A more balkanized word, potentially split along a democratic/authoritarian axis???

The world's three leading democracies are Switzerland, China, and Singapore, judged on six democratic axes: formal, elective, popular, procedural, operational and substantive.

Looking closer, we find that the US fails to score in any category, while China scores well in all.

1. Formally, the US Constitution never mentions ‘democracy’ (the Founders hated it) and China’s Constitution mentions it 32 times.

2. Electively, China has bigger, more transparent elections than the US. China’s are supervised and certified by The Carter Center, which also runs China’s election website.

3. Popularly, China has a twenty percent higher voter participation than the USA (62% to 52%), suggesting that more Chinese voters think their vote counts.

4. Procedurally, China uses a public, democratic process to appoint senior officials and approve all legislation. (American presidential candidates are chosen by wealthy backers and appointed by an unelected group of people called the Electoral College which nobody understands).

5. Operationally, American presidents operate like like medieval monarchs. They hire and fire all senior officials and frequently order citizens kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned and assassinated without consulting anyone. They can secretly ban 50,000 people from flying on airlines without explanation and take the country to war at any time, for any reason. No Chinese leader–including Mao–could do any of those things. They have to vote on everything, democratically.

6. Substantively, China’s government policies produce democratic outcomes. Ninety-six percent of Chinese voters approve the government’s policies and eighty-three percent say China is being run for their benefit rather than for the benefit of a special group (only thirty-eight percent of Americans think this of their country).

Making matters worse is the fact that the US is the world's leading authoritarian nation. Where else but in an authoritarian country does the leader have the sole power to:

* Hire and fire the country's 5,000 top officials.

* Declare war. Frequently.

* Issue 300,000 national security letters (administrative subpoenas with gag orders that enjoin recipients from ever divulging they’ve been served);

* Control information at all times under his National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions.

* Torture, kidnap and kill anyone, anywhere, at will.

* Secretly ban 50,000 citizens from flying–and refusing to explain why.

* Imprison 2,000,000 citizens without trial.

* Execute 1,000 citizens each year prior to arrest.

* Kill 1,000 foreign civilians every day since 1951

* Massacre its own men, women and children for their beliefs

* Assassinate its own citizens abroad, for their beliefs.

* Repeatedly bomb and kill minority citizens from the air. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/mar/02/duncancampbell) (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/10/move-1985-bombing-reconciliation-philadelphia).

Expand full comment

China and Singapore being more democratic than Western democracies (aside from Switzerland) is an odd take based on a missing-the-forest-for-the-trees analysis of selectively and arbitrarily chosen democratic variables in isolation.

Claimed voter turnout in an autocracy doesn’t suggest a vibrant democratic culture.

Nor does a “bigger more transparent election” (where the candidates are carefully pre-chosen and the field is extremely restricted.

The most spurious of your points is that the very normative claim of being a “democracy” has any weight. There are only a few counties on the planet that didn't recently claim to be “democratic,” including Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, (up until 2008) Burma, and (up until 2011) Myanmar. The DPRK claims to be a “Democratic People’s Republic.” Does that make it so? Nor does self-identifying as a “Republic” or a “Constitutional Monarchy” make you not a democracy (unless the criterion is a “pure democracy,” without representation, which exists nowhere, and especially not in China or Singapore!).

And, of course, the mere rote ritual of voting and elections isn’t the measure of a democracy. It’s a common window dressing to legitimate autocratic regimes. In a hybrid regime, it does give some democratic input and create an information-creation mechanism for those in charge, but that doesn’t make for a “rule by the people.”

Expand full comment

1. arbitrarily chosen democratic variables? What variables would you choose, and why?

2. Clearly, the US is an autocracy. Its president has sole power to order anyone kidnapped, tortured, and assassinated. No Chinese leader has ever had one such power.

3. Voter turnout in China is 72%, compared to 51% in the US.

4. Viable American candidates are carefully pre-chosen and the field is extremely restricted. Not so in China.

5. "the mere rote ritual of voting and elections isn’t the measure of a democracy. It’s a common window dressing to legitimate autocratic regimes”. Exactly.

Asking "[w]ho really rules?" Stanford researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month's ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.

"Ordinary citizens," they write, "might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.”


Chomsky: “The US Constitution was framed to thwart the democratic aspirations of most of the public.. It was a “Framers’ Coup” against the democratic aspirations of most of the public — the title of Michael Klarman’s impressive study of the making of the Constitution, generally regarded as the “gold standard” in the scholarly literature.

Expand full comment

It's really hard to believe you're being serious here. But then I read the latest post in your Here Comes China Newsletter titled "DOLLAR'S END" (in all caps), and I'm convinced you actually mean it. I'm amazed how you can just selectively process irrelevant bits of information like China calling themselves a democracy (which must make it so, of course) and using that to substantiate a completely sensationalist worldview.

Expand full comment

He’s a China troll. Although I do like that he has a newsletter called “good news in China” that’s doesn’t have any posts.

Expand full comment

Are you a Western troll, struggling to maintain your cognitive dissonance by lashing out at anyone who suggests that things might be different than TV and mass media have portrayed them?

Generally, people like you use ad hominem attacks for one of four reasons:

1. You believe that an argument is a simple competition in which winning or dominating is the goal.

2. You believe that the absolutely correct position is known to you but do not wish to reveal it.

3. You believe that argument is entirely about social positioning: that the only meaningful outcome concerns which person looks best in the eyes of onlookers.

4. You mistakenly assess your cognitive ability as greater than it is and, by inference, greater than mine (the Dunning–Kruger effect).

Which fits you best?

Expand full comment

I'm guessing that you don't like China while simultaneously knowing nothing about the country and unable to disprove my claims for it. Why not use data and publicly accessible information and refute my claims with contrary evidence?

Expand full comment

My claim was that you mean what you're writing as a fact and not as satire, which was my initial guess. I have used publicly available information to support that claim: your posts in the comments here and what you've written in your newsletter. Trying to refute what you would call arguments is not my intention, but the fact that you are practically begging for it implies that you have too much time and too few friends. (I do not have the data and I do not intend to back up that claim, though.)

Expand full comment

Only someone who knows absolutely nothing about China would even consider that my writings might be satire.

I make my living reporting accurately on China to business people who depend on that country for a significant % of their profits.

I can back up every claim I make.

Would you care to challenge one?

Expand full comment

The last time we were told to “Sell Hubris; Buy Humiliation” it was 2016 and that would have been an absolutely awful investment strategy.

Not saying it’s wrong this time, too, but is it really now different enough to stick?

And why should the implications of higher inflation, less globalization, etc. support the “Buy Humiliation” strategy? I can think of many reasons why EU, Japan, and EM equities won’t outperform (as they haven’t been) in such an environment, for example, despite overvaluations in the US.

Expand full comment

Yea, being short the United States has been a painful trade for the better part of 70 years now.

I could get excited about financials though. Most are well suited to manage this inflationary uncertainty. Even the balance sheet businesses know how to manage the curve.

Expand full comment

Quite the interesting annual letter from BlackRock. They've been quietly pushing this message the past year.

Expand full comment

The history of “big business” and ethics are not to be looked at for guidance. Coca-cola still sought to do business with Nazi Germany (Fanta) as did IBM. Highly improbable that Blackrock et al. can be trusted to be guardians of decency… incongruent on so many fronts, choosing to disinvest from Russia, but buying the debt of kleptocratic African countries and enabling child labour in a variety of mining endeavours to suit the Green Energy narrative means the words are empty and hypocritical… Perhaps the overproduction of elites, competing for limited places is what is the true cause of the breakdown of the current social order…

Expand full comment

In the first sentence of the body of this comment, there is a seemingly innocuous word that needs definition. To quote the sentence: "Last August, in the context of the “is inflation transitory” debate, Rob wrote that, “determining whether we are entering a new regime or returning to the old one is above my pay grade (it may be above everyone’s).”

The word that needs defining is "we". And in asking this question, the best authority I can borrow from is Gauguin. A few years after arriving in 'another world' - Tahiti 1891 - he was moved to paint the extraordinary and deeply philosophical triptych entitled (translated from the French) "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?". (It is now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.)

The word "we" is bandied about so often these days, readers tend to assume they know precisely what it means and in particular to whom it refers. But question almost anyone to define it and the detail with precision the group it represents and most will flounder with a sort of 'you know what I mean" answer.

A couple of decades ago, this may have been acceptable. Not now. The fragmentation that you speak of is happening even within the world that was 'we'. It is certainly all-too-evident in the 'West'.

And today, the term seems to be finding, as a last redoubt, refuge in the vested interests of Anglo American finance. Is that what you mean by 'we'? If so, it is a very narrowly defined group.

Expand full comment

Well you can’t be sure about what sort if world is being born but you can certainly see it from here, no?

To quote an author I admire “ The four prices of money are managed via Basel III and central banks as Dealer of Last Resort.

The four pillars of commodity trading are shaped by war, hopefully not WWIII.”

Commodities struggles, unlike social media hashtag fads are casus belli. Try being hungry or cold for a couple of days and see? Or years.

If you want to see the future look into the past.

Perhaps the future could be called “Deluge of Destruction”?

Expand full comment

A fascinating exchange... As a Canadian there are no two countries that I fear more, and (ironically) have a need to do business with more, than China and the United States.

As to the value of "democracy," I'm with Sam Clemens.

Expand full comment

With regard to America one might look at what it is (Competing and Cooperating Oligarchies of Bureaucracy and Business) or what is was (a Republic) but we never really claimed to be a democracy, nor does the word appear in the Founding documents, nor did the Founders care for the idea at all and indeed feared and denounced it. America was a Republic that extended the Franchise, it morphed into an administrative state that neutered the powers and control of the elected over the Bureaucracy (The New Deal) and lacking any real government has descended into this…whatever this is beyond Oligarchy.

But you know what America remains is what it always was — A Federation. All American political arrangements have been Federations since the Iroquois. The Iroquois Confederation.

The Articles of Confederation.

The Federalist Republic of 1789 who’s destruction we are privileged by history to witness. The abortive Confederacy of the South.

It remains a Federation as it can be nothing else given diverse geography and even the diversity historically of peoples mentioned above including the Iroquois and other tribes- and we witness it can be nothing more if we accept we are seeing with DC versus the country a power struggle of Centralization that doesn’t seem to be going so well.

None seem to take that we remain a Federation into account, perhaps with all respect our host can take a hand?

For example in a Federation disorder in the center is cushioned for the nation at large, perversely it provides a cushion for the disordered center to continue its dysfunctions.

(I must confess a disgust at the present center going back a generation and all parties concerned).

To ignore the nature of a thing in particular a very large populated society may be a serious myopia of vision. I do hope our brilliant host considers the problem and is willing to consider how all this plays out in a Federation.

Ignoring the constituent needs in a Federation is fatal to its survival- as the Iroquois and the Crown discovered - as did a large extent the abortive Confederacy of the South (in which Jefferson Davis froze, and each army and state went its own way).

Rather like the EU actually, it never quite gelled and absolutely never listened.

Expand full comment

Short version ^^ America is and always was a Federation in all its forms and I suggest our host have a look - and factor this into his counsel.

For yes our host is a counselor- to the mighty as well as his readers.

That whatever we were or are now that we remain a Federation is bedrock and cannot long be safely ignored. At present all eyes are always on the center- this is most perilous in unpredictable ways.


Expand full comment