Thursday, January 27, 2005


Jordan's Chicken & China's Egg

Jordan will be holding elections soon; not anything that might replace the national govt, of course, but some local elections nonetheless:

The king on Wednesday said he wanted elected regional councils established to help set development priorities.

"Each region will have a local council directly elected by its people to work hand in hand with the elected municipal councils in the governorates to set priorities, and draw up plans and programmes related to their respective region," he said.
Meanwhile, some years ago in China, Deng Xiaoping made a fascinating comment after the fall of the Soviet Union, one that has stuck with me since. I quote from memory:

"Gorbachev made a mistake. He tried to liberalize the politics before the economy. But you have to do the economy first."

A fascinating and, for some reason, unguarded comment. Might we one day dream of China following South Korea's footsteps: from dictatorship to democracy, without a revolution? I hope.

I've thought about it a lot, as we watch China's economic progress, and as we watch the middle east. If I had to bet on one country being ahead in 50 years, Jordan or China, which would I pick?

I'd pick China. Regular readers of this blog (hi Mom!) know my distaste for socialism, a class of intellectual virus in which I also include Russia's Communists under Lenin/Stalin and Germany's National Socialists under Hitler.

But, in the broader perspective, Deng had a good point: capitalism and democracy require a set of people accustomed to respond to reality, not ideology, who can think independently. And you can really only get that by dealing with reality on a daily basis, something most ideologues - socialism is based on ideology, not reality - won't do.

But capitalism, being the practical economic wing of libertarianism, provides explicit training in its means of dealing with the world, and indeed, in its own way of thinking. I've quoted myself on this matter a little too often of late (sorry) so I'll spare you a repeat, but the premise still holds: capitalism trains people to think for themselves, a necessary prerequisite to democracy.

Dunno which way China will go yet, but I can say that if it goes well, it will do so primarily because the prereqs were met, which will largely be because of the experience (albeit limited) that the Chinese have had of late with capitalism.

As for Jordan, I'm not as sure. Will they end up proving Deng's broader point, that true democracy is best preceded by economic liberty? We'll see.

I hope they succeed. But at the end of the day, I have to say that I think Deng was right, which also means that economic liberalisation (in the classic sense of the term) for Afghanistan and Iraq is just what the doctor ordered. Jordan should take note.