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Old 10-23-2007, 01:07 PM
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Education vs despotism

Increasing trouble in Worker's Paradise.



China's syndrome of lawless growth

ONE of the writers who best understood the phenomenon of totalitarianism in the 20th century, British historian Robert Conquest, argues that any totalitarian attempt to control all aspects of life is untenable in the long run and allowing a far greater leeway on some matters - tactical disagreements - is much more viable.

China is no longer a totalitarian state. The regime no longer seeks to control every aspect of life or way of thinking. Although the Chinese Communist Party remains determined to hold on to power, there is no utopian goal as such that totalitarian regimes ruthlessly strive towards.

Indeed, the party is becoming less relevant to many Chinese and different forms of behaviour are largely tolerated as long as they are not deemed to be threatening to CCP authority or social stability. In the words of one expert, Albert Keidel, who has worked and lived in China for more than 25 years, "life in China has softened a great deal".

Single-party systems reach their heights when their vision of the future is universally received and there is sufficient buy-in from the population for the regime to employ totalitarian tactics; state-backed force is only one part of the coercive apparatus. When regimes move towards softer authoritarian models, it is often a sign that their grip on society is slipping and they have no choice but to relax aspects of authority.

Political and social challenges are mounting. For the CCP, the present transitional period is correctly seen as a period of immense significance in terms of the future of its authoritarian rule in China.

The credibility problem for the regime: There is growing evidence that the regime's authority and capacity to govern are declining (in addition to its legitimacy). This is occurring for two main reasons.

First, although it is clear that increasingly allowing the operation of free markets was seen as therapeutic rather than transformative in terms of Chinese politics and society, the authority of the CCP is based on an insecure strategy of inefficiently using resources to fuel a bubble economy. Moreover, the solution - to grant the private sector greater and greater access to this wealth and control of critical sectors of the economy - would accelerate the irrelevance of the party. As the regime continues to oversee an economy based on unsound fundamentals and becomes increasingly less able to provide social and public goods, more and more cracks appear in the facade of CCP credibility.

Second, public decision-making and administration become more sporadic and unpredictable as the disconnect between the central leadership and the majority of its population becomes more pronounced.

This is occurring for several reasons. First, senior CCP members are increasingly becoming part of the new wealthy elites as a result of their privileged position within a China growing richer. Moreover, as part of the tactic to co-opt the new and emerging urban elites, the senior leadership has neglected the poor and especially rural populations, to their detriment. It is easy to forget that there are still about 900 million rural inhabitants in China (and only 100 million to 150 million in the middle and upper classes).

The capacity (and intent) of the leadership to understand their problems and deal with their complaints is greatly diminished.

Second, as the regime decentralised, there was a loss of fiscal (tax collection and spending), administrative and legislative power for the central government, which was increasingly transferred to local governments. This means that the execution of political, social, legal or economic macro policy from the top becomes much more difficult and unpredictable. In other words, there is a loss of centralised control and a greater reliance on local governments that are neither very accountable nor transparent.

The worst local government practices tend to be in the poorer rural areas, which are ruled by the law of local leaders.

The lack of predictability might be less important in a purely agrarian society of uneducated peasants shut off from the world and each other, but is much more critical as a society becomes more complex and the people more educated. China has a literacy rate of about 80 per cent, which includes most of the poor peasants. Looking at the Soviet experience, US political science academic Alfred Evans argued that the inability to set up impartial mechanisms for adjudication, enforcement and regulation, and effective rules for resolving disputes, went a long way towards explaining the resulting loss of legitimacy for the regime and the subsequent implosion of the system.

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