America’s movers and shakers can’t seem to stop ogling Chinese authoritarian chic. While few would defend China’s repressive political system, numerous politicians, business executives, and pundits bow before China’s state-directed capitalism, equating authoritarianism with efficiency and ruthlessness with enlightenment.
At the heart of this ogling lies an admiration for Beijing’s ability to undertake large projects far more quickly than America’s democratic gridlock would ever allow. In reality, Chinese central economic planning generates massive inefficiencies and imposes drastic human costs. Below is merely the short list.
As a candidate in the 2008 presidential election, Senator Barack Obama bemoaned the crumbling infrastructure of the United States and noted that China’s state-directed infrastructure spending had produced ports, trains, and airports that were “vastly the superior.” Since then, Westerners have consistently pointed to the rapid construction of China’s high-speed rail system, now the most extensive in the world, as Exhibit A of China’s infrastructure prowess.