CCL Case Study – Contrast in Governance – China v/s US


As I am going through the CCL material esp the blog about China there are several valid questions being asked about what the future holds for China and would widening economic gap in society necessitate political shift? Or would the desire to bring liberalization in financial sector to sustain current rate of growth demand transparency in government? There are also comparisons drawn to chinese system v/s the west , most notably US that China is trying to surpass. And I couldn’t help but think about the efficiency, democracy in US has helped bring about in areas such as energy and infrastructure spending where china seem to be happy to take the lead.

Last year, as I watched endless hours of debate and ugly campaigns on channels like Fox and MSNBC, one of the messages that political pundits were spreading that caught my imagination was the desire of the American people to have different parties control the legislative and the executive branch of the government. And so midterms have come and gone, but I am still thinking about this theory of Checks and Balances.

The republican and the democratic party represent 2 distinct ideologies in this country. The theory of having different parties in control the legislative and executive arm of the government originates from the argument that having one party in overall control would drag the country into a single ideological extreme. Diversifying philosophies on Capital Hill  is, in and of itself, a checks and balances process to prevent one majority overruling the other – and maintain the ideological center of the country. While this argument may be well formed, one needs to evaluate the price the country really pays to maintain this ideological center in terms of solving some of the pressing economic and social problems.

I believe that our representatives may come from different fiscal and social school of thoughts but their vision for the country is not overall very different. What actually prevents American people from seeing that vision realized for either of the parties is this division of power where compromise is what we-the American people get if any thing at all. Unfortunately compromise often is also the worst solution for a given problem. Five years ago my brother was weighing options to give a boost to his career; attending graduate school was one of the option. There was a liberal argument in his head that was asking him to forgo the wages for 2 years, invest in education and reap rewards through better career prospects 2 years later. The conservative argument in his head was to held on to the job he had and grow in it in 2 years while continue to earn. Halfheartedly he decided to attend the graduate school but then dropped out midway into the program – he did not get the degree that could he put on his resume and reap the rewards but he did end up owing $30K in student loans in the process. A loose example but this is what compromise in DC looks like these days – a watered down, half baked policy that doesn’t bring the benefits its supposed to but usually ends up costing the same to the taxpayers.

The lack of complete mandate through control in executive and legislature prevents governments to take bold actions that may be unpopular in short term but beneficial in the long run. Currently US defense expenditure including Iraq and Afghan wars is bigger than that of rest of thee world combined. There are a lot of programs that senior officials privately admit are redundant. E.g. F35 joint strike fighter program, large fleet of navy warships that were initially built for cold war and are not needed  but to propose defense cuts in US is like a political suicide. However a case could be made that if a government had complete mandate to govern for 4 years and implement policies that it thought best held chance of solving country’s problems – it could at the end of 4 years be held responsible for whatever the outcome may be.

When economic reforms were introduced in 1990s in India, all the parties had opposed it vehemently. There were comparisons to selling the country off to the west into imperialism once again. There were calls for the then Finance Minister  Dr Manmohan Singh to resign. He had offered to resign then when opposition accused him of being corrupt though the PM turned it down.At the time, India’s economists had mixed opinions on the reforms. Fifteen years later — those series of reforms put together and done in a matter of months seem like a masterstroke. Since then China is the only country in the world that has grown faster economically than India. If, in the 1990’s, India had operated like the U.S. does in 2010,  the reforms that happened within a month may have taken say 20 years to actually take effect — and where would that country be then?

Dare I mention China? – the country that had doors to international trade open to her in the 70s and has grown tremendously and consistently since. While the evils of communism are well documented, absolutism in the China has ensured that whatever (good or bad) policies government devise, they are implemented in their entirety – no compromises. The distrust of people in the government that our politicians exploit so ably is the seed for the compromise we see in the democracy. We neglect the basic tenet that democracy allows for people to change their government if they don’t like the results and solutions it provides through its policies. So at the very least what could be asked of the people is to  be patient and give the policies a chance to show result even if they disagree with some of it.

While some may argue that India and China are fundamentally different societies and countries than say US – so perhaps we gotta look at an example somewhere in the West. UK for example – in the last 30 years both the conservatives and liberals have had a run of 12 consecutive years – they have had a chance to implement their policies fully and formally without watering-down the proposals. And the fact that they each had long stay in power speaks to the fact that parties when in complete control of the government is more inclined to pursue practical policies that helps solve country’s problems and not remain bound to ideological corner. Perhaps if we had a system where government had the complete mandate, our representatives would perhaps spend more time governing and solving country’s problems and not be in gridlock and thus campaign mode all the time.


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