Twofish's Blog

September 25, 2007

So what is going to cause the Chinese government to collapse this month????

Filed under: china, economics, history, politics — twofish @ 5:30 am

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/23/opinion/23friedman.html

And the “thing that will cause the Chinese government to collapse this month” is “the environment.”   Last month it was food quality.  Next month, I’ll bet it will be food prices.  Then we go into the Olympics and it could be any number of things.  Racial tension?  Old age pensions?  Collapse mortgages?  Calls for universal suffrage in Hong Kong? No matter, what ever the problem, it will the problem that will collapse the system.

It’s kind of interesting that for the past twenty years, pundits have been coming up each month with the “issue that will kill the Chinese government.”  With the one party authoritarian system, the Chinese government couldn’t possibly solve *this* problem, and then they proceed to do that.  Now eventually the doomsayers will be right, eventually something will cause the Chinese government to collapse.  It may be the sun turning into a red giant or invaders from Alpha Centauri, and there is always the irony that the second you say that maybe this issue isn’t important that this *will be* the issue that kills the Chinese government.  But what I find amusing is that there is very self-reflection, and entertainment of the possibility that maybe the Chinese government *isn’t* quite as brittle as it looks.  People point to the Soviet Union, and say “here is an example of something that the experts said would last forever, and didn’t.”  But maybe people are making the opposite mistake with respect to the Chinese government.

I think the fundamental issue is a conflict between prediction and free will.  If you make a prediction that X is going to happen in five years, then you are really making a statement that nothing people can do will prevent X, and at that point you turn people into automatons.  Once you accept the principle that people can make decisions, and people can change the future, then there are limits to prediction.  The standard retelling of the fall of the Soviet Union makes it sound historically inevitable, but if you look at the history of the Soviet Union or that of the United States, there are lots of places where things could radically change if you put the right (or wrong people) at the right time (or the wrong time).  What if Roosevelt had died while Henry A Wallace was vice-president.  What if Khurschev had survived the 1964 power struggle.  What if Brezhenev had just followed different economic policies?  What would have happen had Elian Gonzales’s mother at the last second decided not to go to Florida?

There is a limit to how much things can be predicted.  What happens next depends on the decisions you make, and the decisions I make.

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