Chas Freeman via James Fallows:

To deal effectively with China, Americans need to understand it in terms of its own complexities and authentic aspirations. This is unlikely to be achieved by officials engaged in writing narrowly focused and highly tendentious reports mandated by Congress to justify the single-issue agendas of our military-industrial complex or, for that matter, our humanitarian-industrial complex. Nor can it be accomplished by analysts stir-frying intelligence to suit the political appetites of those they work for….

Predictions about China based on a priori reasoning, ideologically induced delusions, hearsay, conjecture, or mirror-imaging have been frequent and numerous. They have racked up a remarkable record of unreliability. To cite a few relevant examples: contrary to repeated forecasts, the many imperfections of China’s legal system have neither prevented it from developing a vigorous market economy nor inhibited foreign investment — of which China continues to attract more than any other country, including our own. China’s failure to democratize and its continuing censorship of its media, including the Internet, have not stifled its economic progress or capacity to innovate, which are increasingly impressive. China’s perverse practices with respect to human rights have not cost China’s Communist Party or its government their legitimacy. On the contrary, polling data suggests that Chinese have a very much higher regard for their political leaders and government than Americans currently do for ours.

If Liu Binyan could get it wrong, who had any chance of getting it right?” I think some of that is due to the halo effect. We consider X to be good, and Y as well, so a lack of X will also hurt Y. I think we should try harder to keep our arguments for X and Y distinct. I think some of that applies to the “blowback” argument as well (though in the main I think it is accurate). We shouldn’t find it too surprising that “social liberalism” is not a main determinant of economic growth, and that’s part of the idea behind my favorite Catallarchy post. The tougher point would be the legal system, as rule of law is considered to be such a huge component of the “invisible capital” of nations. Greg Clark might argue that in the absence of a truly horrendous government like Mao’s, such institutions aren’t that big a determinant of the strength of markets.

A country that may be an even better poster-boy for economic success without liberalism is Singapore. Scott “I swear I’m not a monetarist” Sumner (who is like Will Wilkinson but with domain competence) compares it to his  favorite national model (Denmark) here. William Easterly (very glad he’s blogging) points to it as the exception to the rule of countries with individualist values outperforming those with collectivist values. I like the map the Inductivist presents here with survival values weighed against self-expression values.

On the subject of polities with little respect for individual liberty, I’ve recently been engaged in an exchange of emails with Kevin Gutzman, sparked by his post on the roots of Anglo-American democracy in Germanic tribes vs the ancient Greeks. I took the side of Benjamin Constant on their conception of freedom having a reasonable deal to do with democracy but (especially for Sparta) little to do with individual liberty. A site dedicated to range-voting has an interesting section explaining the Spartan system of government.

Finally, returning back to Freeman, a little while back (long enough for the comments to be closed) I defended his take on Tiananmen against the “politically correct — i.e. non Burkean conservative — view” at the Volokh Conspiracy. This evolved into a general defense for “formalism”. I have to admit that part of it was just playing Devil’s Advocate, as I tend to do situationally. By the time I got too bored to comment at Unqualified Reservations anymore I was mostly critiquing Mencius’ apologia for untrammeled power of the security forces.