China and its Discontents

Archive for the ‘WSJ’ tag

Fukuyama and the Chinese Middle Class

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Francis Fukuyama once again reaffirms why he is one of the most serious foreign policy intellectuals today, crystallizing in a few sentences what most other China commentators have missed or failed to express so eloquently:

The hardest thing for any political observer to predict is the moral element. All social revolutions are driven by intense anger over injured dignity, an anger that is sometimes crystallized by a single incident or image that mobilizes previously disorganized individuals and binds them into a community. We can quote statistics on education or job growth, or dig into our knowledge of a society’s history and culture, and yet completely miss the way that social consciousness is swiftly evolving through a myriad of text messages, shared videos or simple conversations.

If Yajun’s post at Jottings from the Granite Studio was an introduction into the Chinese mindset and the functional barriers to political change, then Fukuyama’s post is the perfect combination American realist/idealist take on the Jasmine Revolution, focusing on China’s middle class. The middle class is definitely the right frame with which to analyze future political instability in China. If change does come, it will be at the hands of a large number of increasingly comfortable but not wealthy Chinese. This is especially true given that, as Fukuyama notes, the unemployment rate among college graduates in China is one of the highest in the world.

UPDATE: I’m rather surprised that my previous post on the Jasmine Revolution published in the Trinity Tripod is now leading New York Times coverage when you google “Jasmine Revolution”.

Written by Will

March 12th, 2011 at 1:52 am

Rebuilding America

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The lede from a WSJ article yesterday made me laugh – conservatives continually harp that Ben Bernanke and the Fed must do all in their power to curb the inflationary tendencies associated with the coming economic recovery. Of course, no inflation has arrived, and neither has economic recovery – the US is in a deflationary period. But this doesn’t stop the WSJ now complaining of the Fed’s inaction in dealing with unemployment. The paper finally takes the Fed’s inflation targets at face value – a rare occurrence.

But this raises the question – what can the Fed actually do to combat the recession now? Monetary policy is a blunt hatchet – lowering interest rates makes borrowing easier across all sectors of the economy, but isn’t guaranteed to work. In this analogy, fiscal policy is a scalpel. Congress can target individual economic sectors – construction, for example, can be boosted through infrastructure expenditures. Unfortunately for us, neither looks likely to happen any time soon. Interest rates are now at their lowest, and a second stimulus (despite statements to the contrary) is dead in the water. And even if the Fed or Congress did manage to take action of some sort, it would be far too late now to affect the economy before the the end of the year.

What else is left when policy fails? Politics. In a utopia, the benefits of a particular policy would be obvious to completely rational, politically-engaged citizens. But that’s not how it works. The only way for the Obama administration to inspire confidence in the public is to act confidently. Those who are actually committed to sane economic policy (i.e., not deficit hypocrites who would vote for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts) need to think big – rebuilding America big – because politics, unfortunately, comes before policy.

Written by Will

July 25th, 2010 at 11:58 pm