I saved my posts so here they are.
Transparency International measures perceptions of corruption. Perceptions can be anything including negative opinions of what you just described. If Transparency International surveyed you, for example, you could use that incident as a reason for giving the Netherlands a low ranking.
There's a fine line between bad policy and corruption. The difference is that corruption is when politicians and officials make decisions they know are bad because they personally benefit in an illegal way such as kickbacks. Plenty of bad policies have been born from honest yet idiotic leaders who believed they were making the best policy.
Most of the corruption people think about are police shake downs, bribes required to do ordinary things like get a passport or register a business, and kickbacks to decision-makers in government projects. A benefit of democracies is that politicians go to the polls regularly and often, and know their jobs are in peril if there is a scandal. A environment in which people are fearless in criticizing the government through multiple media keeps officials in check, mindful of a scandal that would cost them their jobs. A country where the "chilling effect" has taken hold, and people are afraid to criticize the government, helps corrupt officials sleep easy at night.
If not perceptions, then what is a better way to measure corruptions? Perceptions are very useful because they come from the people who experience corruption. It's like the reputation of a country. Just like the reputation of a company determines its fate among consumers, so does the reputation of a country among anyone who has a choice of who to do business with, such as multinational companies and migrant workers. As a believer in the free market, I believe that masses of people are usually, but not always, correct in judging good and bad governance. If you don't believe most citizens make good decisions most of the time, you might as well not believe in the free market because consumers are too stupid and manipulated to make good decisions. But we know most people most of the time do make good decisions, otherwise there would be no progress in society or the economy.
plawolf, your analysis of the role of elections and media in deterring corruption is misguided. First of all, a private media exists to sell itself, and nothing sells better than a scandal, regardless of who's involved. Most media outlets in the United States are managed by parent companies who are publicly owned, and the shareholders are a diverse group. The shareholders have no consistent politics, only a consistent desire to maximize profit. Thus, if there is a scandal in the Republican Party, Fox News will definitely want to expose it to help ratings.
Second, media today is extremely fragmented and uncontrolled. While traditional media like newspapers, radio, and television remain the biggest players, they are complemented by thousands of blogs and newspapers from around the world. An American who distrusts American media can easily access English-language news from Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Brazil--virtually every country in the world has an English-language online publication. Private media, like any private company, seeks to maximize profit, and it does that by maximizing reader/viewer/listenership. Some media like HuffingtonPost or Rush Limbaugh cater to a specific audience, and do not seek widespread, mainstream appeal. This arrangement is still useful by creating two media outlets aggressively seeking bad news from the opposition.
In China, it is illegal to criticize the government outside CCP-controlled channels like the Global Times. You cannot hold a street protest against a corrupt local official. You cannot run for office against a corrupt official. The corrupt official's fate is determined solely by higher party officials, not the people affected by the official. What is the decision-making process of higher party officials? Nobody knows because it is all secret. Political campaigns are impressive and daunting in how open they are. Voters in the United States expect to know a lot about candidates, from their finances to their education to their religion. All money donated to American political campaigns is open to the public via websites anyone on this forum can access. You can see exactly who (yes, their names) donated to which candidates for the last 12 years, their profession and location, how much they donated, who else that person donated to, and more. Nothing like that exists in China.
In 2008, the American real estate bubble which largely caused by fiscal and monetary polices collapsed, taking the economy down with it. A financial crisis was mitigated by an enormous aid package to several American banks. Anger at this bailout and the economic policies that created the real estate bubble cost at least a hundred Federal level politicians their jobs in 2008. The party controlling the executive branch changed from the Republicans to Democrats. The election of Barack Obama was a landslide caused largely in part to anger at the Republicans' economic policies.
There's been a lot of political science research that shows a correlation between a bad economy and incumbents losing re-election. When the economy is bad, people are angry and usually blame their state and national political leaders, for better or worse. Elected leaders thus have a big interest in keeping the economy and mood of the country up. Americans were willing to forgive Bill Clinton's sex scandals because the economy was so strong during his presidency. But Jimmy Carter, the incorruptible Southern Baptist, was thrown out in 1980 because the economy was terrible and a series of foreign policy disasters were embarrassing the country. In short, American democracy empowers citizens and the media to hold politicians accountable. China's system falls a bit short in its empowerment of citizens to hold party officials accountable.
How can we determine that? We all have different opinions of what the government should do, but we can all agree that a police officer should not shake you down for a bribe. What kind of systematic way is there to measure the merits of government decisions? You could use policy outcomes as a measuring tool, but that's messy because outcomes are affected by many factors, not just government decisions.
Transparency International surveys two groups of people: businesspeople who have lived and work in the country being surveyed for at least one year, and a group of international experts. TI is not cold-calling Americans and asking them what they think about China, they are asking people who live and do business in China what they think. The experts make it their job to stay informed by reading multiple newspapers and thinking critically. I think these two groups of people are valid in getting an accurate picture of corruption. An excellent addition to the survey is to ask government officials, "How prevalent in corruption in your department/among your colleagues?" Or something like that. I remember a survey of British academics asking a similar question about plagiarism and a surprisingly high number said yes, my colleagues have plagiarized. That shows a willingness admit problems among one's own colleague anonymously.
In marketing, "perceptions are reality." That means that people act on perceptions, even if they're not true. Businesspeople and citizens make decisions on whether to work, where to invest, and where to raise their children based on perceptions. So even if China is no more corrupt than the United States or the Netherlands as you imply, TI's Corruption Perceptions Index is still useful in explaining and predicting business and immigration trends.
There is a strong relationship between liberal democracy and the free market. Both involve individuals making informed decisions to maximize their welfare. A free market economist believes people can be trusted to make decisions most of the time. Authoritarian governments never trust the people (by "the people" I mean people outside the government or ruling party) to make those decisions, saying the people are too stupid or easily manipulated. Just as most people don't want the government or ruling party telling them what career to choose, where to live, where to invest, or whether to domestic or foreign-produced goods, they also don't want the government choosing their leaders.
The same arguments for a free market can be applied to liberal democracy. The same arguments against free markets are applied by authoritarian governments. In comes down to a belief in individual reason and an empirically-derived distrust of authoritarian governments who say they know better than the people.
This is the beauty of both the free market millions of individuals acting in their own self-interest as long as those acts are mutually voluntary, benefit everyone else. The collective judgement of those millions of individuals (aka the market) selects efficient, useful companies and punishes inefficient companies. This is very similar to Natural Selection in nature, the process by which useful mutations are preserved and passed on to the next generation while harmful mutations are quickly eliminated by the host dies before reproduction.
The same concept of masses of individual acting in their own self-interest to help the greater good applies to democracy. Even in an information-scarce environment, people usually know good policy from bad policy. People have a sense of fairness that gets triggered when they experience corruption or hear about it second hand. Now your response might be, "How on Earth can the lay person evaluate the economics of two competing infrastructure projects?" But what if it's a choice being building the Pyramids and building an irrigation network? What if it's a choice between electing an 18 year old teenager who's the son of the leader as the next leader, or electing someone more experienced? What if it's a choice between keeping all the food in warehouses while people starve, or distribute it to the starving people?
Your response will be probably that those are farcical examples, yet they are examples of authoritarian decision-making in world history (ancient Egypt and the Pyramids, royal succession, China's Great Leap Forward respectively). Taking a vote on those big decisions after a public debate would probably have yielded different results. The fact that people can discern gross stupidity when they see it deters democracies from having to actually vote on such stupidity. Democracies might have trouble making decisions on the finer points of policy, but they avoid the disastrous, superlative examples of idiotic policies authoritarian governments have demonstrated throughout history.
Twentieth century examples of such idiocy and callousness include the USSR's collectivization campaign, Stalin's Great Purges, the Holocaust, Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, China's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, North Vietnam's collectivization in the 1950s-70s, Pol Pot's Killing Fields, Argentina's Dirty War, Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, China's One Child Policy, and the Algerian generals' cancelling elections that Islamists were favored to win, triggering the Algerian Civil War. Notice how I cite examples of fascist and communist dictatorships to show it's a problem of left and right-wing autocrats. Free and competitive elections deter political leaders from even trying something like the Great Leap Forward. Can you really imagine a democracy in which people go to the polls regularly tolerating years of famine, harassment, torture, and snap arrest because of radical government policies?
Regarding the media, my arguments are 1) private media outlets seek to maximize circulation and thus must be concerned with their reputation, accuracy, and completeness of reporting, and 2) that there is such diversity of media outlets and methods by which information spreads, that no one or two or five companies can control information in a way that manipulates overall public opinion...in a liberal democracy. If Fox News reveals a scandal in the Republican Party but doesn't hammer Democrats enough, then MSNBC or the HuffingtonPost will happily pick up the slack. People may not read more that one paper a day, but they check internet news, they talk to friends and colleagues who've read different sources, they listen to the radio, they visit their favorite blogs, and they watch TV.
So Chinese people are free to gather in Tianammen Square or any public park and denounce the CCP, calling for multi-party elections without the police immediately gathering and pushing them away? Are there any privately-owned newspapers or TV or radio stations that call for multi-party elections?
Can Chinese citizens can form their own political party, advertise and promote it, criticize the local officials and CCP, then stand for competitive elections at regular intervals?
plawolf, just so I understand your points of view correctly, are you saying freedom of expression and association in China is equal to or higher than that of the United States and European countries? If not, how does freedom of individual expression and association in China compare to that of the US or Europe?
Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government except for every other one tried. plawolf's lengthy posts have taken only one affirmative position--that a free market is the most efficient economic system. The rest of his copious writing is attacks on private media and liberal democracies without offering an alternative. It's easy to attack but hard to create and defend one's ideas. I suspect the reason plawolf attacks but fails to offer an alternative is he does not want to reveal himself as an authoritarian apologist.
I invite plawolf to make his exacts thoughts known. Does he want more or less government control of the media in China and the United States? Does he want more or less freedom for individuals to form alternative political parties and vote for them at regular intervals in China? Does he want more or less freedom for individuals to publicly demonstrate against the government in China?
In lieu of his answers, we can intuit what kind of governance system he aspires to. First, plawolf strongly criticizes the susceptibility of a liberal democracy such as the United Sates to corruption, saying that regular elections and open records laws are no check on corruption. In this argument, he implies that authoritarian governments such as China are more resistant than liberal democracies to corruption. Second, plawolf says private media cannot be trusted because they are profit-driven and cater to niche audiences. In this argument, he implies that government-controlled media is more effective than private media at deterring and rooting our corruption. Third, plawolf states that citizens cannot make good voting decisions at the national level, implying that a non-democratic method of choosing leaders is better.
what is the optimal form of national governance? You can't say something is sub-optimal unless you know what optimal is.And this goes to the heart of why democracy is a sub-optimal solution to national governance.
Perceptions are everything you believe. They include all the statistics and data you've researched.Businesses never have and never will base their investment decisions on 'perceptions'. They (or at least the good companies) rely on hard facts and numbers. All those internationals are not outsourcing from the US and EU to China and Vietnam because of corruption or the lack of it, they are moving their business and opening new operations because there is business opportunity and profits on offer.
plawolf lays down a devastating attack to my assertion that authoritarian governments justify their rule by saying the citizens are uninformed or otherwise incapable of making good decisions:
OK, so what justification do authoritarian governments such as China's give for their rule? I guess the monarchs of old played the Divine Right to Rule card, but no one believes that anymore. plawolf, you should agree with me because I am simply restating your entire argument against democracy! plawolf's argument against democracy is that citizens don't have the information they need to make good decisions.All opinion. No facts.
Very few democracies give their citizens a direct choice over specific policy--that's called a referendum. The country with the most referendums is Switzerland, and I think we can all agree Switzerland has a pretty good government. Referendums are rare because democracies are representative republics. Citizens elect people they think will make good decisions most of the time, and leave the details to be worked out by those representatives.In a democracy, individual voters almost never know what the country needs or wants; he does not have good information or the time to evaluate how past decisions have panned out; all too often the individual voter won't care about the vast majority of the policy choices of politicians because he does not think it affects him, and the individual voter does not have any say on government choices.
I cannot comprehend how you can think to suggest that in democracies voters would get a direct choice on things like infrastructure projects or food distribution decisions. Just look at the millions of starving people in America and tell me voters in democracies can decide to open up the food stores to the starving masses.
The whole democratic system of free media, competitive, regular elections, and open records laws create a system with lots of checks and balances. No one party, company, industry, or agency can become too powerful.
The fact that you are comparing the 2003 Iraq War, Great Depression, McCarthyism, Prohibition, and Patriot Act with the examples I gave such as the Holocaust, Great Leap Forward, Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, and the Cultural Revolution shows a desperation to equate the mistakes of democracies with the mistakes of authoritarian governments. How can you possibly compare the Iraq War with the Holocaust!? How can you possible compare Prohibition of alcohol with the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge?Go look at footage of the protestors against the invasion of Iraq and tell me democracies listen to their voters and can avoid disastrously stupid decisions.
Picking extreme examples from the pages of history doesn't make your case for you, on the contrary, it shows your desperation as you cannot pick examples relevant today.
If I could be bothered, I could list all manner of stupid and disastrous and downright barbaric decisions democracies have made throughout history. Does that make my argument any more less valid?
Adolf Hilter and his party never won a majority in the German parliament. He was asked to be chancellor and form a government by President Paul von Hindenberg. Hitler's entire reign was characterized by absolute dictatorship, not democracy. If he had been so confident of winning re-election, why move the country toward dictatorship? Regular competitive elections almost certainly would have prevented Hitler from having the confidence to unleash the Holocaust. Remember, Hitler kept the true purpose of the concentration camps secret from the German population.Just to note, Hitler was voted into office democratically, and his popularity was such that he would have won any election by a landslide till the end. It always amuses me the lengths pro-democracy advocates would go to to try and expunge that part of history. If the case for democracy was so strong, surely it can tolerate the full truth or it's existence?
In the same vein, it's hard to imagine Chairman Mao implementing the Great Leap Forward if he and the CCP had to publicly defend their policies against a vigorous opposition in a country that went to the polls regularly. Could the Gang of Four have continued their assault on Chinese civilization for a decade if they had regular, competitive elections and public debate? I think we all know the answer to these questions.
So if a hundred Chinese people get together in Tienanmen Square or any public square in Beijing tomorrow to accuse Hu Jintao of corruption, they will be left to do as they please? Are you saying the police don't try to move in as fast as possible to break up a protest, and only back off when it gets too much press attention? What happened in 1989 again? What happened after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when hundreds of mothers tried to rally against the shoddy construction of schools that cost them their only child's life?You asked if the Chinese people are able to protest against corrupt officials, and the answer is very obviously 'yes'. Moving the goal posts into 'are the Chinese people free to protest for the over-through of their form of government' does not change the fact that the Chinese people can and do protest about corrupt officials all the time.
I'll lay out some simple, obvious differences between American democracy and Chinese authoritarianism. First, Americans have a choice of politicians when they go to the polls for local, state, and national elections every two years (every six months for local elections). The two main parties fiercely compete and love exposing even the smallest scandal or suspicious arrangement.
Second, Americans have a multitude of private media to get information from in addition to the government. There are thousands of newspapers, TV and radio stations, blogs, Facebook pages, and websites. An American can choose to read China's Global Times, Russia Today, the BBC, or Fox News. They have an incredible choice that most Chinese residents do not have.
Third, money in American politics is open for all to see. Campaign donations are required by law to be open to the public. You can see exactly who is contributed how much money to which politician. The openness of political donations is the key difference between the so-called legalized corruption of democracy and the bribes and kickbacks endemic to most authoritarian governments like China.
Fourth, Americans are free to say almost anything they want in any media they choose, as long as they don't threaten the lives of people. They are allowed to call for an overthrow of the American government, or the arrest of politicians on corruption charges, or accuse the President of treason. Check out Alex Jones on Youtube, a conspiracy theorist to end all conspiracy theorists, who extremely negative views of the American government are an example of what is protected speech in America. Alex Jones has been lambasting the government for fifteen years in Texas via the radio, TV (even public access TV!), Youtube, his website, and mail-order videos. If Alex Jones feels safe hammering the government, other American citizens can feel even safer.
Fifth, Americans are mostly free to demonstrate where ever they want and say what ever they want. The KKK routinely goes to the Texas Capital building and makes a speech attacking blacks, Jews, immigrants, and other minorities. Those views are the opposite of what the government believes yet you have police officers protecting their right to free speech! That kind of right does not exist in contemporary China.
I am surprised that I have to make this list of fairly obvious differences between the American and Chinese governments but plawolf seems determined to convince us that the American and Chinese governments have equal levels of corruption and political freedoms.
I'll conclude by reiterating my invitation to plawolf to describe his ideal form of government. Does he want more or less government control of the media in China and the United States? Does he want more or less freedom for individuals to form alternative political parties and vote for them at regular intervals in China? Does he want more or less freedom for individuals to publicly demonstrate against the government in China? And if not elections to choose national leaders, what method? plawolf has such well-developed critiques of democracy that it makes one wonder if he has an equally well-developed defense of communist authoritarianism.