February 28, 2018

February 28, 2018

Year of the Dictator. American political and financial elites make catastrophic, self-serving mistakes. Exhibit A is Xi Jinping, China’s newly announced lifetime president.

As recently as decade ago, leaders of both U.S. parties and informed commentators were convinced that China would soon converge with the West, as a capitalist democracy, and that easy terms of entry to the World Trade Organization would pave the way.

Everyone from Clinton’s economic eminence Robert Rubin to Joe Biden to George W. Bush insisted that China would soon become more like America. We just had to go easy on their economic mercantilism, turn a blind eye to their assaults on dissent, and forge economic partnerships.

Bush put it this way: “Economic freedom creates habits of liberty. And habits of liberty create expectations of democracy. … Trade freely with China, and time is on our side.” Oops.

And the inimitable Tom Friedman wrote, “China is going to have a free press. Globalization is going to drive it.” Go, Tom.

Do these seers ever recant when they get it so wrong?

One who got it right was James Mann, writing in The American Prospect. Mann warned that the prediction that as China became more global, it would be come “more like us,” was a dangerous illusion. The greater likelihood was that we would become more like them. Mann wrote, in 2007, with eerie prescience,

The fundamental problem with this strategy of integration is that it raises the obvious question: Who's integrating whom? Is the United States now integrating China into a new international economic order based upon free-market principles? Or is China now integrating the United States into a new international political order where democracy is no longer favored, and where a government's continuing eradication of all organized political opposition is accepted or ignored?

Much of the view that China would soon become a liberal capitalist democracy wasn’t just stupid; it was self-interested, promoted by armies of lobbyists for corporations and investment bankers who were making fortunes from deals with a totalitarian, state-capitalist China; and who were part of Washington’s revolving door.

A New York Times piece Wednesday morning observed, “Gone is a widespread agreement among diplomats, scholars and businesspeople that China is gradually converging with the United States.”

Well, yes. And it would be nice—for once—to see those cocksure leaders and pundits admit what fools they were. Over to you, Tom Friedman.