Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tales from the Middle (-class?) Kingdom

I'm a bit preoccupied with work-related writing and data-entry (as I have embarked on my first ever foray into quantitative history...fortunately, I'm working with someone who knows his stuff...) as well as fighting off an illness that seems to have encased my neurons in some kind of dense, wool-like substance.

Hence the lack of my accustomed level of verbiage on this humble blog.

Not to worry, that will no doubt change soon.

Till then, I can recommend this interesting essay by John Lee (via) on the potential (or lack thereof) for democratic change in China in the wake of its economic reforms over the last few decades.

Lee observes:

To be sure, we have no choice but to continue to engage with China in the hope that continued economic reforms and rising prosperity there will eventually lead to political reform. But we should reject the blind and deterministic logic that a rising China will inevitably become a democratic one. Even if we believe that authoritarian China is on the wrong side of history, so far it is doing a good job of defying it.

Why this might be so is helpfully explained by several passages in the piece, such as this one (I have removed the footnotes, which are available in the original essay):

That the middle classes—from the private and public sectors alike—have little appetite for democratic reform is easily explained: they have much to gain from the current political status quo and potentially much to lose should it change.

Eva Bellin observes that state-led development breeds a dependence on the state in capital and labour, and tends to exacerbate inequality. Within one generation, China has gone from being the most equal to the least equal society in Asia. Its Gini coefficient (a measurement of income inequality) is now 0.47, up from 0.16 in the 1970s. There are between fifty million and two hundred million middle-class people (depending on what definition you use), but around one billion people who have missed out on the benefits of economic liberalisation. Much of China’s progress actually occurred from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Going by the World Bank’s definition of poverty, 80% of people emerging from it in China did so up to the mid-1980s. Since then, of China’s one billion poor, about four hundred million have seen their disposable incomes stagnate or decline.

I was reminded of something that Francis Sedgemore, referring to comments by Slavoj Žižek, recently pointed out:

capitalism doesn’t always bring democracy. Anyone who thinks otherwise is blind to both history and the reality of the world around them today.

Yes indeedy.


Dale said...

It's one thing to doubt the wisdom, or indeed the very existence, of the One True God of the Abrahamic faiths.

But here you've crossed a line by speaking ill of Mammon.

Heretic! Blasphemer!

J. Carter Wood said...

We're mavericks, we are...

I have heard tell that you can't serve both God and mammon. Of course, there's no reason to necessarily serve either of them.

Of course, at least mammon has one thing going for it: it unquestionably exists.