December 15, 2006

Democracy and Economic Growth in China and the Third World

Prospect hosts a very important discussion this week (brought to my attention by the Granite Studio) between Meghnad Desai and Will Hutton about the rise of Chinese capitalism and how sustainable it is. The discussion deviates along many lines- Hutton accusing Desai of ignoring any criticism of third world regimes and Desai accusing Hutton of failing to see that the West adopted enlightenment when it could pay the price. The debate is fascinating and no doubt a variation of it will occupy intellectuals and blogs in the future. I do think though that its worth setting out our terms more clearly- there is a confusion in the Hutton-Desai debate which is worth clarifying and I want to do so here- there are two issues which they conflate.

Basically on the one hand there is the issue of the right of Westerners to attack other societies for their lack of public morality and the right of those other societies to respond to Western attacks by pointing to Western history. Questions about the role of imperialism in Western history and the role of imperialism in the third world's history, questions about whether the West owns democracy or whether its a universal value are important and are discussions worth having.

Secondly there is the issue of whether what we might describe as public morality (ie democracy, human rights etc) is a necessary accompanyment to growth and stability. Whether systems which encourage these things aren't merely moral but prudential as well? Whether for instance China's rise might be stopped by its lack of democratic institutions, whereas India's slower rise might be more sustainable because of the presence of those institutions?

I'm not going to try to answer these questions here- I don't have the space but they are separate questions and unless we are going to get very confused in the future, we ought to treat them as separate concerns, deserving separate answers.


james higham said...

...Whether for instance China's rise might be stopped by its lack of democratic institutions...

Other way round. It is the authoritarian nature of the controlled economy which has seen state resources deployed in specific areas which will maximise mayhem.

Gracchi said...

I can see what you are saying- There is something in it. I think its very complicated- because there are some who argue that it has made it possible for China to take harsh decisions that India didn't- I'm not sure I buy that argument. Thanks for posting though- you point out the structural flaws of authoritarian action as much as the authoritarian inaction to respond to the populace. Thanks.