Yesterday's blog about China was more fun than I expected. Just to be clear, I prefer the American system of government. But as regular readers know, I like to defend the opposite views from whatever I hold. It's a good test.

Many of you pointed out the problem of corruption in China. One source says it might amount to $86 billion per year, or 10 percent of government spending.


Therefore the Democratic/Republic form of government is better than Chinese communism, right?

I would argue that corruption is independent of the form of government. Corruption is just as much a crime in China as it is in the U.S. The difference is the effectiveness of enforcement. If you look at America early in this century, corruption was rampant, probably on the level of China today, yet our system of government was the same as now.

Consider that our system of government took more than 200 years to beat corruption down to its current level. China's political system is relatively new and their country is relatively huge. The only relevant question is whether corruption in China is trending better or worse. And I don't know the answer to that. Do you?

You can't measure trends in corruption by dollar amount. If corruption stays at a constant rate, the dollar amount would be growing. So someone Google me up a good statistic on Chinese corruption trends.

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Apr 11, 2009
In my humble opinion, the purpose of a government is most easily defined as the ability to serve its people. The best test would be to have both governments throw open their boundaries and see what happens. My guess is that there would be millions of Chinese moving from China to the U.S. and only a handful of people moving the other way. I'm trying to think of other reasons besides their current government that they would do this. Anything I think of (better opportunities, more pay, better way of life, freedom of religion) doesn't necessarily bag on their government, but says something good about ours.
Apr 11, 2009
Scott, I would like to offer that the Communist party's inclination toward atheism is not the advantage you first perceived. In a communist state, a leader who wants something done need not lie to the people and say that God wants this done. He only needs to give the orders.

Come to think of it, the number of religious people in the USA who were convinced that God wanted certain things done may be much smaller than you imagine.

So in turn, I would like to submit that China's atheism is mainly an advantage for atheists who want to climb the political ladder. It certainly is no barrier to fanaticism. It simply means that fanaticism need not wear a religious mask.

And as an up-and-coming member of the Party who views all religion as superstition, you might well find opportunities for advancement by going the extra mile to expose and imprison families who engage in 'superstitious' activities. Anyone caught practicing buddhism, b'hai, and of course christianity, is fair game and free fodder for building your reservoir of political capital.

Of course, it might eventually prove to be slightly embarrassing in the international community if you end up on a list maintained by Amnesty International or some other human rights advocate. Then again, the world seems to be more and more willing these days to ignore human rights abuses in China because of their increasing economic power, so perhaps it may only be a slight discomfort along the upward arc of your political career.

One slight detail, though... if you keep doing cartoons, you might run afoul of the communist perspective on freedom of speech. But that's another discussion.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 11, 2009
To know a bit about both sides of what you are talking about - democracy and corruption - you need to look at India. The world's largest democracy is also the 4th most corrupt nation in Asia. As a citizen of the country, I am well and truly a victim of corruption. Here, corruption is almost a way of life rather than a stigma. I say this because there is even a defined structure to it. The more corrupt someone is, the higher he/she goes up in the political/social circles. On the specific aspect of bribes, there is only one difference between India and every other country including the US..in the US you bribe a person for going beyond his role to help you; in India you bribe a person for doing his work.
I can go on and on about this, but I think the few points above give a good essence of what to expect.
Has 'Asok' ever been a victim of corruption?
Apr 11, 2009
"If you look at America early in this century, corruption was rampant, probably on the level of China today, yet our system of government was the same as now. "

I agree. Corruption was rampant early in this century under the Bush administration. Jack Abramoff and Haliburton and the perversion of the Justice Department. Just like China.

Wait. Did you mean early LAST century?

Apr 10, 2009

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Apr 10, 2009

I would like share with everyone that The problem with Communism as a form of government is that the ruling class does not, inherently, have the same amount of public oversight, and is therefor more PRONE to corruption. The American system of government is only as corrupt as it is because people have let it get out of control, along with a large amount of apathy from the general public. So I guess what I'm saying is your argument seems to be entirely based on current results (or even worse, perceptions) rather than on POTENTIAL, which I would argue is the much more important metric.
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Apr 10, 2009

I would like share with everyone that The problem with Communism as a form of government is that the ruling class does not, inherently, have the same amount of public oversight, and is therefor more PRONE to corruption. The American system of government is only as corrupt as it is because people have let it get out of control, along with a large amount of apathy from the general public. So I guess what I'm saying is your argument seems to be entirely based on current results (or even worse, perceptions) rather than on POTENTIAL, which I would argue is the much more important metric.
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Apr 10, 2009
I'm an Australian and I've been living in China sincw 1995. I've seen the efforts at stemming corruption and to be honest, the occassional execution of someone who was caught but couldn't afford to buy his way out of trouble is not an effective tool.

My early impressions was that for a communist country, the China has some of the most capatilistic people I have ever met.

Where I am is one of the richer cities in China. The people are wonderful, freindly and for the most part welcoming to foreigners (especially those investing and providing jobs). It is just a fact of the local existence that anything or anyone can be bought for the right sum.
Apr 10, 2009
At its fundamental level a market is a system to transfer goods and materials to where they are best applied, and corruption is basically a shadow market system. I speak of corruption in China having lived and done business there for the past 8 years and traveled there extensively for the past 18 years. Corruption I would estimate far beyond 10% of government spending and more like 10% of the entire economy. Large numbers of managers (both government and private) make more in 'side pocket money' then salary. For jobs where there will be a certain control of spending, particulartly for large construction project, the competition is fierce and no holds barred.

The end effect of this is what economists decry as 'distortions' where shoddy work is accepted without note, inflated prices are passed on through the system and personal relatonships are more important than product quality because what the purchasing manager wants is trust that he can cooperate with the bribing company and keep it quite and clean. If you want a good example consider when the China Nuclear Construction Company borrowed money to cover 'development project' and then managers invested it in the then hot stock market and tried to pocket the profit.
That was a bit too beyond the pale but so much minor stuff of the $100k variety goes on very frequently.

Hong Kong has done a pretty good job of cleaning out corruption while retaining the primacy of personal relationships. So it should not be a given that Asian style equates to corruption.
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Apr 10, 2009
Where's the evidence that corruption is falling? If anything, I'd say it's on the rise. Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama are all completely dirty on everything they've had their hands in. Their decisions have been so asinine that I have nightmares that they're taking marching orders from a secret extraterrestrial army (because at least then their lunacy would have a reason that sort of makes sense!)

Corruption is proportional to government. Once you go beyond a basic legal framework that protects individual rights, the bigger the government gets, the more corruption there is (as there's more opportunity for it). Our government is open corruption: people are voting for the confiscation of other peoples' property and its redistribution. And unless you're talking about shared natural resources, that IS corruption, open, sanctioned, state-sponsored, state-run corruption. With extra corruption from the politicians playing this game, who are taking a cut on the side for themselves and their cronies.

Government corruption is directly proportional to government power - or perhaps even exponentially.
Apr 10, 2009
The legalistic understanding of the term corruption relates to the violation of a rule or a law. However, legal procedures are not per se the most rational. Initially, research on corruption emphasized the positive effect of the officials’ opportunistic behaviour on allocative efficiency. We can thus find many cases where many 'corrupt' practices exist, which are nevertheless accepted by the culture. (ex. Guanxi in China and Baat in Russia).

The definition of the word 'corruption' is a result of the rational-legal bureaucracy that has had long traditions in European countries. China might be corrupt in the conventional sense of the word, but that in no way implies that the society isn't functioning well.
Apr 10, 2009
Does "corruption" hinder effectiveness, help it, or is it functionally neutral? Redistributing wealth does not have a negative macro-economic impact, however unfair it may be. Redistributing wealth to corrupt politicians falls into that category. The real question is "More effective at what?"

I don't believe we're all using the same measuring stick. I certainly don't know which measuring stick to use.
Apr 10, 2009
Comparing the level of Chinese corruption to American corruption is realistically possible for anyone living in either country. For me, as an American, I separate local, municipal corruption from national corruption.

For instance, my city just paid a consultant $60,000 to do a study that recommended redeveloping the downtown area while "honoring the local heritage". My employer has operated on the same property for over 100 years. The study said our land would have better heritage as a condo/loft development.

I don't place that kind of corruption in the same category of Blagovitch or Ted Stevens. If it occurred in China, its all Chinese corruption. Our news media filters out the information that informs us what level the corruption occurred.
Apr 10, 2009
The learning curve is getting shorter and shorter, it's just that government is that slow moving ship that takes forever to adjust its course, not the jet ski that can turn on a dime. How long it it take to get us in the mess we're in? Over 200 years - there's been corrections mixed in there - maybe too many, maybe too few.
Apr 10, 2009
Evolve on from democracy? Our democracy has evolved quite a bit since its founding. Most countries probably won't witness huge paradigm shifts anymore, but a gradual move towards uniformity. Whatever uniform system of the future develops, it will probably value:

Transparency in government and big publicly traded businesses

Civil rights

Accountability to the people

A distaste for corruption


Several differing systems can meet these goals without being US democracies. There will always be room for variation of course. Some things won't change either. Many have been waiting for an "end" to capitalism for over a century now.
Apr 10, 2009
Once again we keep ignoring the major flaw in this discussion. China is experiencing its true industrial revolution so most metrics are going to show the Chinese system as more successful than it actually is. The US experienced its industrial ascension between 1840 and 1890. Even as our population doubled and tripled per capita income increased dramatically, and a middle class began to emerge in time for the turn of the century. Also, since we're in the modern period with far more foreign direct investment available, China has quite an advantage. What will happen when this growth period slams to a hault and levels out? This will probably coincide with a major downturn in the economy to end the economic optimism that will pervade decision making for the next couple decades. Kind of like our great depression or the Japanese contraction that occurred after Japan's second, post war period of industrialization. South Korea is also experiencing an industrial renaissance at the moment, and like China, appears to be growing at a dizzying pace while their citizens experience an amazing quality of life. I like how people try to attribute these economic successes to their "national identity." In reality they are necessary and predetermined periods of economic growth that all countries go through on the way to modernization.
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Apr 10, 2009
Democracy of any kind and the American version in particular are hardly perfect, neither is the Chinese system. But generally the Chinese system is quoted as having lifted some 300 million people out of abject poverty in a generation. So clearly they're doing something right. Eat first, then worry about free press, that's my motto.

Anyway, I think it's time to evolve on from democracy. We've had this model now for what, some 200 years? It's better in lots of ways than its precursors (eg the Roman version). But still, time for a shake up. Maybe injecting some corporate Chinese style efficiency and risk avoidance into our model would help avoid messes like the current one.
Apr 10, 2009
Did you consider the angle that Chinese prefer corruption ? If everyone is doing it on the straight and narrow in China, nothing can get done. Complying with all the rules and regulations, and provincial/regional/village difference in regulation and preference of the ruling officials will bring everything to a stand still. The only solution is grease. A little something here and there let you get the license or permit, or a blind eye makes life possible, and sometimes prosperous. It it good for the graft receiver (obviously), the payer - getting the permit/blind eye, and the government - getting things done. Even the police gets what they want - consideration for declaring someone clean, or non-existence of evidence (the blind eye). So corruption is good.

And, of course, in order to make corruption necessary, the rules and regulation makers knows how to make it impossible to follow, and gives the officials discretionary power so that they can make a decent living too.

That's why Chinese economy is booming. Just go to casinos in Macao to see all the Chinese officials spending their hard earned money will show you just how booming China is.
Apr 10, 2009
I was going to respond, but then R Saunders said most of what I had to say. I like that, because it saves on typing, plus it was said very well.

To spring from his board, though, what is corruption? Is nepotism corrupt? All of time, or only some of the time? Is what Bernie Madoff did considered corrupt? Or is that only fraud? Is intentionally bad customer service corrupt? Or is that only annoying?

Corrupt means, "guilty of dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; crooked," and corruption means, "the act of corrupting or state of being corrupt." I would submit that we live in an extraordinarily corrupt society if we base that judgment on any but the most narrow view, and that corruption is trending upward.
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Apr 10, 2009
Isn't ALL government effectively in a dynamic environment subject to the whims of the people being governed? Yes, there is always the occasional whacko who seizes the will of the governed and rules in a way he/she sees fit, but it is usually short-lived (compared to human history). I've always understood that the Chinese view themselves as the world's oldest civilization and therefore the rest of the world will eventually revert to their "mean" in time. So, who's to say that any country has it right for the long run? I suspect that as the velocity of information continues to increase, that all countries/governments will begin to look more and more alike.
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