Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Reflection Cafe April-May-June 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Colors of Earth (X)

Sources: &

Friday, June 20, 2008

Growth and Inequality: Understanding Recent Trends

Thomas Pogge, Australian Nat'l Univ / Yale Univ.
DISSENT, Winter 2008

In current debates about the world economy, “growth is good” often appears as a truism. Growth leads to wealth, it is said, and greater wealth is surely desirable, especially for the poorer developing countries. Closer inspection, however, leads to a far more nuanced assessment.

Legend has it that there was a time when economists celebrated economic growth, regardless of its distribution. Such economists would have judged alternative economic practices and policies exclusively by their relative impact on the inflation-adjusted (per capita) social product. I am not sure such economists were ever dominant. Economists have long seen the point of income and wealth in the satisfaction of human preferences and understood that, insofar as such satisfaction increases with rising income or wealth, it does so at a declining rate. At any rate, the legend of the growth-only economists is useful because it allows real economists to stress that they are different, that they favor pro-poor growth, growth-with-equity, or some such thing. This is crucial to their theological role of appeasing the conscience of their wealthy constituents and of reconciling rich and poor alike to the great globalization push of the last twenty-five years. If economic experts committed to equity and eradication of poverty celebrate this push and the growth it produces, how can we withhold our approval?

Consider this example from the Economist (March 11, 2004).The message the Economist conveys with these two charts is that critics of recent globalization are mendacious or confused when they complain of inequitable growth: Only when the population size of countries is ignored (as in the top chart) can it appear as though global economic growth is benefiting the rich disproportionately. As soon as population size is taken into account (as in the bottom chart) it becomes clear that the poor are benefiting mightily—the rise of China and India is living proof of this. A further message here conveyed is that globalization’s supporters, such as the Economist, care about poverty and inequity and would not be such ardent supporters if the poor were not benefiting along with the rich.

Who Benefits from Recent Growth?
Growth can benefit rich and poor alike, and thereby reduce poverty. But to what extent has World Trade Organization (WTO) globalization actually done so? The Economist is right to suggest that the top chart cannot answer the question. And it rightly prefers the bottom chart: The added information about population size matters in that, other things being equal, it is better for faster growth to occur in more populous poor countries than in less populous ones.

Nonetheless, the bottom chart cannot settle the matter either. One reason is that it reports growth in gross domestic product (GDP) rather than growth in gross national product or income (GNP/GNI). Both concepts allocate each unit of income uniquely to one country. But they do so differently: When residents of country A derive income from country B—for instance, returns on investments or revenues from the sale of natural resources they own in B—then such income is counted toward the GDP of B yet toward the GNI of A. When our concern is with poverty of and equity among countries, we should assess national growth trajectories in terms of GNI, which excludes the earnings accruing to foreigners and includes earnings that residents derive from abroad. If the oil price rises and a U.S. company, owned by and paying dividends to U.S. investors, therefore earns more from the oil it extracts in Nigeria, then this extra gain should count as enriching the U.S. rather than Nigeria.

For GNI per capita, Atlas method (current U.S.$), the World Bank reports the trend shown in Table 1. [1]

From (accessed June 15, 2007). This database does not provide inflation-adjusted GNI data. Nonetheless, the ratios of these nominal $-figures (in the right-hand column) are comparable across years.
The increase in inequality is even more pronounced at the extremes. Define the poorest and the richest countries in any year as groups of countries that each contains 10 percent of the world’s population. [2]

Footnote in Table 1: Calculated by dividing the two residuals: (world GNI minus high-income country GNI) divided by (world population minus high-income country population). Data from (accessed June 15, 2007).

Per capita GNI (in nominal $s) in these two groups,3 and the corresponding inequality ratio, have evolved as shown in Table 2. [3]

Derived from Table 1 in the World Bank’s World Development Reports for the years 1982, 2002, and 2007, respectively, and market exchange rates in the relevant years. Again, the ratios among these nominal $ figures are comparable across years.

Clearly, then, in terms of the more appropriate GNI per capita measure, the developing countries, and the poorest of them especially, have not participated proportionately in global economic growth during the globalization period. In fact, the distance between the richest and the poorest countries has more than doubled, to a staggering 122:1 ratio.

An even more important problem with the Economist’s bottom chart is that the focus on international inequality, however measured, loses all information about how actual people in these countries are faring. Being told that China enjoyed 6 percent average annual growth in real per capita GDP, we learn nothing about how this growth was distributed within China. And this is what ultimately matters to those concerned with equity and poverty: How did the Chinese poor do in the globalization period? And how did the global poor do, relative to the rest of the human population? By looking only at country averages, one is focusing on the morally least significant of the three inequality concepts Branko Milanovic has so usefully distinguished [4]
Branko Milanovic, Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality (Princeton University Press, 2005).
—international inequality or inequality among country averages—while ignoring the far more important dimensions of intranational and global inequality among persons.

In criticizing the top diagram, the Economist is attacking a straw man that does not represent, let alone exhaust, the arguments real critics of WTO globalization, appealing to the importance of equity and poverty avoidance, have actually set forth. [5]

See, for example, Kevin Danaher, ed., 50 Years Is Enough: The Case Against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (South End Press, 1994); Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights (Polity Press, 2002); Peter Singer, One World (Yale University Press, 2002); Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents (Norton, 2002); and George Monbiot, Manifesto for a New World Order (New Press, 2004).

By endorsing the bottom diagram, it sets aside what is morally most important: poverty and equity among human persons.
Full-text available, click here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Political Philosophy, Revelation, and Modernity

James V. Schall. Roman Catholic Political Philosophy. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004. xx + 209 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $68.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7391-0745-4.

Reviewed by: William F. Byrne, Department of Government and Politics, St. John's University, New York.

There is a real need for a book on Roman Catholic political philosophy. The Catholic tradition has generally placed a great premium on philosophical study, including political philosophy. There are many Catholic political philosophers, some of whom are quite explicit in their efforts to integrate their understanding of Christian revelation into their work. However, it remains difficult to say just what "Roman Catholic political philosophy" is, or to identify the precise characteristics (other than perhaps authorship) which distinguish any particular political-philosophical thought as Roman Catholic.

One of the most fitting authors for a book entitled Roman Catholic Political Philosophy would certainly be James Schall. A fixture of Georgetown's Department of Government, and a prolific writer for decades on matters of both political philosophy and religion, Fr. Schall is without question one of the most well-known and respected Catholic political philosophers in America. His more recent books often take the form of long reflective essays, or a series of linked reflective essays; this one is no exception. The present book makes for an illuminating and inspiring read. However, despite its title, it is not the book on Catholic political philosophy; that book remains to be written, if indeed it can be.

Fr. Schall makes clear what this book is not. It is not a book "on what is called 'the social doctrines of the Church'" (p. xiii). Nor is it an effort to reconcile Catholicism with any particular strain of modern political thought, or to explain which regime types are most compatible with Catholic thought. Notably, it is also not "a history or summary of the views of classic or modern Catholic thinkers on politics"; nor is it a book "on comparative religion or philosophy" in a political context (pp. xii-xiii). While each of these topics would, at a minimum, require a sizable book of its own, greater incorporation of at least some of this material would help to justify this book's title. Nevertheless, it should be appreciated for what it is.

The book's actual subject is a very important one. It is political philosophy itself, in relation to the Roman Catholic account of revelation. This work is "a relaxed, literate 'attempt' to present from various angles a rarely heard argument about how the highest things of philosophy, politics, and revelation relate to each other" (p. xiii). Schall's explorations are indeed literate, and go beyond political philosophy narrowly construed to take in broadly the relationship between reason and revelation. To Schall, political philosophy provides a context in which to illuminate and develop some of the themes of Fides et Ratio. It is a sort of nexus at which the relationships of reason and revelation, and of philosophy and faith, play out.

The distinction between political and religious concerns, though important to recognize, is not as great as is supposed by many--especially by modern secularists, who tend to compartmentalize religion when they think of it at all. For one thing, every person, no matter how oriented toward revelation, must live in the world, and cannot wholly escape political matters or the concerns of the social sciences. Moreover, because politics does not represent humankind's ultimate end, good political philosophy must point beyond itself, and the good state must point beyond itself. A point central to Schall, and in his view a key mark of Roman Catholic political philosophy, is this recognition that "the ultimate destiny of each human being, the political animal, is not located in politics" (p. 158). Following Eric Voegelin, Schall recognizes the rise of ideology, and then the exhaustion of ideology, as symptoms of modern society's failure to recognize this basic reality. In closing itself to revelation and rejecting metaphysics, politics becomes its own monstrous metaphysics. Paralleling the phenomenon of political modernity is modern philosophy's hubristic tendency to identify the wholeness of reality with what is knowable through philosophy's methods. We neglect the vital role of revelation at our peril.

Negotiating the relationship between revelation and reason, or between the things of God and things of Caesar, is not easy. Openness to revelation does not, of course, imply some sort of biblically driven public policy in the crude sense; indeed, care must be taken not to put religion in service to a political ideology. Schall explains, "revelation … does not directly teach us about tax policy.... But it does indicate the immense importance of each human being" and gives us some sense of the meaning of the world (p. 76). This does not make political philosophy unimportant; it has its own extremely important (but not completely independent) sphere, and is in need of greater attention. In particular, those with a religious orientation must pay more attention to political philosophy--and, ideally, those already engaged in political philosophy must become more open to revelation--since, "indirectly, revelation has the effect of confirming or strengthening philosophy and political philosophy by providing answers that, when sorted out, make philosophy to be more philosophic and politics to be more 'politic'" (p. 179).

In his reflections Schall draws not only upon key Catholic Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, and John Paul II, but on a great variety of other classic and modern sources including Plato and Aristotle and, a Schall trademark, the Peanuts comic strip. Indeed, the book's bibliography could be adopted as a wonderful life reading list. However, Schall identifies his most important sources as Voegelin and Leo Strauss, and it is Strauss's presence which is most heavily felt. This is somewhat problematic in a book on "Roman Catholic political philosophy," not simply because Strauss does not speak from a Catholic or Christian tradition, but because some of Strauss's writings suggest belief in a sharp divide between reason and revelation as well as incompatibility between philosophy and religion. One could argue that Strauss would deny that there could be such a thing as Roman Catholic political philosophy--either it would not really be Roman Catholic, or (more likely) would not really be philosophy.

This is not to say that Schall should not draw upon Strauss. Schall makes excellent use of Strauss; in fact, one of this book's greatest strengths is its effective synthesis of elements of Strauss with elements of Catholic and related thought. It would be helpful, however, if Fr. Schall acknowledged (beyond a passing reference) the tensions which appear to exist among his sources, and engaged those tensions more directly.

Nonetheless, Schall's message is an important one. Once upon a time, much of what he says would have been taken for granted--although it may not have been expressed so precisely or eloquently. Today, he is a much-needed corrective to a de-sanctified world and its fragmented pursuit of knowledge.

Purchasing through these links helps support H-Net
Citation: William F. Byrne. "Review of James V. Schall, Roman Catholic Political Philosophy," H-Catholic, H-Net Reviews, July, 2007. URL:

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cities on the Earth X: Caracas, Singapore City, Tel Aviv, Warsaw, Washington D.C.

Caracas, Venezuela

Singapore City, Singapore

Tel Aviv / Israel

Warsaw, Poland

Washington D.C., USA

Bogota, Columbia
Brussels, Belgium
Budapest, Hungary
Mumbai, India
Nairobi, Kenya

Dakar, Senegal
Denver, USA
Edinburgh, Scotland
Hong Kong, China
Jakarta, Indonesia

Karachi, Pakistan
Los Angeles, USA
Melbourne, Australia
Moscow, Russia
Yerevan, Armenia

Beirut, Lebanon
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Prag, Czech Republic
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Stockholm, Sweden

Miami, USA
Quebec, Canada
Rome, Italy
Sofia, Bulgaria
Ulaanbaataar, Mongolia

Friday, June 06, 2008

Religion and Economic Development

Rachel M. McCleary, Stanford & Harvard University
Policy Review, April-May 2008

Reading the historian Arnold Toynbee’s lectures on the British Industrial Revolution, it is quickly apparent that conditions in England prior to 1760 were in many respects similar to those in developing countries today: Poor infrastructure and communication, lack of technological innovation, no division of labor, a focus on local commerce, and a weak banking system.1 Surprisingly, the modern study of religion and economics begins with Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), an examination of conditions leading to the Industrial Revolution. In his book, Smith applies his innovative laissez-faire philosophy to several aspects of religion. However, Smith’s fundamental contribution to the modern study of religion was that religious beliefs and activities are rational choices. As in commercial activity, people respond to religious costs and benefits in a predictable, observable manner. People choose a religion and the degree to which they participate and believe (if at all).

Smith’s contribution to the study of religion is not simply theoretical. He held substantive views, for example, on the relationship between organized religion and the state. Smith argued strongly for a disassociation between church and state. Such a separation, he said, allows for competition, thereby creating a plurality of religious faiths in society.2 By showing no preference for one religion over others, but rather permitting any and all religions to be practiced, the lack of state intervention (short of violence, coercion, and repression) creates an open market in which religious groups engage in rational discussion about religious beliefs. This setting creates an atmosphere of “good temper and moderation.” Where there is a state monopoly on religion or an oligopoly among religions, one will find zealousness and the imposition of ideas on the public. Where there is an open market for religion and freedom of speech, one will find moderation and reason.

A contemporary of Smith (though they were not acquainted) and a public intellectual during the British Industrial Revolution, John Wesley had much to say about the relationship between religion and economic development, though his perspective differed radically from Smith’s. Wesley (1703–1791), a theologian and the founder of Methodism and the Holiness Movement, championed the two-way causation between religion and economic growth, preaching in 1744, “Gain all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” Later, in his famous sermon of 1760, “The Use of Money,” Wesley expounded upon these three points, emphasizing hard work, self-reliance, and mutual aid. Finally, just two years before his death (he lived to be 88), Wesley berated his congregants from the pulpit for their comfortable lifestyle and urged them to give away their fortunes. In the 45 years between these two sermons, Wesley’s followers, by working hard and saving, had raised themselves up into the comfortable middle class. Wesley understood very well the direct causal relationship between religious beliefs and productivity. He also understood well that wealth accumulation could weaken religiosity both in terms of beliefs and participation. Wesley concluded that economic growth was detrimental to religion. Is it? And, if so, must it be?

The two-way causation

Let us look at the two-way causation and, thereby, the relationship between religion and development. First, how does a nation’s economic and political development affect its level of religiosity? When we look at the effects of economic development on religion, we find that overall development — represented by per capita Gross Domestic Product (gdp) — tends to reduce religiosity.3 The empirical evidence supports, to a degree, the secularization thesis which holds that with increased income, people tend to become less religious (as measured by religious attendance and religious beliefs). Economic development causes religion to play a lesser role in the political process and in policymaking, in the legal process, as well as in social arrangements (marriages, friendships, colleagues). There are four primary indicators of the influence of economic development on religion.

Economic development implies a rising opportunity cost of participating in religious services and prayer.

Education. The more educated a person is, the more likely he is to turn to science for explanations of natural phenomena, with religion intended to explain supernatural phenomena and psychological phenomena for which there is no rational explanation. According to this view, the higher the levels of educational attainment, the less religious people will be (negative effect). On the other hand, an increase in education will also spur participation in religious activities, because educated people tend to appreciate social networks and other forms of social capital. Education increases the returns from networks and networking. On this view, religion is just another type of social capital (positive effect). Thus, we cannot conclude that richer societies are less religious because people are better educated.

Value of time (measured by effects on per capita GDP). Economic reasoning tells us that anything that raises the cost of religious activities would — ceteris paribus — reduce these activities. We know that economic development and participation in the workforce raise the value of a person’s time as measured by the value of market wages. Thus, economic development implies a rising opportunity cost of participating in time-intensive activities, such as religious services and prayer. Hence, people will participate less in religious activities because their time is now more valuable to them. So, as a country’s per capita gdp increases, we expect to see a decrease in participation in formal religious activities. Older people and young people — in other words, those persons with a low value of time — will tend to participate more in religious activities.

Life expectancy. People are living longer all over the globe, not just in industrialized countries. Longevity has been rising almost everywhere in the world. Since 1950, it has climbed by larger absolute and percentage amounts in poor countries. With people living longer, participation in certain religions will be low and then rise as the population ages.

Urbanization. Urbanization is another aspect of economic growth that is said to have a substantial negative effect on religious participation. Why? Because in urban areas religious activities compete with others, such as the symphony, theatre, museums, and volunteer activities. Thus, religion takes up your leisure time and competes with other leisure activities, not just work.

We know empirically by doing cross-country analysis that per capita gdp has a significantly negative effect on religion, both in terms of beliefs and participation. This tendency is gradual as countries grow richer. Furthermore, a steady pattern of secularization only applies to a few countries, such as Britain, France, and Germany. Although religiosity declines overall with economic development, the nature of the interaction varies with the dimension of development. For example, increased education has very different effects on religious participation and religiosity from rises in life expectancy or urbanization.

Second, how do religion and religiosity influence economic performance and the nature of political, economic, and cultural institutions? We find that, for a given level of religious participation, increases in core religious beliefs — notably belief in hell, heaven, and an afterlife — tend to increase economic growth. Our interpretation, reminiscent of Max Weber’s famous thesis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, is that religious beliefs raise productivity by fostering individual traits such as honesty, work ethic, and thrift. In contrast, for given religious beliefs, increases in church attendance tend to reduce economic growth. We think that this negative effect reflects the time and resources used by the religion sector as well as adverse effects from organized religion on economic regulation — for example, restrictions on markets for credit and insurance. To put it another way, the main growth effect that we find is a positive response to an increase in believing relative to belonging (attending). Striking patterns of relatively high belief appear in the Scandinavian countries, Britain, and Japan. Although these countries are not generally viewed as religious, the belief levels are high when compared to the low levels of attendance at formal religious services. Countries with low levels of belief relative to religious participation are Latin American nations and India. We also have some evidence that the stick represented by the fear of damnation is more potent for growth than the carrot from the prospect of salvation.

Now let’s look at how religion influences the four primary indicators of economic development.

Education. We find that religious beliefs are compatible with increased education and knowledge. Religion is attractive to people with higher levels of educational attainment because religious beliefs can be neither proved nor disproved. Educated people engage in speculative reasoning and are better able to think abstractly. Therefore, religion can offer something to them.

Religious beliefs matter for economic outcomes. They reinforce character traits such as hard work, honesty, thrift, and the value of time. Otherworldly compensators — such as belief in heaven, hell, the afterlife — can raise productivity by motivating people to work harder in this life. The Calvinist view of salvation through grace posits that since you cannot know whether or not you are saved, you work conscientiously your whole life (a life of good works). Religious rewards — such as absolution of sin, earning salvific merit by giving to charity — also motivate people to work hard and cultivate virtuous behavior.

Full-text available, click here.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

African Development Review (4/2008)

African Development Review

April/Avril 2008 - Vol. 20 Issue 1 Page 1-162

Introduction: Globalization–Poverty Channels and Case Studies from Sub-Saharan Africa

Machiko Nissanke and Erik Thorbecke

pages 1–19



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Gains from Trade: Implications for Labour Market Adjustment and Poverty Reduction in Africa

Augustin Kwasi Fosu and Andrew Mold

pages 20–48



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The Effect of the Liberalization of Investment Policies on Employment and Investment of Multinational Corporations in Africa

Elizabeth Asiedu and Kwabena Gyimah-Brempong

pages 49–66



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Reza C. Daniels

pages 67–93



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Abena D. Oduro and Isaac Osei-Akoto

pages 94–114



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Distributional Impact of Globalization-induced Migration: Evidence from a Nigerian Village

Steve Onyeiwu, Raluca Iorgulescu Polimeni and John M. Polimeni

pages 115–134



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Francis Menjo Baye

pages 135–162



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The Prospects for Democracy in China

Long Time Coming: The Prospects for Democracy in China
John L. Thornton, Foreign Affairs , January/February 2008

Summary: Is China democratizing? The country's leaders do not think of democracy as people in the West generally do, but they are increasingly backing local elections, judicial independence, and oversight of Chinese Communist Party officials. How far China's liberalization will ultimately go and what Chinese politics will look like when it stops are open questions.

JOHN L. THORNTON is a Professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management and its School of Public Policy and Management, in Beijing, and Director of the university's Global Leadership Program. He is also Chair of the Board of the Brookings Institution.

China's leaders have held out the promise of some form of democracy to the people of China for nearly a century. After China's last dynasty, the Qing, collapsed in 1911, Sun Yat-sen suggested a three-year period of temporary military rule, followed by a six-year phase of "political tutelage," to guide the country's transition into a full constitutional republic. In 1940, Mao Zedong offered followers something he called "new democracy," in which leadership by the Communist Party would ensure the "democratic dictatorship" of the revolutionary groups over class enemies. And Deng Xiaoping, leading the country out of the anarchy of the Cultural Revolution, declared that democracy was a "major condition for emancipating the mind."

When they used the term "democracy," Sun, Mao, and Deng each had something quite different in mind. Sun's definition -- which envisioned a constitutional government with universal suffrage, free elections, and separation of powers -- came closest to a definition recognizable in the West. Through their deeds, Mao and Deng showed that despite their words, such concepts held little importance for them. Still, the three agreed that democracy was not an end in itself but rather a mechanism for achieving China's real purpose of becoming a country that could no longer be bullied by outside powers.

Democracy ultimately foundered under all three leaders. When Sun died, in 1925, warlordism and disunity still engulfed many parts of China. In his time, Mao showed less interest in democracy than in class struggle, mass movements, continuous revolution, and keeping his opponents off balance. And Deng demonstrated on a number of occasions -- most dramatically in suppressing the Tiananmen protests of 1989 -- that he would not let popular democratic movements overtake party rule or upset his plan for national development.

Today, of course, China is not a democracy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a monopoly on political power, and the country lacks freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, and other fundamental attributes of a pluralistic liberal system. Many inside and outside China remain skeptical about the prospects for political reform. Yet much is happening -- in the government, in the CCP, in the economy, and in society at large -- that could change how Chinese think about democracy and shape China's political future.

Both in public and in private, China's leaders are once again talking about democracy, this time with increasing frequency and detail. (This article is based on conversations held over the past 14 months with a broad range of Chinese, including members of the CCP's Central Committee -- the group of China's top 370 leaders -- senior government officials, scholars, judges, lawyers, journalists, and leaders of nongovernmental organizations.) President Hu Jintao has called democracy "the common pursuit of mankind." During his 2006 visit to the United States, Hu went out of his way to broach the subject at each stop. And Premier Wen Jiabao, in his address to the 2007 National People's Congress, devoted to democracy and the rule of law more than twice the attention he had in any previous such speech. "Developing democracy and improving the legal system," Wen declared, "are basic requirements of the socialist system."

As with earlier leaders, what the present generation has in mind differs from the definition used in the West. Top officials stress that the CCP's leadership must be preserved. Although they see a role for elections, particularly at the local level, they assert that a "deliberative" form of politics that allows individual citizens and groups to add their views to the decision-making process is more appropriate for China than open, multiparty competition for national power. They often mention meritocracy, including the use of examinations to test candidates' competence for office, reflecting an age-old Chinese belief that the government should be made up of the country's most talented. Chinese leaders do not welcome the latitude of freedom of speech, press, or assembly taken for granted in the West. They say they support the orderly expansion of these rights but focus more on the group and social harmony -- what they consider the common good.

Below the top tier of leaders (who usually speak from a common script), Chinese officials differ on whether "guided democracy" is where China's current political evolution will end or is a way station en route to a more standard liberal democratic model. East Asia provides examples of several possibilities: the decades-long domination of politics by the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, the prosperity with limited press freedom of Singapore, and the freewheeling multiparty system of South Korea. China might follow one of these paths, some speculate, or blaze its own.

In a meeting in late 2006 with a delegation from the Brookings Institution (of which I was a member), Premier Wen was asked what he and other Chinese leaders meant by the word "democracy," what form democracy was likely to take in China, and over what time frame. "When we talk about democracy," Wen replied, "we usually refer to three key components: elections, judicial independence, and supervision based on checks and balances." Regarding the first, he could foresee direct and indirect elections expanding gradually from villages to towns, counties, and even provinces. He did not mention developments beyond this, however. As for China's judicial system, which is riddled with corruption, Wen stressed the need for reform to assure the judiciary's "dignity, justice, and independence." And he explained that "supervision" -- a Chinese term for ensuring effective oversight -- was necessary to restrain abuses of official power. He called for checks and balances within the CCP and for greater official accountability to the public. The media and China's nearly 200 million Internet users should also participate "as appropriate" in the supervision of the government's work, he observed. Wen's bottom line: "We have to move toward democracy. We have many problems, but we know the direction in which we are going."


Given the gap between the democratic aspirations professed by leaders such as Hu and Wen and the skepticism that their words elicit in the West, a better understanding is needed of where exactly the process of democratization stands in China today. Chinese citizens do not have the right to choose their national leaders, but for more than a decade, peasants across the country have held ballots to elect village chiefs. What is happening in the vast space between the farm and Zhongnanhai, the CCP's leadership compound in Beijing? Some answers can be gleaned by examining the three pillars of Wen's definition: elections, judicial independence, and supervision.

The Chinese constitution calls for a combination of direct and indirect polls to choose government leaders. In practice, competitive popular elections occur widely only in the country's 700,000 villages. With over 700 million farmers living in these villages, this is not an insignificant phenomenon, but the details tell a complex and at times contradictory story.

The original impulse behind village elections, which began in the early 1980s, was to promote competent local leaders who would grow the rural economy and implement national priorities such as the one-child policy. With the abandonment of collectivization at the end of the Cultural Revolution, a power vacuum emerged in the countryside. By most accounts, at first elections enjoyed the central government's active support and were generally conducted fairly. But in the early 1990s, authorities were reportedly taken aback by figures showing that only 40 percent of elected village chiefs were CCP members. Beijing eventually instructed local officials to ensure that the "leading role" of the Communist Party was maintained. Today, the majority of village chiefs are again party members, although the size of that majority can vary widely by region. Over 90 percent of the village heads in the provinces of Guangdong, Hubei, and Shandong belong to the party, but the figure drops to 60-70 percent in Fujian and Zhejiang. And even these figures overstate the actual percentage of village chiefs who were elected as party members: when nonparty candidates are elected, the CCP nearly always recruits them so as to ensure that it remains in charge while giving farmers the leaders they want.


Full-text available, click here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The United States in Comparative Perspective

The United States in Comparative Perspective: Measures of Social and Economic Well-Being
Peter Dreier, Occidental College, LA
Contexts Magazine, Summer 2007
Most Americans are unaware how the United States compares to other affluent nations on various measures of economic and social well-being. This makes it difficult for them to consider whether another America, if not another world, is possible, because they have no basis of comparison other than anecdotes, stereotypes and an often misguided view that the U.S. is “number one” in terms of most indicators of the good life. At the same time, there is a growing unease among many Americans that their economic security and well-being are deteriorating -- but without a clear understanding of whether these trends are reversible, or whether there are lessons to be learned from other countries that may do things differently and, in some cases, better. So how does the United States compare?
The U.S. is the third most prosperous country among affluent nations, following Norway and Japan, countries once far behind (per capita income using market exchange rates, 1960-2004, 2004 dollars)
The U.S. ranks second, just behind Switzerland, in the concentration of wealth owned by the richest 10 percent of the population. In the U.S., the top 10 percent own 69.8 percent of the nation’s private wealth...
The U.S. has the widest income gap. This is due to the fact that, in other countries, the poor are better off and the rich are not as rich as their U.S. counterparts. In many affluent countries, the poor have higher real incomes -- purchasing power -- than their counterparts in the U.S. In the U.S., the income of households at the 10th percentile is 39 percent of the country’s median household income. In Denmark, the income of households at the 10th percentile is 42 percent of median household income in the United States. In Norway, the income of households at the 10th percentage is 47 percent of median household income in the United States. At the other end of the spectrum, in the U.S., the income of households at the 90th percentile is 210 percent of the country’s median income. In Denmark, the income of households at the 90th percentile is only 115 percent of median income in the United States. Only in Luxembourg are the households at the 90th percentile better off, in terms of purchasing power, than their U.S. counterparts. But the income gap in Luxembourg is much narrower because the poor in that country are much better off than the poor in the U.S.
Tables and the full-text are available at:

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cities on the Earth IX: Baku, Damascus, New York, Oslo, Riga

Baku / Azerbaijan

Damascus / Syria

New York, USA

Oslo, Norway

Riga / Latvia

Coming Next

Caracas, Venezuela
Singapore City, Singapore
Tel Aviv, Israel
Warsaw, Poland
Washington D.C., USA
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