Tuesday, March 04, 2008


My thinking about China and my reading of Alan Greenspan's new book ("The Age of Turbulence") has led me to some conjectures about democracy, capitalism, wealth, and assertive power.

I want to propose the following:

+Countries that are capitalist and wealthy tend very strongly to be democratic and internationally assertive. The converse tends to be true as well.

My reasoning:

+Capitalist countries tend to promote an ethic of individualism, which lends itself to democratic political organization and to a sensitivity to international threats. The second point is, perhaps, the more subtle one: I would argue that the 'rough and tumble' world of capitalism keeps its participants more keen to competitive challenges. This principle applies equally to business challenges and to geopolitical challenges. Essentially, this could be one explanation for the more internationally assertive stance of the UK, the US, and Australia, as opposed to France, Germany, and Japan.

+Wealth affords people the opportunity to reflect upon, and oppose, policies that are perceived to be unfair. Also, of course, wealth affords countries the opportunity to play a globally assertive role.

Some exceptions:

+Singapore and Hong Kong are both wealthy and economically free but lack political freedoms. This imbalance may be sustainable, in part, because of their small size. In short, it may be easier to control the political expression of a small, as opposed to a large, merchant society.

+India is an interesting exception. It is neither wealthy nor particularly economically free. Still, it shows some signs of appreciating the importance of confronting geopolitical challenges from less free neighbors. This may be due to (1) India's large size, which makes it both more able to play a regional/geopolitical role and more conscious of its geopolitical weight and to (2) the very fact of the existence of potentially aggressive, less free neighbors, especially Pakistan and China. We am forced to ask: Why is Japan then different from India? It is both relatively large and in the proximity of a neighbor who presents some degree of geopolitical challenge (read: China). If we argue that Japan's history (and constitution) make it especially inclined to pacifism, we are forced to question the assumption that less economic freedom is the proximate cause of Japan's (and, similarly, of Germany's) relative international quietude.


There is still some more sorting to do on these issues. India is clearly an interesting case for further investigation.