would continue. Tanner has been pointing out that the direction changed back at the beginning of the century. Most libertarians don't see that. And to be fair, lots of other Americans don't either. But there may now be catch-up learning going on.

Anonymous said...

In response to being mentioned on the twitter and all, I have to say it's not so much that I "Don't like it", in the sense of "No fraternizing with the outgroup, Greer!". I just don't think it'll work, from numerous interactions with a fairly representative set of these people. The above are just the most common set of objections they on-rote trot out in response, and the most common set of assumptions lurking behind those.

But perhaps I'm being skeptical in the wrong direction, and they will be much more receptive to someone who is perhaps flattering them a bit more and speaking with authority, with a nominal alliance with their movement's current dominant think tank. Someone not publicly calling them a bunch of idiots who were behind the curve on a topic where the unthinking herd was a bit in front of them in its sentiments. Maybe it was the messenger that was the problem.

Unknown said...

What Xi Jinping says he wants to do does not mean that it will happen. His crackdown on Uighurs, domestic liberals, trouble makers in Hong Kong, etc., is not a sign of his strength, but great regime fragility. Time will pass. Other episodes in history of great efforts on the part of governments to control their subjects wither eventually (corruption grows, police loyalty to despots is not easy to sustain over longer periods)

Drezner's article is bang on, but all he is saying is that too many people were too optimistic in the last few years about change in China. He seems to be saying keep cool and continue being open. The opposite policy with respect to Cuba for example hasn't worked.

Being patient doesn't mean you aren't critical about horrible Chinese government policy. The hope is that the ongoing increase in individual prosperity is going to eventually produce something very different.

T. Greer said...

"He seems to be saying keep cool and continue being open. The opposite policy with respect to Cuba for example hasn't worked..... The hope is that the ongoing increase in individual prosperity is going to eventually produce something very different."

In which case you--and other folks who so argue--need to ask yourself three questions:

1) How long is "eventually"?

2) What happens to the world in the meantime?

3) What if eventually never arrives?

One can say that the Soviet Union was doomed the minute it was set up in 1919. But it did not fall until 1991. What terrible things were inflicted on the world in those decades in between!

Part of what made the Soviet success possible was the sheer power of size and weight. The Soviets could face down the Germans on the fields of Eastern Europe because they had an immense number of people to draw from and the iron will to draw everything possible from them. Had America not been around one has little doubt the rest of Europe would have fallen under the iron curtain, regardless of the superiority of the Western system. Give a social system like that continental resources and it will soldier on through great tumults, terrors, and transformations. "There is a lot of ruin in a country," to use Smith's phrasing, and that is even more true for countries on the Soviet--or the American and Chinese--scale.

For thirty years Americans have said that growing prosperity would bring liberalism to the Chinese people. This has not occurred. What cannot go on forever will not go on forever, but a great deal of damage can be done between the end and now. The Chinese case is particularly interesting. The Soviets and the Americans were fenced off one from another; I am quite convinced that if the Chinese were contained in their little box, and we in ours, our economy and system would be the one that comes out the better. But that is what the Party learned from the Soviet fall. They cannot be boxed in--better to use other countries' wealth to increase their own, and then they take their gains and ram it into internal security and the PLA without much fear.

Cuba hasn't changed. It also threatens no one. If only the same could be said of Beijing!

T. Greer said...

"The great terror is not a sign of strength, but great regime fragility." they said

Mark said...

What seems to me (I'm a libertarian) to be the missing link in your argument is going from 'China is really bad' to 'taking a more confrontational approach will make it less bad.' Free trade and prosperity may be doing little to change China, but that isn't evidence that the opposite approach will do better, or even that it won't make matters worse. It seems doubtful that, say, punitive economic sanctions from the US would seriously hinder China's economic growth (and we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot as well) or induce liberalization. I don't see what the alternative approach is that yields better results, unless the alternative position is merely: war with China is inevitable, so we may as well start preparing for it. Is that it?

T. Greer said...

Mark-

"from 'China is really bad' to 'taking a more confrontational approach will make it less bad.'"


I suppose I would reframe it this way: assuming that "china is really bad" and will stay "really bad" regardless of what we do, are we better off helping it grow more power and wealthy, or doing what we can to limit their ability to draw on our resources and subvert freedoms in our society?

pithom said...

"Had America not been around one has little doubt the rest of Europe would have fallen under the iron curtain, regardless of the superiority of the Western system."

False. Britain would have simply taken up the mantle on its own. There was a widespread desire to surrender to the West over surrender to the Soviets (cf., the case of the Japanese). And after the war, the capitalist economies grew substantially faster than comparable socialist ones. The great gap between Vienna and Bratislava, between East and West Berlin, between Sofia and Thessaloniki was what led to the collapse of the socialist system. If there is still a great gap between Taipei and Fuzhou, the same deal will apply.

"What terrible things were inflicted on the world in those decades in between!"

Back in reality, the United States since 1980 has inflicted far worse catastrophes on the world than China has. China has flooded the world with cheap plastics. The U.S. overthrew the government of Iraq, allowed Turkey to destroy Syria and create ISIS, and currently supports al-Qaeda in Syria. It also has a vast sanctions regime against a whole host of countries. China didn't do any of that. The age of Maoist insurgencies ended decades ago (Nepal, which democratized due to them, excepted). As an economic system and worldwide social movement, Communism is dead, and has been since 1991.

"What if eventually never arrives?"

Why wouldn't it? The only reason it would never arrive would be if their system is superior.

"What happens to the world in the meantime?"

Unless China wins a war, very little.

""The great terror is not a sign of strength, but great regime fragility." they said"

It clearly was. Hrooschov and Deng swiftly ended most of Stalin's and Mao's most repressive policies.

"are we better off helping it grow more power and wealthy, or doing what we can to limit their ability to draw on our resources and subvert freedoms in our society?"

This is the logic of BDS. Do you support their movement?

"They cannot be boxed in--better to use other countries' wealth to increase their own, and then they take their gains and ram it into internal security and the PLA without much fear. "

Why would you think, if countries are given a choice between trade with the U.S. and with China, they would choose trade with the country with less imports and exports? It is bizarre to think that China is large enough to threaten... (it's not exactly clear from you what) outside its borders, but small enough to be contained by any action short of war. Again, it is most abundantly clear antagonistic rhetoric and policies do not make targeted countries freer or their citizens more sympathetic to your cause.

pithom said...

For the record, I express the fullest agreement with this piece from Scott Sumner (a blogger you should all follow):

https://www.themoneyillusion.com/dont-kowtow-to-china/

Anonymous said...

1/6th of formal L/libertarians in the Libertarian International Organization are Chinese, most Communist Party members. That is why we had change in China. That is why changes continue. Recently, it was Chinese libertarians who first sounded the alarm on their YahooGroups about Coronavirus and problems in Hunan. They just brought about an enormous tax cut there, the largest in Chinese history.

REASON and CATO are great but don't really focus on what libertarians are doing on the ground, hence the CATO expert ridiculous comment on libertarians not understanding Trump when that was the main topic at the US Libertarian Party 2016 Convention.