Zambian-born economist Moyo (Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World, 2012, etc.) takes on thorny questions of economic and political stagnation.
Is democracy an essential component of market freedom? No, writes the author. As the command economy of China demonstrates, “many aspects of how the Chinese political class manages its economy are antithetical to the Western values of democracy and free markets.” That does not keep Western investors away, for China has demonstrated a commitment to things that Western democracies, by Moyo’s account, have abandoned: the idea of constant economic growth and, with it, investment in infrastructure, health care, education, and other public goods that enhance political stability. By contrast, the West is ground down in stagnation, endemic poverty and inequality, and political unrest, all of which “suggest that democracy is not a prerequisite of economic growth.” For Moyo, that economic growth is a sine qua non: without it, the developing world cannot attain developed status, and the developed world cannot flourish. Democratic capitalism may be preferred to other systems, but it has shortcomings that play out in the economic and political spheres. If democracies are to endure, she writes, then inequality must be combatted and elections need to be truly competitive and involve more than mere duopolies. The fundamental enemy of growth and democracy alike is “short-termism,” behavior that ignores the long view in favor of immediate returns and gratification. For example, “a less politicized and more long-term-focused education policy would help circumvent the problem in which the United States ranks among the highest in terms of education spending per capita but in some respects is among the worst in education outcomes when compared against its advanced country peers.” Although the writing is sometimes clunky and the argument repetitive, the author’s program of remedy is provocative and of much interest to advocates of growth.
Moyo clearly identifies systemic problems that the democracies—or what’s left of them—would do well to address.