The China Conundrum and Human Nature

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

I saw a couple of articles from the Financial Times yesterday discussing Chinese crackdown on dissidents and a theoretical downfall of the communist regime. We’ve seen Middle Eastern dictatorships flailing and falling over the past month – but nobody ever said anything about China – right? Then these articles came out, and it got me thinking.

The Chinese conundrum is human nature and the conflict of totalitarianism.

Humans are creative beings. We are made in the image of our Creator. We want to be alive and productive, we want to develop new ideas, we want to explore and see what’s out there – we are creative. We also want to be free. That creative instinct wants to be disentangled, it wants to be free to operate on its own, it wants to make full use of its faculties without the infringement of slavery.

In free societies this works great. Free people follow the burning in their hearts to create and invent and produce – and economies flourish.

In totalitarian societies, it works not-so-great. Economic productivity is generally down because people have no impetus to create. They are not free, they reap no benefits from their labor, they suffer. This is bad for the totalitarian regimes. I mean, who wants to rule over nothingness and despair? No, they’d rather rule over a vibrant, productive economy – so as to better enrich themselves.

We see this play out a number of ways. There are the rigid authoritarians, like North Korea. They have forfeited any notion of wealth and prosperity for the country in order to maintain control. There are the totalitarians with resources – like Middle Eastern dictators. They have a bit more wealth because of oil, but they still have to keep the people in line. (These have been falling fast and furious.)

The Chinese have gone a different way. They maintained the totalitarian regime aspects, but have tried to implement economic reforms. Again, why rule over poverty and despair – better to rule over vast wealth. There is thus a bit of economic freedom, but no political freedom. This is a dangerous game.

Yes, you can have better economic performance (and they have) – but kindling the fire of freedom is dangerous indeed. The human spirit is indomitable, rising to soaring heights, toppling the most cruel and domineering dictators and  regimes. As David Pilling at Financial Time notes (store here – requires free trial subscription): “What could go wrong for the Communist party? Its legitimacy, at least in the past 30 years, stems almost entirely from its spectacular economic performance. That makes a faltering economy, and the social unrest that might follow, by far its biggest concern.”

Mish over at has been arguing for some time that China is in serious danger of a hard economic downturn. As long as life is good, the partly free folks may play along. Should the good times slip a bit, what will the partly free do?

These are interesting times.

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