Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I recently (sure, mote than a decade late to the party) got turned-on to TED talks, a series on conferences held in Palm Springs and Edinburgh for intellectuals by intellectuals. TED's tagline is "Ideas Worth Sharing," and that in a nutshell is what it is. Massively brilliant people are urged to give "the speech of their life" in 18 minutes or less. The ideas discussed are the pinnacle of the human condition. This is the kind of conference that sets us apart from the animals. Well, sure, conferences themselves set us apart from the animals, as even higher primates seems not to hold conferences, but a TED conference lacks animals who cheer for death and boo sacrifice.
I downloaded the TED app for the iPad, which gives you access to the thousands of talks accumulated over the few decades TED has been around. Some are funny (there's a great story from John Hodgman and a woman who does a bit on 'wearable communication devices' that is a scream), most are profound, and a few will melt your brain. Besides for the 2 big TED conferences, there are thousands of little TED-x events, which is a local Community doing the same thing, drawing your own local geniuses. East Lansing did. TED-x in June, and Detroit is set for one in October if I remember correctly. I really do, however, want to make one of the Big Ones one of these days.
That sets the backdrop for this bit: a speech by Chinese economist Yasheng Huang entitled Does Democracy Stifle Economic Growth?
I'm not giving anything away if you skip the link and read on before you watch it (though you should stop and watch it now) by saying that of course, his conclusion is that Democracy indeed promotes economic growth; it doesn't stifle it at all. No real shock there. The interesting thing is how he gets there. It's one thing to hear our own economists extoll the virtues of our own democratic and capitalist systems; it's quite another to hear a Chinese economist say that despite the massive growth of the Chinese economy, the fact that there is still authoritarian rule stifles how much they could be growing. His own shining example of a Democratic government promoting a solid economic growth? India.
In the end, Yasheng calls for serious democratic reforms in China, lest all their current growth be for naught in the face of new, emerging democracies with burgeoning economies. It got me thinking: what would a democratic China look like, and what would it mean for us?