Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Hey Xi! Maybe Your President-for-life Notion is Rubbish

Golly. Who could have seen this coming? The New York Times (H/T Powerline) says that China's President Xi has declared an emergency. A year ago, wrote the Times,
Mr. Xi triumphed at China’s national legislature, abolishing a term limit on his presidency, opening the way for another decade or longer as both president and party leader, and shaking up the government to become a more compliant tool of party power.
But now,
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, abruptly summoned hundreds of officials to Beijing recently, forcing some to reschedule long-planned local assemblies. The meeting seemed orchestrated to convey anxious urgency. The Communist Party, Mr. Xi told the officials, faces major risks on all fronts and must batten down the hatches.
Funny, isn't it, that a politician's solution for all problems is more politics.
“The central leadership’s assessment of risks to China has officially expanded from the economy to every sphere,” [Beijing analyst] Mr. Wu said. “This year will put policing and security to the forefront.”
Ain't it amazing, that the tough Chinese  government needs to get tougher? Who could have seen that coming?

It's an endless problem. Politicians put themselves in charge of the economy, and screw the economy up. And then they have to give the economy political shock therapy to deal with the problems they have created, and bring "policing and security to the forefront."

Hello President Xi. You make yourself President-for-life, head of a monopoly single-party state, where all direction comes from the top. And then you start a Belt and Road colonialist policy, lending money to developing countries for port expansions, etc. And then you have an economic policy that frankly steals foreign technology etc. And then foreign countries start to penalize you for your predatory policy. Well, hey, Mr. President: Things are likely to get into a bit of a mess. And all the time you have maintained your vice-grip on political power, so you really don't have a clue about the manifold injustices that your hegemonic and dominatory rule has created.

What could go wrong?

The situation in the West is illustrative. Here we have had a kind of soft dictatorship where the so-called Progressive movement has run the administrative state for about 100 years. All the best minds, etc. Except that the natives are restless. Because the wheels are starting to fall off all the brilliant centralized administrative solutions that the best minds conjured up for us.

The reason is obvious. The best minds conjured up government programs -- to deliver pensions, health care, and education -- that they could comprehend and codify into legislation, and sell to the voters, and administer and control.

Notice what is missing. Things that the best minds could not comprehend, or did not approve. Things that are too complicated and changeable to be codified into legislation. Things that the voters would like but don't want to pay for. Things that would benefit people but which were not thought of in the original legislation. Things that are not of interest to the best minds. Things that reduce the power and influence of the best minds. Things that are going to cost existing program beneficiaries because of mistakes made in the original legislation and in subsequent administrative regulation. Failure to project program costs and benefits. Failure to modify the program to reflect unanticipated costs and benefits.

The point is that all the Things that I have suggested in the paragraph above are very difficult to do right in politics and government. The reason is simple. It is very difficult to do anything complicated or change or adjust anything in politics and government. Indeed, one of the purposes of government is to set up important things and make it very difficult to change them. Because some things -- such as the presumption of innocence in criminal law-- should be very difficult to change.

But here is the thing. The notable thing about the Great Enrichment, an increase in per capita income of 3,000 percent in the last 200 years, is that it features staggering waves of economic change, completely unanticipated change that took even the best minds -- especially the best minds -- by surprise, when old ways of doing things were radically changed. If government had been in charge of all this economic change it probably would never have happened,  not without remarkable political convulsion.

Please, stop and think for a moment. Imagine politicians and activists being in charge of the textile revolution: whatabout the handloom weavers? The railway revolution: whatabout the hostlers at the coaching inns? The illuminating oil revolution; whatabout the sperm-whale hunters and the candle makers? The electric revolution: whatabout the lamplighters? And so on. The point is that any politician worth his salt, whether democratic or totalitarian, would think it his job to save the jobs of the whatabouts. And he would have helped to organize the whatabouts into whatabout coalitions to provide them with lots of lovely subsidies and retraining and government handouts.  And where would the Great Enrichment be then poor thing? I will tell you. Venezuela.

And if the politician -- say President Xi -- was a far-sighted leader of his country and had committed it to a menu of top-down prestige projects, whatabout if he turned out to be wrong?

The point is that almost every glorious plan for anything turns out to be riddled with mistakes and unanticipated problems. These problems need to be solved if the plan is to succeed and to benefit anyone. But politics and government are the system of one more Big Push. This is because they are, in the first instance, a human project for defending the border. And the obvious strategy for defending the border is that, if you seem to be failing, you pour in more young males. The only problem is that almost everything else in the world is not suitable for the one more Big Push treatment. It needs the people on the sharp end with the authority and the responsibility to fix things on the fly.

So when President Xi calls for a Big Push, putting "policing and security to the forefront," he is probably wrong. Not that that will hurt him. He is President-for-life. But his one more Big Push will probably hurt the long-suffering Chinese people.

Politics is about power, and the one thing that political people do not understand is that almost everything in this world is not best organized and solved by politics.

1 comment:

  1. The Law of Unintended Consequences dictates that nothing will turn out as planned, that instead unanticipated results and hitches will evidence themselves. The beauty of dispersed responsibility, close to the action, is that there is a much better chance for corrective action to be taken before the unexpected problems spiral out of control. The more centralized the control, the greater and more significant the spiral towards catastrophe.
    Now, consider that millions upon millions of events are happening simultaneously, not just one. Millions and millions of unintended consequences must be dealt with sooner rather than later or-- as stated in this essay-- the wheels come off the whole apparatus. And not very prettily.