The Left’s Authoritarian Vision

by Robert Maynard 

Robert Maynard

The latest example of the left’s authoritarian vision is a recent Wall Street Journal article by the Service Employee International Union’s President Andy Stern. The title of the article is “China’s Superior Economic Model: The free-market fundamentalist economic model is being thrown onto the trash heap of history”. So, what is it that is so superior about the Chinese economic model? According to Stern:

For me, the tension resulting from the chorus of American criticism paled in significance compared to reading the emerging outline of China’s 12th five-year plan. The aims: a 7% annual economic growth rate; a $640 billion investment in renewable energy; construction of six million homes; and expanding next-generation IT, clean-energy vehicles, biotechnology, high-end manufacturing and environmental protection—all while promoting social equity and rural development.

Some Americans are drawing lessons from this. Last month, the China Daily quoted Orville Schell, who directs the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society, as saying: “I think we have come to realize the ability to plan is exactly what is missing in America.” The article also noted that Robert Engle, who won a Nobel Prize in 2003 for economics, has said that while China is making five-year plans for the next generation, Americans are planning only for the next election.”

What makes the Chinese model so appealing is the top down central planning by a political elite. Our less centralized democratic process is seen as inefficient by comparison. Of course he ignores the fact that the Chinese “bubble” appears to be about to pop and part of the problem is the politicization of the economy brought about by the command and control approach of the government. Here is the conclusion of an editorial by the Wall Street Journal entitled “China’s Hard Landing: The state-led growth model is leading the country into trouble” in the same edition that Stern’s piece ran:

There is no easy way to avoid the bust that is coming. The silver lining is that China’s increasingly state-led growth model will be discredited, and a debate will begin on restarting the reforms that stalled in the mid-2000s. A financial sector that allocates credit based on politics rather than price signals led China into this mess.

This is not the first time that an affection for central planning blinded leftist thinkers to reality. In a 1962 article entitled “American Travelers to the Soviet Union 1917-32: The Formation of a Component of New Deal Ideology”, Sociologist Lewis S. Feuer detailed how several hundred of America’s intellectual and social leaders journeyed to the then Soviet Union to view the model of the future that America must emulate. We all know how that turned out. The Soviet Union was not the only totalitarian model of command and control efficiency that the left admired back then. As pointed out in the site “Discover the Networks”:

H. G. Wells, one of the most influential progressives of the 20th century, said in 1932 that progressives must become “liberal fascists” and “enlightened Nazis.” Regarding totalitarianism, he stated: “I have never been able to escape altogether from its relentless logic.” Calling for a “‘Phoenix Rebirth’ of Liberalism” under the umbrella of “Liberal Fascism,” Wells said: “I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis.”

After the fall of the Nazis in WWII and the exposure to the horrors of Communism under Stalin, the calls for emulating overtly totalitarian approaches to central planning gave way to support for a “Third Way” hybrid. One such model cited was Japan in the late 1970s and the 1980s. In fact, some still cite them as a model that supposedly refutes the more individualistic capitalist approach. The Japanese themselves published a study a few years back entitled “The Frontier Within” asserting that it is this individualistic approach, which is necessary to thrive in an Information Age global economy. By the 1990s the European Union was starting to be seen as the model of the Third Way. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Mister Tony Blair were the most prominent advocates of this view. In fact, later a book came out by Flavio Romano of the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia entitled “Clinton and Blair: The Political Economy of the Third Way”. Now that model seems to be failing as well. As pointed out is a Real Clear Markets piece:

The big story of the past few decades is still the genuine advance of capitalism and its enormous economic rewards. This wasn’t all, or even mostly, a bubble. But the attempt to create a Third Way redoubt to retain some elements of socialism led to the creation of a false superstructure of economically unsustainable activity, hidden by the government’s distortion of price signals and magnified by the private activity of financial markets acting on those signals.

 If we don’t want this to happen again, we have to learn the lessons of the collapse of the Third Way, and we have to be willing to follow the process of elimination to its logical conclusion. If socialism has failed, and so has the Third Way between capitalism and socialism, that leaves us with only one system left: capitalism.”

 As much as the left tries deny the fact, it is clear that the 20th Century has seen the absolute failure of the centrally planned economy. We can no longer afford to indulge those who have developed a love affair with centralized economic planning that recent history has shown to be such a catastrophe.