Friday, October 03, 2014

On "Asian Values"

The protests in Hong Kong make me want to write about something that's bothered me for longer than I can remember.

There’s a strain of thinking called “Asian Values,” which basically says that human rights and democracy are things that the West either A) needs or B) is capable of handling, but which does not suit East Asian countries. This idea was heavily promoted by Lee Kuan Yew, who forged Singapore into a durable oligarchy. More recently, Xi and other Chinese leaders have declared that human rights and democracy are foreign ideas that must be rejected. Perhaps the starkest expression of the idea came from film star Jackie Chan in 2009:
"I'm not sure if it is good to have freedom or not," [Chan] said. "I'm really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic." 
He added: "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."

Of course, this is all B.S. Autocrats are always telling us why their autocracy is necessary. Faced with the success of democratic countries in the 20th Century, their only option is to claim that their countries are somehow different – that what worked for others won’t work for them. A few in the West may be tricked into believing this hogwash, motivated by outdated racial stereotypes that paint East Asians as collectivist, Russians as responding only to authority, Arabs as religious fanatics, etc. I’ve seen a number of pundits claim that Hong Kong’s protests aren’t really about democracy, but about anti-mainland elitist snobbery.

This idea is absurd, offensive, and obviously wrong. Studies show that Asian values place just as much weight on freedom and rights and democracy as Western values. The experience of Korea, and Taiwan shows that “Confucianist” East Asian countries want democracy, and that when they get it, they continue to thrive. All the “chaos” that Jackie Chan blabbers about didn’t stop Samsung and Foxconn from conquering global markets.

Personally, I’ve lived in Japan, and I work at a university with a huge Chinese presence. All my graduate students are from China. And I have seen no evidence that East Asians desire any different kind of relationship with their governments than the one Americans enjoy. Distrust of autocrats, desire for free speech and other rights, and a desire to kick out bad leaders appear to be universal.

But don’t take it from me. For a lengthier, more thorough rebuttal of the myth of authoritarian Asian values, read the 1994 essay in Foreign Affairs by former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung.

After the misadventure in Iraq, Americans are understandably soured on the idea of promoting democracy abroad through force. But that makes the idea of “Asian values” dangerously tempting. We want to believe that Asians don’t want or need the rights and freedoms we enjoy, because this gives us a convenient reason not to invade their countries.

We should resist this motivated reasoning. Invading countries is indeed a terrible idea almost all of the time, but that doesn’t mean we should stop ourselves from offering moral support to people like the Hong Kong protestors, who simply want to enjoy the same respect from their societies that we enjoy from ours.

The fact is, autocratic rule is causing real problems for people in East Asia, especially in China, but also in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – and of course, North Korea. Meanwhile, in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia, East Asians are proving the “Asian values” idea to be a self-serving canard.     


  1. I think Asian countries ARE more collectivist than certain western countries but it is not cultural per set as what seems a natural response to a a much more re dense populations.

  2. Anonymous1:15 AM

    North Korea really shouldn't be listed as "Autocratic". They are a cult.

  3. I do not think it is about values as such but much more about the structure as such. There is no just one solution. US democracy (and assuming it is a fair democracy and this assumption assumes more and more) cannot be copy-pasted. So you are talking about the former while most people probably talk about the latter. And this is exactly why not everybody in the EU or eurozone can be Germany. There is only one Germany regardless of how hard you try.

  4. Anonymous2:05 AM

    An explanation of this is HBD. Different behaviors in the population as a result of evolution.

    1. Anonymous2:28 AM

      "An explanation of this is HBD."

      You must not be terribly familiar with this blog, are you?

      Did South Korea have evolved "Asian values" until it decided it had evolved further in a single generation and evolved new "Western values"? Does that make any sense?

    2. But "Asian values", at least as they pertain to democracy and political freedom, have clearly been falsified. Not just by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, but also the more much unlikely case of Mongolia ! Mongolia didn't even have the advantages of those three (rapid economic development, large middle class, some exposure to western liberalism). In fact it had no history of democracy, it was the first Soviet satellite in the world, and before that it had had a thousand year history of feudalism and nomadism. Yet after the fall of the Soviet Union Mongolia just sort of slipped into a democracy that's very highly rated by all the measures and rankings of political freedom I've seen.

    3. @Pseudoerasmus:

      "But 'Asian values', at least as they pertain to democracy and political freedom, have clearly been falsified."

      I don't know about that.

      "Not just by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan"

      South Korea wasn't a true democracy until 1988. Taiwan is populated by an interested self-selected group of people. And Japan is quite unlike the other East Asian countries in quirt a few ways.

      "but also the more much unlikely case of Mongolia !"

      Yeah, Mongolia is interesting. They do seem to have a functional democracy, which is rather impressive.

      That said, they seem to be rather corrupt, in line with other countries in that part of the world. Go figure.

    4. "Taiwan is populated by an interested self-selected group of people. "

      What place on earth is not?

    5. "South Korea wasn't a true democracy until 1988."

      But that speaks all the more loudly. One day, it wasn't a democracy, and then suddenly, it just adopted democracy.

      "Taiwan is populated by an interested self-selected group of people."

      Not really. Only about 10-12% of Taiwanese are descended from Mainland refugees of the 1940s, who were the main pillars of the KMT dictatorship. The rest are settlers from the previous 300-400 years mixed with aborigines. I don't know why migrants from 300-400 years ago would have been particularly selected for orientation toward democracy. I certainly see no reason why that should be the case than for NWEuropean settlers to North America.

      Also, Taiwan has a very similar history to South Korea, in the sense that its democratisation was very sudden, as though it had been ready for a long time.

  5. Anonymous2:09 AM

    Don't forget to mention autocratic Malaysia where one party has been in power for over half a century using malapportionment and gerrymandering at the polls to stay in power.

  6. Anonymous2:26 AM

    I think there is something to be said about the Chinese system if a significant portion of the population is literally still working the farms in severe poverty and is unable to read, let alone meaningfully partake in political discourse. Their numbers are quickly dropping - most of the world's reduction in poverty in the last decades has been from China alone - and so China should be opening up their system of governance, probably starting with local government, but I don't think it's ready for some multi-party democracy next Tuesday. Of course the current brutality and authoritarianism of China today is unconscionable as well.

    Democracy requires many things to be functional and truly... democratic. Citizens have to be educated, they have to feel that they can make a meaningful impact (however small) on where society is heading, and there cannot be too much inequality or special interests dividing the body politic, as millennia of political philosophy has warned about. Actually, these conditions have never really been met in America or many other Western countries by design, and the flaws are particularly visible in times like these. I am reminded of Noam Chomsky's discussion of the Founding Fathers:

    "QUESTION: Isn't that erection of barriers to democracy woven through the entire history of the United States?

    CHOMSKY: It goes back to the writing of the Constitution. They were pretty explicit. Madison saw a "danger" in democracy that was quite real and he responded to it. In fact, the "problem" was noticed a long time earlier. It's clear in Aristotle's Politics, the sort of founding book of political theory -- which is a very careful and thoughtful analysis of the notion of democracy. Aristotle recognizes that, for him, that democracy had to be a welfare state; it had to use public revenues to insure lasting prosperity for all and to insure equality. That goes right through the Enlightenment. Madison recognized that, if the overwhelming majority is poor, and if the democracy is a functioning one, then they'll use their electoral power to serve their own interest rather than the common good of all. Aristotle's solution was, "OK, eliminate poverty." Madison faced the same problem but his solution was the opposite: "Eliminate democracy.""

    I think the very Western self-congratulation about how "democratic" and "free" everyone is can get quickly tiresome. The fact is that serious challenges to the economic and political order are dealt with similarly in both cases. Yes, less serious challenges are obviously not treated the same way - we here in the West have peaceful, free-speech enabling ways of keeping smaller protests ignored and ineffectual: as they say, the club is to the dictatorship as the media and propaganda are to the democracy. However, the Occupy Wall Street protesters were dealt with as badly or worse than those with Occupy Central in Hong Kong, something the media is strenuously avoiding discussing. I would actually not be terribly surprised to hear of the US government shooting a thousand students if faced with an existential challenge like Beijing did in 1989. Even the beat cop has an assault rifle and a tank these days, after all, and there is a long history of bloody labor unrest where hundreds of workers challenging the status quo were mown down by private and federal agents.

    This is generally a Chinese government propaganda point, but I think we really should get our own house in order before we start talking about what freedom and democratic choice means to other countries.


    1. MaxUtility3:31 PM

      The US government faces an existential threat roughly every two years. These events typically don't involve violent responses because we have an established system for people to express their desires in terms of governance.

      I'm not saying US democracy is perfect, that it deserves no criticism, or couldn't resort to violent oppression under the right circumstances. But to claim that we can't support the freedom and empowerment of other people until some vague measurement of us "getting our house in order" seems like exactly the worst response.

  7. Values can be considered as the way of doing things limited by lack of contact with other ways of doing things. As this lack of contact changes over time values change with it showing it is nothing essential to the place that changes. Acemoglu and Robinson in their work How Nations Fail identify critical junctures in societies and what happens at such times to either prevent which can mean suppress change or increase change. China is at such a critical juncture.

  8. As a resident of Singapore for a decade, one of the most interesting things has been the end of LKY autocracy and a movement towards democracy. In fact, one of LKY's comments in the last election cost the PAP a large number of votes.

    I do however find Asians to be more collective - in the sense of thinking about their friends and neighbours more readily than Americans do. This should make for excellent democracy! The essence of democracy is really working together, not individual competition.

  9. Hi Noah. Your piece about the universalism of values around freedom and democracy seems right. Perhaps there is an issue around the what freedom entails, whether a narrow focus on procedural freedoms (eg democracy) is correct vs a comprehensive understanding of freedom as having the capability to pursue one's goals free of deprivations. On that more comprehensive understanding of freedom and values, it seems to me Asia and especially China has achieved a lot within a relatively short time.

    While the United States abolished slavery in the late 19th century, it still seems to have failed to bring substantive freedom to many black Americans. Perhaps this is in part due to a very narrow understanding of human rights and freedoms focused on a right to vote, while neglecting the substantive freedom from deprivations around health and education.

    Have u also reflected on freedom in Israel and Palestine? What is Israel doing to deliver democracy and human freedom to the Arabs who live within her borders? What is the US doing to encourage greater freedom for the Arab population in Gaza and the West Bank? Do universal values apply equally there?

  10. Don't forget, people used to say that Latin America was unsuitable for democracy too, and, with some problems here and there, this has basically been proven false.

  11. Hi Noah. Your piece about the universalism of values around freedom and democracy seems right. Perhaps there is an issue around the what freedom entails, whether a narrow focus on procedural freedoms (eg democracy) is correct vs a comprehensive understanding of freedom as having the capability to pursue one's goals free of deprivations. On that more comprehensive understanding of freedom and values, it seems to me Asia and especially China has achieved a lot within a relatively short time.

    While the United States abolished slavery in the late 19th century, it still seems to have failed to bring substantive freedom to many black Americans. Perhaps this is in part due to a very narrow understanding of human rights and freedoms focused on a right to vote, while neglecting the substantive freedom from deprivations around health and education.

    Have u also reflected on freedom in Israel and Palestine? What is Israel doing to deliver democracy and human freedom to the Arabs who live within her borders? What is the US doing to encourage greater freedom for the Arab population in Gaza and the West Bank? Do universal values apply equally there?

  12. because this gives us a convenient reason not to invade their countries.

    The only country where America ever seems to have imposed democracy by invasion was Japan and that required that America first bomb Japan flat.

    Every other attempt to impose democracy by force seems to have failed (including Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan).

    The West may be able to support democratic reforms but ultimately it is the oppressed people of the world who must seize their own freedom.

    1. Bill Ellis4:36 PM

      Actualy Japan's experience with "democratic" government is older than most people realize. In 1889 the Japanese adopted the Meiji constitution (modeled after European constiuional monarchies). At that point they were roughly as democratic as Prussia or the UK.

    2. Bill - In a way that makes my point stronger. Invasion only succeeded where there was a foundation to build on. I understand that during the 1930s and the war Japan was basically a fascist dictatorship by the military.

      Invasion also succeeded in West Germany - but again there was some prior history of democracy.

    3. Bill Ellis11:04 PM

      I agree. Imposing Democracy at gun point does not compute for me.
      It seems oxymoronical to me.

  13. Anonymous2:02 PM

    I was a graduate student in 1989 and very much like the students in Hong Kong now. I've gradually come to realize that freedom (economical freedom and some political freedom) is the most important, while democracy is just a tool. It's just naïve to promote democracy everywhere, and sometimes dangerous too. It's a shame that economists know well about capitalism and freedom, however forget about the principles when events happen.

    Having been through the 1989 student movement in China - sorry to say this - I see HK students are more of troublemaker than problem solver. It would be totally different if the rebel comes from everyday citizens.

    1. Mm hmm. Inconvenient then that the HK protestors are made up of more than students. In any case what exactly disqualifies students from being everyday citizens, 'Anonymous'? I'll tell you right now an autocratic government is easily more dangerous than a democratic one, or do the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution mean nothing to you?

  14. Bill Ellis3:31 PM

    Maybe its America's cultural that's not suited to democracy.
    Our inequity in wealth makes a mockery of the notion that we enjoy a democracy. We are ruled by an economic royalty.
    We have a two teared justice system based on class.
    We have an economic system that privatizes and protects the gains of the econmoic royalists , while their losses are covered by us commoners .
    Public opinion is manufactured by our economic royalty without any regard for the truth... with the consent of our highest court.

    The elite successfully and legally violate the principle of one person one vote through gerrymandering, voter ID laws and restrictions on polling times and places.

    And we should remember, we are more democratic now than we were for the bulk of our history.
    Slavery... Woman's suffrage....
    Until the late sixties black people didn't have the right to vote in the south.

    The truth about America is that while it is our creed is to always aspire to democracy, arguably, we only achieved it once.

    1968 to 1980 was our high point. Then , At that point we collectively and willfully surrendered our freedom to the authority of a mythological free market...forgetting that power corrupts and that powerful people will corrupt markets as sure as they will corrupt anything.

    Right now The U S A is more like a constitutional monarchy than a democracy.

  15. What the U.S. has is democracy with American characteristics.

    The U.S. has been able to convert the democratic system into a duopoly, so that in essence, regardless of which party is in power, they manage the state and the economy in a manner very similar to what is being done in China.

    Now, the only difference is that, because U.S. multi-nationals had a huge head start in regards to "intellectual property" development, it is more beneficial for the U.S. to manage their economy in the manner that they do. And for China, they must manage their economy in a way that results in having to pay excessive intellectual property rents. BUT, they will only do so for as long as the costs outweigh the benefits. Then, Not only China, but the entire world will be "freed" from paying excessive intellectual property rents and the global economy is going to look a lot different than what we have come to believe is "the right way".

    Human rights for all Americans are not that old of a concept. Legally, they only go back about 50 years, and "free of discrimination" wise, they still have a ways to go. China (and other Asian nations) being more homogenous (actually almost all nations worldwide), will be able to catch up, as time goes on.

    1. having to pay excessive intellectual property rents

      That is a non sequitur. The Chinese choose to pay for some intellectual property because there is a net benefit to them from doing so. Most Western technology is free for the taking and the Chinese steal a lot of the rest (ask Nortel).

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    4. Absalon,

      Let me clarify.

      Nations have interests, not friends. Stronger nations do as they will, weaker nations do as they must.

      As the cost-benefit of respecting intellectual property (and the rules of globalization for that matter) is no longer favourable, Chinese will take things one step further.

      Globalization will soon be replaced by bi-lateral trade agreements.

      If one nation no longer needs to trade with another nation, why would they "respect" the other nation's intellectual property? It makes absolutely no sense.

      Across national boundaries, just because someone invented something first, means nothing.

      Intellectual property rights might be protected within a country, as government can control that, but outside the country, others will only respect intellectual property rights as long as there is a benefit in doing so.

      People are going to be surprised at how much intellectual property laws are weakened in developed nations because, even there, the costs are now starting to exceed the benefits. This is especially true if developed nations cannot collect rents from non-developed nations.

      You can call it stealing, but others would just see it as taking advantage of something that now exists. All developing nations have followed a similar path to developed status.

      Now, there will be a price to pay for this. And for China, it will be the fact that their U.S.$ reserves will become "worth less". So, that is the price China has paid to leapfrog from a 19th century economy to a 21st century economy. They have sacrificed their labour and their environment, and are now pretty close to having paid the price.

      Now, on a per capita basis, Americans will still be considerably wealthier, only because the U.S. has a much greater natural resource wealth on a per capita basis, compared to the Chinese.

      But, the benefits that accrued to the U.S. (and to all developed nations that had currencies that were accepted as foreign currency reserves) from its ability to print the world's reserve currency, have all OPEC oil sold only in U.S. $'s, and have developing nations respect the "intellectual property" of the developed nations' multi-national corporations (and pay very high rents in the process) are now coming to an end.
      In regards to China stealing technology, eventually, this will also include kicking out the likes of Starbucks, KFC, Apple, and so on, and replacing them with identical Chinese versions. And there really won't be much that anyone in the U.S., Japan, or Europe will be able to do about it. Well, they could, but, the cost will not justify any potential benefit.

    5. Sukh

      You have jumbled together a bunch of different concepts - most of which I disagree with.

      When I talked about stealing technology I meant it literally - the Chinese broke into Nortel's computer network and literally stole the technology. There is no world in which you can justify that.

      Originally I zeroed in on your complaint about "excessive" intellectual property rents.

      If the Chinese are buying intellectual property it is because the economic benefit of that particular technology to them exceeds the cost. How then can the price be said to be "excessive"? In any event, name a multi-national company that has collected "very high rents" from China. The Chinese always have the option of simply relying on public domain technology.

      Chinese accumulation of reserves has imposed huge costs and dislocations on the West. The West will be better off when they stop. If China decided tomorrow to hold gold, silver, copper, rupees, rubles and Brazilian reals instead of dollars and euros, the West should cheer.

    6. Absalon,

      You can do additional research on this if you like, but I'll just leave you with a couple of stories you can google if you like:

      Piracy and Fraud Propelled the U.S. Industrial Revolution
      Bloomberg - February 1, 2013

      In regards to excessive rents, I'd have to do some homework in regards to where multi-nationals have taken advantage of their intellectual property monopolies.

      But, two additional areas that are related (or at least I believe so) are

      1) The fact that in outsourcing all the manufacturing to China, the Chinese did all the work, and the U.S. corporations made virtually all the profits. Ian Bremmer case commented on this, but I don't want to link a video because sometimes linking a video results in a comment not getting approved for posting.

      2) With the money the Middle-East oil producers got for their oil, much of it was "recycled" back to U.S. multi-nationals for infrastructure projects and weapons (which the U.S. then "encouraged" these nations to use against each other). And when any of these nations would go offside, the U.S. could find a "reason" to declare war and completely destroy the nations infrastructure.

      Also, much of the U.S. $ reserves that China has built up come not from the U.S., but from OPEC countries that were forced to accept only U.S.$'s as payment for oil that they sold to ANYONE. This does not relate to intellectual property, but that is one hell of an excessive rent.


    7. Absalon,

      I would recommend that you google Ian Bremmer, G-Zero.

    8. There is so much wrong with your posts that it is hard to know where to start.

      No one could or did force the OPEC countries to only take US dollars. No one can force OPEC or China to hold reserves in US dollars. They are free to swap any US dollars for other assets as quick as they get them. No one can force China to hold reserves out of all proportion to anything needed for commerce.

      If the Chinese feel they are not making enough profit from doing contract manufacturing for the West - based on Western technology, designs, marketing, merchandising and consumers - then they should manufacture their own designs for someone else.

      Bremmer talks about a hypothetical world that cannot exist and compares it with a past that did not exist. He is a waste of time.

    9. The U.S. in exchange for allowing the OPEC oil cartel to exist, was able to negotiate a "settlement in U.S.$ policy. Al least do the research.

      When the time is right, China will act differently.

      And finally, Bremmer is a waste of time, but thank god we have you to show us the error of our ways and show us the light.

      Good day sir.

    10. Being the reserve currency of choice is not a benefit:

      Kenneth Austin

      Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 2014, vol. 36, issue 4, pages 607-634

      Abstract: This article develops a model, based on balance-of-payment identities, of the new international monetary system (Bretton Woods II or BWII). It shows that if some countries engineer current account surpluses by exchange-rate manipulation and foreign-reserve accumulation, the burden of the corresponding current account deficits falls first on the reserve-issuing countries, unless those savings inflows are diverted elsewhere. The imbalances of the BWII period result from official, policy-driven reserve flows, rather than market-determined, private savings flows. The struggle to divert these unwanted financing flows is at the root of the "currency wars" within the system.

    11. For now, suffice is to say, the privilege of being the printer of the world's reserve currency is now significantly less than it has been in the past.

      As long as we the world is playing by the rules of globalization, being the printer of the reserve currency can make things more difficult, but by no means is it a burden.

      There are many things that can be done in the way of monetary policy and fiscal policy to maintain a net benefit.

      When the rules of globalization begin to fall apart, having trillions of US$'s isn't going to be as beneficial as one might think.

      I'll try to post a more detailed comment later.

      NOAH, I would love it if you could expand on this. I'm sure you must have something you can add.


    13. "But new research reveals that WHAT WAS ONCE a privilege is now a burden"
      Dethrone ‘King Dollar’ - Jared Bernstein

      Yes. So it was a privilege since WWII and now it could become a burden. BUT, if the U.S. implements expansionary fiscal policy, which it will eventually do to upgrade the nations infrastructure and create decent-paying jobs, guess what, the privilege remains!

  16. The Chinese graduate student in NYC dropped her Ilham Tohti work because she worried about reprisals. American human rights is a mirage. Who will help Americans help Ilham Tohti and his daughter, Jewher?

    1. Reprisals from who?

      American human rights are real - it is just that they only apply to Americans in America and some of them don't always apply to Blacks or Hispanics.

  17. Noah,

    The links I posted and have not been "approved" by the moderator were actually more for you anyways. I hope you will consider watching them. I would love to know your thoughts. I am trying to figure out how the world works, and any additional insight you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

    I know its a long shot, but my email address is

    Sincerely (not a nut job :))


  18. Anonymous10:46 PM

    Noah you may be interested in this. Here's an excerpt:

    "One of history’s worst slanders is exposed in this unique biography. For 2000 years Confucius has been quoted in defense of conservative, reactionary, and totalitarian governments. His supposed sayings have been used by tyrants for the oppression of the people. But long original research now shows that Confucius was in fact a reformer and an individualist, democratic and even revolutionary. In his time his was a voice crying in the wilderness a “battle cry for democracy”. His teachings became so popular that a totalitarian regime in 213 B.C. banned the Confucian books. But the common people of China forced many of his doctrines upon their rulers. So the Han Emperor Wu, posing as the patron of Confucianism, tried to convert it into a tool of despotism."

  19. LKY`s `Asian Values` amount to about the same thing as saying that Liberal Democracy and Marxism are a single entity called European Values. `Asian Values` groups together ideas that have been bitterly opposed to each other for much of history. In Chinese political thought, there are two key strands - legalism, represented by Qin Shihuang (he of the terracotta warriors) and Rujia, represented by Confucius, Mencius, etc. Confucius abhorred the rigid, hammer-like autocracy of Qin and spent his whole life campaigning against it. He fought for a more organic relationship between ruler and ruled, founded on reciprocity. He argued, for example, that if a ruler wants his people to follow him, he must rule justly (which immediately has implications for what the people should do if a ruler is not just). Confucianism eventually became the imperial orthodoxy. Something really telling is Reginald Fleming Johnston`s book, Twilight in the Forbidden City, in which he looks at the contemporary writings of Sun Yat Sen (the founding father of modern China) and observes that the revolutionaries were not so much objecting to a lack of personal freedom as too much of it, to the extent that this had made the empire weak and vulnerable to foreign incursions. The same can definitely be said of the Communist revolution. In fact, for most of the past century, China was involved in a struggle to overthrow Confucianism, in favour of (European) nationalism, Marxist-Leninism and a return to the autocratic golden age of Qin. The current government in Beijing is obviously heir to these revolutions.
    The concept of `Asian Values` is such a simplification it`s essentially meaningless. It could actually be argued that Confucianism has more in common with Rousseau than it does with the government of Singapore.

  20. Anonymous8:50 AM

    Listening to Jacki Chan on political and cultural issues is like listening to Kim Kardashian on intellectual curiosity:)

    On the other hand, "Money is Speech" is not really democracy.

  21. Anonymous12:29 PM

    It's okay if you disagree with Jackie Chan, but if you think he talks trashy, you don't understand Chinese.

  22. It is true that Confucianism was historically less authoritarian than Legalism. However, the really pro-laissez faire doctrine, if not necessarily democratic, was Taoism. The old line was that Confucianism was the doctrine of the scholar in power, while Taoism was the doctrine of the scholar out of power.

    Of course, in Japan, Taoism's equivalent as the local nativist religion supported imperialism and militarism, namely the emperor-worshipping Shinto. In contrast, the equivalent in Korea, Sinkyo, has been completely anarchistic and run by women, suppresed by everybody.

  23. Anonymous2:34 AM

    I wholeheartedly agree. Authoritarianism exists to exploit the majority, period. Anybody who says otherwise is either a dumb sucker or a hypocritical beneficiary of the exploitation.

  24. It isn't about Asian values as an abstract quasi racial thing. It's about the Asian - or specifically, Chinese - political context. To be blunt, ignorant Americans tend to see all problems in terms of their own history. Every revolution becomes the American revolution. Every centralised government becomes the big bad British Empire. The US dearly loves the image of playing the France to another group of American colonists' War of Independence, but there is just a failure to understand when that is not the case. I think the vast majority of Westerners have, for example, the totally incorrect notion of what the Cultural Revolution represented.

    People in low income situations favour stability over freedom - especially when political freedom generally fails to coincide with any practical individual freedom to travel or change their lifestyle. That's the situation the majority of the Chinese are in - one very different to that of HK students, who represent in overall Chinese terms people who are relatively enormously rich.

    For the West to recommend the Chinese to switch their political system from one where 80% trust in government (one where high education level is correlated with increased trust in government, in fact), to one where (as in the US) 20-40% do... one does not have to believe in 'Asian values' to see the unreasonableness of the situation. The West does not these days have a workable vision of how democracy will work in the US, let alone in China.

  25. I'm more inclined to put this supposed aversion to "messy, chaotic "democracy" down to basic human nature. Some of us (if you catch the reference) are onions, who enjoy getting along and 'following the rules' and 'not making waves' and being told what to do. Some of us are carrots, who prefer to think for ourselves and find authority somewhat constraining even when it's useful. There's lots of overlap and some degree of age-relation, as in most sorts of human nature. And then there are the little green peas, but perhaps I shouldn't pick at the metaphor for fear of leaving a nasty scab..

  26. You cannot promote democracy by force. It is (and was) silly to think you can go into a country and beat it into liberty.

    The history of liberty and human rights in the U.S. is not a straight line either. Massachusetts for example was a theocracy during some of the colonial period.

    The USSR did not collapse because we nuked them or bombed them, they collapsed because of economic decay. China had to change its economic model in the 80s because the old one just was not working.

    In the short run, all kinds of equilibria are possible because people can adapt to pretty horrible conditions. But in the long run the type of government that delivers the highest standard of living will be the most stable - in part because in the long run rich countries can afford more guns and technology in the first place, even if those weapons of war end up not being used.

  27. Anonymous2:18 PM

    "A few in the West may be tricked into believing this hogwash, motivated by outdated racial stereotypes that paint East Asians as collectivist, Russians as responding only to authority, Arabs as religious fanatics, etc. I’ve seen a number of pundits claim that Hong Kong’s protests aren’t really about democracy, but about anti-mainland elitist snobbery."

    I'm surprised to learn about these Westerners who make such arguments. Who are they? Can you provide examples of these pundits?

  28. For "Democracy with American Characteristics" see Duverger's Law on how structures vary based on what ex ante might seem unimportant specifics of voting systems. There may be "American" characteristics but first rule out features that can be explained. "American" is at base a statement that something can't be explained (with apologies to any anthropologists reading this).

    As to "Asian Values," I've encountered a huge array in each of several Asian countries in which I've spent significant time (including places where I speak/read/write the language). Do we find that a statement that "we all share the same Western values" allows us to quickly settle disputs in the US in the arena of family law, the definition of life and so on? To reach a consensus in Congress?

    When I hear "Asian Values" I take it as a similar contentless statement by a vulnerable speaker attempting to close off discussion, or a writer trying to justify themselves with vaguely nationalist phrases that few can object to because there's no there there with which you can argue.

  29. Anonymous11:46 AM

    You are misdiagnosing the problem. Autocratic rule is not the problem. Lack of institutions to protect human rights from the tyranny of the majority or the powerful is most often the problem. In may countries, people vote, they have democracy, but they also have ethnic unrest because they lack institutions to protect human rights.

    The US is not a great nation because we elect our leaders. The US is great because we have a system of checks and balances (though imperfect) that offers protections to the governed. The US often set up a vote (Iraq is an example) but fails to set up institutions to protect human rights. Then we wonder that there is unrest, ISIS or some other source of unrest. Respect for the rights of minorities is essential to any multicultural state.
    -jonny bakho

  30. I really wish you would not comment on foreign policy, Noah. You really have no idea what you are talking about. The Chinese government is explicit in their view that they view American democracy promotion as an existential threat. It is one of the biggest, if not the single greatest source of tension in Sino-American relations. And you think Japan is a good example of democracy in East Asia? The US re-created their entire country (after destroying it) after WWII, and it is a pseudo-client state of the US. And further, from you very small sample of Econ grad students you believe that the Chinese are ready to overturn millennia of uninterrupted autocratic rule? All while 80+% of the population is satisfied with the direction of the country (according to Pew)? Ok, smh.

    1. Perhaps the worst thing the American government could do for the cause of Hong Kong protestors would be to show support for them.

    2. Further, democracy is merely one means by which societies can resolve conflict. It does not guarantee rights and freedoms. You are conflating means and ends. One does not guarantee the other. One the one hand, the Nationalist Socialist Party in Germany was voted into power democratically. And on the other hand, China has achieved greater economic freedom without democracy. America is not very democratic at all (hello, the Senate?), and arguably has witnessed a decline in economic freedom with greater democracy; this is certainly the view of many Federalist Society-type conservatives. I would also direct you to some of Brian Caplan's work on democracy before you so quickly to equate democracy with freedom.

    3. China developed greatly..AFTER the twin debacles of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution where tens of MILLIONS died. Never forget that. Any antidemocratic argument that starts with "But China.." has to address this or be rendered useless.

    4. Fangz9:19 PM

      The thing you miss is that today's CCP is controlled by the *victims* of Mao's Cultural Revolution - the elements of China's intellectual elite that the student revolutionaries of the Red Guards tried to purge, but failed to do so. China's swing to market capitalism happened when Mao's enemies regrouped after his death, brought the far left under control, forced through a campaign of reforms diametrically opposed to what Mao would have wanted, while pretending that nothing had changed.

      That is actually the lens you need to see through. The main axis of political conflict in China is not as simple as freedom vs authoritarianism, but populism vs technocrats. The technocrats that run China are terrified of populism, of some Mao 2.0 emerging and riling up the masses into a new Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution. Large parts of the Chinese population are *living perpetrators* of the cultural revolution, and the lingering remnants of Mao's cult means that many still miss the old days.

    5. "The thing you miss is that today's CCP is controlled by the *victims* of Mao's Cultural Revolution"

      Right. And the other thing about Chinese history that makes the Chinese dread instability is that China down the through the ages was typically closer to the Malthusian limit for population than Europe. The average English woman in 1200-1800 married at 24 to 26, compared to the late teenage years for the average Chinese woman. Thus, when China had good government, its population rapidly grew beyond what could be supported without good government. So, during times of disorder, the population could crash horrifically, such as during the Taiping Rebellion. The West tended to have more margin for error in its population.

  31. try this

  32. interesting data about Asian values:

    See, "Education and Hard Work Seen as the Keys to Moving Up" table near bottom.
    Somethings I get, some I do not. While I sorta get that 39% of South Koreans say knowing the right people is important, I do not at all get the Japanese response. I would have thought education, since traditionally getting into the right school gets a decent job. Nothing seems to rank particularly high. Maybe it's just really hard to get ahead? Or maybe getting ahead as an individual is not particularly valued?

    More interesting is where countries rank on the free market question. Japan, Spain, and Greece rank pretty low. I am not sure their market economy is particularly free though.

  33. One comparison would be the not very East Asian UC Berkeley in 1964 and the much more East Asian UC Berkeley today. The more East Asian Berkeley's student body has become, the less interested in political argument it has become. That doesn't mean East Asians can't run a democracy but it does suggest that political argumentation isn't as appealing to them as to some other groups (e.g., South Asians).