by Frank Li
The world is in crisis! Europe has been chunking out financial crises, country by country, over the past few years, non-stop. America is in no better shape, either financially or politically. In the Middle East and North Africa, the Arab Spring has resulted in several regime changes. In China, there are more and more protests against anything and everything …
Is this the end of the world? Yes, this is the end of the old world, which is beginning anew. Therefore, there is no better time than now to discuss this profound subject, as shown in Figure 1: What is the ideal form of government and how to get there from here? This is a major breakaway from traditional thinking, such as “democracy as the universal form of human government” (click here: “The march of democracy” for more) and China: big changes coming soon.
This is the first of a series of articles on this vast subject. It presents a big picture to put the subject in perspective. The future articles will address various specific issues in depth.
The rest of this article is organized as follows:
(1) Definition: what is an ideal form of government?
(2) Where are we today?
(3) How to get there from here?
(4) A list of future articles
1. Definition: what is an ideal form of government?
To me, an ideal form of government can be defined by two key criteria as follows:
(1) Individual freedom: the government must ensure maximum freedom for its citizens, including the right to choose their own leaders via free elections.
(2) Government responsibility & accountability: the government must be responsible for what it does and be held accountable. What, then, should the government do? Do those things that are beyond the individual and private sectors! Three examples:
a. Embracing and maintaining capitalism, which has proven to be the only means to prosperity. No capitalism, no prosperity!
b. Defending the country while avoiding unnecessary wars.
c. Undertaking the mega projects (e.g. highways, bridges, and space programs).
2. Where are we today?
Today, there are mainly three forms of government as follows:
(1) Monarchy: It is “a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house.” What about a dictatorship? A dictator with a family member in succession is essentially a king. Two examples: Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
(2) Democracy: It is “generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.” Two examples: Greece (nearly in bankruptcy) and the U.S. (advancing toward bankruptcy).
(3) Autocracy: In this form of government, there is neither a king (as in a monarchy) nor any free election for people to choose their leaders (as in a democracy). Instead, a team of people chooses the next leaders for the country and they “often take the form of collective presidencies.” This form of government is also called “a dictatorship without a dictator.” The one and only example: China.
Next, let’s examine these three forms one by one.
This form of government represents the past. It has two characteristics as follows:
(1) Individual freedom: People are not very free, and hence are not very empowered. As a result, this system just can’t seem to move out of feudalism to capitalism, which means no prosperity. A free election? Forget about it!
(2) Government responsibility & accountability: There is no doubt who is in charge: The king! Better yet, the king promotes permanency, with one supreme goal: passing the kingdom to his designated son (or daughter). A big problem is that the successor is often not as good as the king. As a result, a dynasty typically lasts for several generations only. Any doubt? Look at the Chinese history over the past 2,000 years!
This form of government represents the present. It has two characteristics as follows:
(1) Individual freedom: People are free, and they elect their own leaders.
(2) Government responsibility & accountability: It is becoming increasingly clear that democracy, as we know it today, will not last for two main reasons:
a. Everything is in short-terms, for the next election only. Nothing is in long-terms, let alone of permanency. Here is a recent, and very disturbing, example: 2-month payroll tax cut extension.
b. The government is neither responsible (e.g. it spends only, out of control) nor accountable (e.g. the Iraq war, for which no one has been held accountable). As a result, the entire West is now on the verge of bankruptcy. Several European countries are already there, with more to follow, including America!
This form of government is newer than democracy and appears to be the best available for now. China has it, with two characteristics as follows:
(1) Individual freedom: People are relatively free, without the right, yet, to choose their own leaders though.
(2) Government responsibility & accountability: The government is relatively responsible and accountable. Two examples:
a. After 1976, the government started abandoning communism per se and quickly embraced capitalism big time, which has brought prosperity to China on such a massive scale in such a short time span that it is simply unprecedented in human history!
Let me repeat: “In a competitive world today, all that a hiker needs to do, when chased by a hungry grizzly, is to run a bit faster than the other hiker(s)!”
In my humble opinion, the Chinese political system is, overall, slightly better than the American political system. This is the key reason behind the rise of China and the fall of the West over the past two decades, with no end in sight!
Figure 2 illustrates, qualitatively, where the three forms of government stand with regard to “individual freedom” and “government responsibility & accountability”: monarchy and democracy are at the two extreme ends, while autocracy is in the middle, with “balance.” A big question is this: how to reach the ideal from here?
3. How to get there from here?
Now, let’s discuss how to reach the ideal in all three forms, one by one.
It has no future, either in theory as it does not represent the people, or in practice as most countries under monarchy are abjectly poor. However, revolutions (e.g. the Arab Spring) are unlikely to be the best solution. Two examples:
(1) France: Here is what the French did via the French Revolution (1789–1799): “A republic was proclaimed in September 1792 and King Louis XVI was executed the next year.” Wasn’t the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi executed recently as well? Do the Libyan people want to go back 200 years to follow the footsteps of the French? Even if yes, it’s unlikely to have an equally good result, because France already had some significant capitalism by then, but Libya has little today. The same analogy applies to Iraq – just replace Muammar Gaddafi with Saddam Hussein!
(2) China: China had several revolutions over the past 200 years. None of them changed anything in essence: China remained poor and weak until recently after it embraced capitalism. Long live capitalism!
Once again, let me emphasize: “there is not a single precedent of a third world country achieving prosperity via democracy.” The key to prosperity is capitalism, not democracy!
What a monarchy country needs is a king like China’s Deng_Xiaoping. Deng was a dictator; not all dictators are bad for their countries! Deng used his power wisely for the good of the country: He laid the monumental groundwork for China, not only economically (i.e. capitalism), but also politically (i.e. a dictatorship without a dictator), which led to China’s huge success today!
Personally, while I never had any hope for the old guards like Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gaddafi, I think Bashar al-Assad had the potential to be a good reformer. But the protesters disrupted his plan, if any. For your information, the Chinese protesters in 1989 briefly disrupted Deng’s plan of reforms. Thank goodness, Deng prevailed eventually.
China arrived at its current form of government for two main reasons:
(1) The struggles over the past 200 hundred years, at least. Give Mao credit for unifying China in 1949, although he ruined China in economy and caused the deaths of millions after 1949.
(2) By accident! Here is what I wrote earlier: “Mao’s only (able) son (Anying) was killed in the Korean War, thanks to the Americans (‘Amen’), or else today’s China, under Mao Jr. or Mao III, could be as bad as today’s North Korea,” which is the worst on earth!
Although the Chinese system appears to be the best for now, it’s fundamentally flawed in at least one critical aspect: who are these nine people in the Standing Committee of the Politburo, which “often take the form of collective presidencies?”
As a matter of fact, these nine people are not even legitimate by the western standards, because they are not elected by the people! However, let’s get out of the trap of western ideology and think basically and rationally: changing from a dictator (Mao) to “a dictatorship without a dictator” (after Mao) was monumental progress not only in Chinese history, but also in human history! A new form of government was born! Better yet (or worse yet, depending on your viewpoint), this Chinese system has been succeeding over the western system of democracy for the past two decades, with no end in sight!
Leadership matters! The smooth ride set out by Deng will be over soon. A new greatness must appear for the next China!
Democracy, as we know it today, does not work any more! Why did it “suddenly” stop working? Because of the rise of China and the incompetence of the American political system, or more generally, of the entire western system of democracy! Any doubt? Just look at this simple fact: China is the largest foreign debt holder of both America and Europe. Did anyone envision this merely one decade ago?
More profoundly, democracy looks more and more like communism as a one-time fad. What a huge statement! How does democracy look like communism? I will answer this question in depth in the coming weeks. For now, let’s just focus on the one-time fad part. Here are two points of explanation:
(2) History: Here is an excerpt from this classic piece:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.
Is America’s time up now, since we are already 235 years old? No, not yet! Before we give up on America, let’s use reason and try some major changes as follows:
(1) Limit the American Presidency to 1-term (e.g. 6 years). That way, it’s more likely that we will end up with a President we can trust. The President would be there, as from day 1, truly for the country, not for himself (i.e. for his own re-election specifically). In other words, there will be no more pandering or raiding the public treasury just for votes. Most importantly, there would be no more pretending to be governing but actually running for the re-election all the time. Just serve with your heart and brain, and hopefully leave with a good and lasting legacy.
(2) Raise the statutory requirements for the American Presidency. That way, it’s more likely that we will end up with a capable President who knows what he (or she) is doing. Very importantly, an American President must be able to match up, in substance, with any world leader, particularly the Chinese right now.
(3) Introduce strict term-limits for Congress, preferably 1-term of 6 years as well. That way, it’s more likely that we will end up with many good and accomplished people serving in Congress, instead of the career politicians who are good at nothing but running for office, to such an extreme now that they are bankrupting America in their quest for votes!
Like China today, a new greatness must appear for the next America! In other words, “America desperately needs a great President to turn things around! How great? A combination of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan!”
Figure 3 illustrates, qualitatively, how to get there from here: it’s a 2-way race between autocracy and democracy, with monarchy out.
4. A list of future articles
Here is a list of future articles in this series:
(1) Democracy and communism: are they really the same?
(2) America: do we really have freedom of press at home?
(3) American democracy: what went wrong and when?
(4) Who is China and what are they doing, anyway?
(5) Hey, buddy, haven’t you any conscience?
(6) What the heck is all this political correctness?
The 20th century was America’s. The 21st century belongs to either China or America for sure (Globalization 2.0: A Century for Sale, Any Taker?). But which one is going to come out on top? It depends on who can adapt and change faster and better!
Over time, China needs democracy, but not the kind in the U.S. today. America urgently needs a new democracy with some characteristics of autocracy, but not necessarily the kind in China today. Why urgently? Read this: USA in 2012/2016: An Insolvent and Ungovernable Country.
Finally, let me repeat: “Human history is a history of leadership changing hands. Rome, Egypt, China, and Britain all had their time at the top. We, the U.S.A., are having our own time now. But our days are clearly numbered, if we keep sleeping on our 200-year-old system and keep resisting changes. Or we can change, fundamentally and big. China did it. Why can’t we?”
China:Big Changes Coming Soon by Henry S. Rowan
About the Author
Frank Li is the Founder and President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action.