Be Like China?

Venture capitalist Eric X. Li, in an op-ed for The New York Times, “Why China’s Political Model Is Superior,” credits the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre with producing the “stability” that “ushered in a generation of growth and prosperity.”

No question about the growth: China’s economy has been experiencing double-digit expansion for years, now boasting the world’s second largest economy. But if political repression really formed a necessary ingredient in economic progress, the world’s economic rankings would look nearly reversed.

As for America, Li explains that our problem is an “expanded” political franchise, “resulting in a greater number of people participating in more and more decisions.”

“Elected representatives have no minds of their own and respond only to the whims of public opinion as they seek re-election,” Li informs, and “special interests manipulate the people into voting for ever-lower taxes and higher government spending, sometimes even supporting self-destructive wars.”

Who is Li kidding? The American people didn’t get a vote on going to war in Iraq or Afghanistan (or launching drone strikes in a particular country such as Yemen or Pakistan or . And Congress doesn’t dare vote to declare wars anymore, fearing a measure of accountability might result.

We certainly didn’t vote for Obamacare, which was unpopular when passed. We didn’t vote for Mr. Bush’s tax cuts — though given the choice, I would have — or his new Medicare entitlement.

The people never voted to raise the debt ceiling.

We certainly didn’t vote for Mr. Bush’s stimulus or Mr. Obama’s even bigger stimulus spending. We didn’t favor or have any say on the massive and wrongheaded TARP bailout.

Our current crippling level of taxes, spending, and massive debt has been set entirely by our elite national political leaders. The problem isn’t too much control by the people, but too little.

Still, Mr. Li blindly points to California and predicts an American “future” of “endless referendums, paralysis and insolvency.”

Wait a second . . . Americans have no initiative or referendum powers at the national level. And Li is all wet on the nature of California’s financial problems, which have not in large measure been caused by big-spending voters at the ballot box, but by big spending legislators at the capitol. When the American Legislative Exchange Council analyzed all 50 states in “Rich States, Poor States,” the 24 initiative states scored much higher than states without voter access to the ballot. The top seven states in the ranking were all states with statewide initiative and referendum, as were 12 of the top 15 states. Only one initiative state was in the bottom five states: California.

Lastly, let’s note that the national government most affected by citizen-led initiatives and referendums is Switzerland, which also just happens to enjoy the world’s highest per capita income.

But, as Li tells us, “China is on a different path. Its leaders are prepared to allow greater popular participation in political decisions if and when it is conducive to economic development and favorable to the country’s national interests . . .” After all, “political rights . . . should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation.”

Those negotiations have left Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo languishing in a prison in that very same utopia. links & references

February 26, 2012

This column first appeared at Townhall.com.