Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Benevolent dictators?

The current (Oct. 11) issue of the New Yorker has an intriguing profile of Justin Yifu Lin, the chief economist of the World Bank, who is the first Chinese citizen to hold that position (article abstract online; full text for subscribers or through services such as LexisNexis).

The profile is striking for Lin's studied evasion of the issue of political reform, and whether it might be either a) good for Chinese economic development, b) impossible to avoid in the long run, if economic development is to continue, or c) desirable in and of itself.

China's economic success has revived arguments about the possible desirability of authoritarian government for developing countries. These arguments crop up at regular intervals, whenever
an autocratically ruled country enjoys a number of years of steady growth. The notion seems to be particularly appealing to economists, whose own theoretical models sometimes posit a "benevolent dictator."

The problem, of course, is that benevolent dictators are comparatively scarce in the real world, and benevolent dictators who select the right economic advisers to listen to are even more rare. Indeed, perhaps the most valuable point made in the article is Dani Rodrik's comment at the end: "For every Lee Kuan Yew, of Singapore, there are many like Mobutu Sese Seko, of the Congo."

By convenient and coincident timing, China's political shortcomings were brought into sharp relief earlier this week when the Norwegian Nobel Prize committee awarded Liu Xiaobo the Peace Prize. Some useful basic information about Liu and the Chinese government's case against him appeared in the New York Review of Books last year. The Guardian published a nice, thoughtful reaction by Timothy Garton Ash to the Nobel announcement which discusses some of the likely implications of the prize.

No comments:

Post a Comment