Friday thread: “Where is the source of legitimacy?” I said, “How about competency?”

We haven’t had one of these for a while. I saw this Ted Talk a few weeks ago and thought, whilst not advocating the adoption of the Chinese model of state communism these thoughts of Eric E Li, the idea that legitimacy arises from competence is particularly topical.

This section is worth highlighting:

Westerners always assume that multi-party election with universal suffrage is the only source of political legitimacy. I was asked once, “The Party wasn’t voted in by election. Where is the source of legitimacy?” I said, “How about competency?”

We all know the facts. In 1949, when the Party took power, China was mired in civil wars, dismembered by foreign aggression, average life expectancy at that time, 41 years old.

Today, it’s the second largest economy in the world, an industrial powerhouse, and its people live in increasing prosperity. Pew Research polls Chinese public attitudes, and here are the numbers in recent years.

Satisfaction with the direction of the country: 85 percent. Those who think they’re better off than five years ago: 70 percent. Those who expect the future to be better: a whopping 82 percent.

Financial Times polls global youth attitudes, and these numbers, brand new, just came from last week. Ninety-three percent of China’s Generation Y are optimistic about their country’s future. Now, if this is not legitimacy, I’m not sure what is.

In contrast, most electoral democracies around the world are suffering from dismal performance. I don’t need to elaborate for this audience how dysfunctional it is, from Washington to European capitals.

With a few exceptions, the vast number of developing countries that have adopted electoral regimes are still suffering from poverty and civil strife.

Governments get elected, and then they fall below 50 percent approval in a few months and stay there and get worse until the next election.

Democracy is becoming a perpetual cycle of elect and regret. At this rate, I’m afraid it is democracy, not China’s one-party system, that is in danger of losing legitimacy.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Singapore is the best example of this. A system where the government could be removed, if people were sufficiently annoyed, but they are not, probably owing to having a GNI per capita twice that of their former British overlords.

  • Katyusha

    I’ll lay out my shop stall here. I’m all for technocracy. And the EU and China are two modern examples where it has worked very well in my view. People like to say the EU is a failed structure, but it is an entity that could not have survived if it was run purely as a representative democracy like our nation states are, and has been a force for great social progress and integration across Europe. As for the Chinese, today will mark the inauguration of the latest in a collection of US Presidents and Japanese Prime Ministers that allows the regime to point at the outside world and say to their people, look, this is why democracy is a bad idea. If you let the people elect whoever they want, they’ll elect a moron. I’d far rather the UK was run by the Civil Service than its current ridiculous political system.

    Also, there seems to be some confluence here of “democracy” and “representative democracy”. I don’t believe that the only way to implement democracy is to elect officials. I would rather a mechanism where people can set the general path that they want the government to pursue, and a competent and qualified staff should then execute this.

  • notimetoshine

    This recent narrative from the Chinese and others about the ultimate failure of the western liberal democratic model is troubling. That it is seeping into the west scares me as it should scare everyone.

    The world faced the same narrative on the failure of the ‘decadent’ liberal democracies after economic crisis in the 1930s and look what happened then.

    Also I don’t understand why everyone drinks the Chinese Kool Aid. They are facing a demographic crisis, huge environmental pressures, a middle class demanding more freedoms, the need to maintain an unsustainable level of economic growth and a banking crisis that will make the credit crunch seem like a kid losing their pocket money.

  • articles

    quote from LRB

    .”After decades of double-digit performances, China’s economic growth looks to be reverting to the mean. More worryingly still, productivity growth is slowing. The country will soon begin ageing at a rate scarcely matched in history. By 2050, China will have more than 329 million people aged 65 or older, and this will create huge costs in as yet unbuilt social security systems. China will have to cover these while still stuck at a level of per capita wealth far below that of rich Western countries. If it pursues exorbitant military development too exuberantly instead, the interests of national glory will collide with the fortunes of hundreds of millions of poorly cared-for pensioners.”

    In a democracy the people would have a say.

  • notimetoshine

    People either don’t realise or don’t have the capacity to realise the fundamental structural problems with the socioeconomic climate in China. They seem to not understand the huge problems facing the Chinese, demographics being only one of many.

    The Chinese can only buy their middle classes off for so long, but a shock that wipes out their savings with no social security net could spell doom for all concerned.

  • lizmcneill

    Look at what has happened in Europe and the USA as the post-WWII baby boom reached retirement age.

  • lizmcneill

    Referendums? We did find a way to eff that one up too. Although May, Johnson et al are not “competent and qualified”, which raises the question of how that staff would be appointed.

  • notimetoshine

    Exactly it’s causing problems in nations with social security systems, mature wealthy economies and on a much smaller scale.

    Imagine what happens with China, which on top of everything else has accelerated this demographic problem with their cack handed population control policies, so the Chinese will end up with a mature developed nations demographic profile, with a developing economic one.

  • epg_ie

    And if you disagree, you disappear. That’s how to generate approval.

  • epg_ie

    The replacability of the Singaporean government by election is not proven. Compare to South Africa, where it is clear that even racial minorities can take power in major regions like the Western Cape. If racial minorities tried to take power in the city state, they would be monstered by the not-so-deeply hidden forces mitigating democracy in the Straits.

  • Lex.Butler

    We are witnessing the choice between dictatorship (which is the PRC) and democracy being played out in The Gambia. Funny which option, given a choice, people prefer. Churchill’s view on democracy still runs true:

    ‘No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’

    Warts and all, it’s still superior to any planned state.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Liz, the problem is not with referendums in themselves, but with the political imaturity which an only slight involvement in the decision making process develops in a population. With the kind of structural decentralisation which any serious attempt to empower a people must undertake, many of the requirements of an entirely centralised system become redundant, and regarding necessary central decisions, the Athenian democracy answered this by picking offices for short terms by lot, surely, when one looks at Stormont a system which is likely to be no worse than election?

    I’ve found the Italian Five Star Movement’s manifesto suggests a number of serious proposals to encourage genuine popular governance. Páirtí cúig réalta (P5R) anyone?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    ” I don’t believe that the only way to implement democracy is to elect officials.”

    You and me, both, Katyusha.

  • Oggins

    Any good links for p5r?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    So far its my own “projection”! Despite being as angry as is possible, I’m about as much “party leader” material as poor Jeremy Corbyn at best, and am currently sinking some of my p5r thinking into the Greens, but it would be good if something happened. Years ago I was mixing with the little group of about a dozen people, 1967/8, from whom the PD developed, and some similar fusion of minds would need to occur.

    Just in case you read Italian:

  • mickfealty

    There is clearly a sly agenda goin on here, and all manner of elisions in the talk, but the issue underlying for me is competence as the legitimising agency.

    Frau Bundeskanzlerien comes readily to mind as a good example of this within the democratic framework. And just because we are ‘burdened’ by democracy doesn’t mean we cannot see social mobility as a vital public good.

    Western democracy faces a crisis which in part arises from its loss of the ability to adopt and adapt new approaches to creating new public goods, and again in part (but only in part) because so little premium is put on achievement and quality of outcomes.

  • articles

    What’s the betting China eventually adopts a pure numbers solution to its demographic boom and adopts a “patriotic policy” for those attaining 100 years of age to commit voluntary suicide and take a cash settlement; the Americans will offer a sliding scale starting at 100k for 75 year olds, 75k for 80 year olds..

  • Reader

    mickfealty: There is clearly a sly agenda goin on here, and all manner of elisions in the talk, but the issue underlying for me is competence as the legitimising agency.
    The true test being whether they can make the trains run on time?

  • mickfealty

    Sorting out the NHS without hiding behind a lot of reports that no elected politicians in their right minds wants to actually enforce might be a start?