Thoughts on China’s Political Development


The end of history
Starting with The End of History, where it is argued that variation of liberal democracy will be the final form of government. One key premise in that thesis is: successful industrialization will inevitably create an educated middle class that demands democracy. An indicator of when they will happen, as noted by Francis Fukuyama is when the country have around USD6,000 purchasing power (in 1992 PPP USD). This premise has largely been correct since its pronouncement, with the exception of Singapore and a handful of resources-rich states where purchasing power could increase purchasing power without actual industrialization. As of now China is at USD7,400 per capita PPP which is the equivalent of about USD4,700 in 1992, the index base of the USD6,000 figure. While there is some low-level movement towards democracy, its has largely been negligible. Freedom house gave China the exactly the same score in 2002 and 2010: political rights 7 and civil liberty 6 (7 being least free, 1 most free). Some have suggested (as have Fukuyama) instead of democracy, Chinese communist party (CCP) might push towards a soft-authoritarian political system akin to Singapore, the only industrialized exception to the stated premise. Continue reading

Why Vote when it wont affect the outcome?


Just voted today in Taiwan’s presidential election, why did i vote when i know perfectly well voting wont effect the outcome of the election?

According to a research cited by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, “Of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections, in which many more people vote, only one election in the past 100 years – a 1910 race in Buffalo – was decided by a single vote.” and as they correctly argue the closer the election is the more likely the winner will be decided by a lawsuit. therefore they add people who spent the effort to cast their vote are properly “not very bright and therefore wrongly believe that [they] will affect the outcome.”

Although i mostly agree with their argument, i do want to add a few point.

In a presidential election, while the candidate with the most votes wins the election, the margin of his/her victory will have an effect on how powerful his/her administration may be. The larger the margin is in each individual electoral districts will have an influence on how much the congressperson from those districts will cooperate (or antagonize) with the president on issues the president campaigned on.

For example, a congressperson is unlikely to vote against a pro-choice bill if the his/her district voted heavily in favor of a president who ran on a pro-choice campaign platform, because the presidents victory signals a pro-choice majority in the district.

Furthermore, the act of voting in a group, as i did today with my family is not a bad way to encourage and make sure those people in the group actually go out and vote. Its an excise of peer pressure and cheater detection.

Are these sufficient reason for an rationally thinking economist to vote? I don’t know, properly not, lol.

Bob Tsao (曹興誠)’s misguided view of democratic governance


I was very impress with Bob Tsao (曹興誠)‘s cross strait peaceful coexistence act (兩岸和平共處法), however his concept of democratic governance stuns me as misguided.

In a post he wrote following KMT’s election victory gaining control over 3/4 of the legislature seats.

一般沒有管理經驗的學者,通常會過度強調制衡的重要。可是「制衡」與「掣肘」、「牽制」、「搗亂」該如何區分?許多人就說不清楚了。按理說,不管總統、各級官員、立法委員或其他民意代表,通通是食國家俸祿的公務員;老百姓付他們薪水,是希望他們通力合作,為人民謀福利。如果這些公務員,正事不幹,天天就是彼此搗蛋、牽制,弄得國家一片混亂,那實在是笑話。然而不幸的是,台灣民主化以後,這樣的笑話,變成我們天天看到的現實。

以台北市來說,市民們以七、八十萬票選出了一個市長;接著又以三、五萬票選出一批市議員;如果這些議員主要的工作就是牽制市長,那豈非我們的左手與右手成天互相搗亂,而我們則像一個精神分裂的病患?

In a subsequent post, Tsao wrote

其實現代社會中,我們看到很多事,是不能講究自由民主的。舉個例子來說吧,大家搭飛機的時候,性命是操在飛行員手中,但我們能跟飛行員講制衡嗎?如果有乘客說,我買了票,我是顧客,我最大,所以要在機上組織個委員會,來「制衡」機長,要機長隨時跟乘客報告;那這些乘客不但會被趕下飛機,還要吃上官司。在飛機上,我們不僅不能「制衡」機長,還要「聽命」於機長;他叫我們坐下,我們就不能站著;哪個乘客能在飛機上要求「自由民主」呢?

在這裡,我們看到了,「民主」必須臣服於「專業」。機長有專業,乘客沒有,所以乘客就沒有講話的餘地。其次我們也看到,機長對飛機與乘客的安全負有全部責任,所以他在飛機上有絕對的權力;其責與權是等比增減的。

機長在飛機上擁有至高的權力,但飛機起降時,他(或她)需要服從航站的指揮;在空中,則需要聽從航管的建議;回到地上以後,機長又要受到航空公司的管理。所以,機長在工作中絕對不是自由的,其實是受到嚴密管控的。

A commercial airplane only has a singular and clear objective of bring its passenger to an agreed destination it is therefor not an appropriate apology to a democratic government where it has multiple task to accomplish and multiple values it need to respect.
So, no matter what is the predominate task at hand, the multi member legislature whom represent various member of the society will make sure that the executive do not achieve one task while trumping other equally important tasks and values of the people. This is precisely why democratic governments operate on consensus instead of single minded decision making.

Having said that i do conceit the point that there are circumstances where professionalism need to trump democratic ideal where democratic deliverance is not a realistic option, for example during a war. We do not need democratic consultation for every military strategy, as long as the military is acting in the interest of the people in good faith. But, extreme circumstances was not what Tsao had in mind, as least thats the impression I gather from his post.

This flawed view of governance might be a common syndrome among the so called CEO statespersons – elected heads of government who came from business executive culture, America’s George Bush Jr, Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra, and South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak all fits this profile. In business, executive’s sole objectives is always making as much money as efficiently as possible, very straightforward. Whereas government has to provide national security without jeopardise personal freedom, respond to inflation without damping economic growth, foster industrialisation without polluting the environment. The job of the government is never straightforward. And although, shareholders do exist to provide check on the CEO via shareholder meetings and share market, they are far less powerful than the constrain on a executive in government. The difference between a business environment and government may be the factor contributing to CEO blunders in elected office.

CEO Statesperson coming into the government are more likely to be single minded, witness by Bush Jr’s obsession with war of terror. Bush was willing to lift restriction to allow wire taping US citizens without a warrant, forgo America’s stance against torture, destroy the world’s good will for America by invading Iraq and openly reject United Nations monopoly on war legitimization. CEO statspersons have limited regard for dissents and democratic oversight. Bush says people do not understand the historic significance of his policies and that he will be vindicate in time. Key members of Bush administration have refuse to attend congressional hearings or release requested paper. Firing members of his administration who openly disagree with him, admiral William Fallon, general Eric Shinseki, and attorneys in justice apartment.

I am not saying that this correlation is absolute, not every CEO statesperson will be as narrow minded as Bush, or that disregard for democratic ideal is unique to CEO statespersons. What I am saying is that more than career politicians, CEOs who have spent most of their life running successful businesses might carry memes that does not fit easily with democratic institution.