by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The theory that getting rich makes governments relax their authoritarian grip is a common one, but the evidence for it seems spotty. In fact, this is the second time China has served as a test case. Deng Xiaoping’s political revolution opened the country up to more trade, creating the first Chinese economic miracle in the late 1970s. The Tiananmen Square protests that followed a decade later were exactly what Westerners theorized they might see after years of rising prosperity. But the protests were quickly crushed, and no major domestic reformist movements grew from them. …
… Authoritarians don’t give up their power just because they get rich. You’d think America would know that having spent so much time and money conducting foreign policy in the Middle East. Perhaps we have a superstition that tyranny is a matter of willfulness, and riches dissipate resolve, whether in a man, a family, or a nation. But some family fortunes last for centuries. Tyrannies often do the same.
My prediction: The Chinese political elites will remain happy to take the cream off of economic growth, while reciting the dead catechisms of the Little Red Book in meetings of the party for as long as they can. More dispiriting, much of Chinese society will quietly support them. Humans are imitative. Masses of people tend to conform their opinions, over time, to those of elites. Especially when the elites are doing well.