This blog also available as a podcast: https://anchor.fm/gunthrek/embed/episodes/Authoritarianism-Never-Works-in-the-Long-Run-e1bfotc
One of the great battles of the last century has been the fight between societies espousing individual liberty and those with strict authoritarian governments. Of the many attempts since the dawn of the twentieth century to create permanently successful socialist or communist governments, only one has seen any real level of success: China. Of course, that country has only been in a real position of power for a few decades, and it remains to be seen if they can someone succeed where so many others have failed.
Some people might look back at the Soviet Union, seeing how it became a superpower in the world for many decades and assuming that it would have worked under different circumstances. They see China following a similar path with their own government and the extreme economic success they appear to be enjoying this time around and assume that all it takes is to keep trying and it can be figured out. The problem with this viewpoint is that it completely ignores the one key factor that makes the difference between the Soviet Union and Chine: the United States.
You see, the Soviet Union ultimately failed because the rigidly controlled society ended up being too slow to keep up with the needs of its people. Technology advanced very quickly in areas that held national prestige around the world, but little effort was placed on maintaining the welfare of the people. When you keep people in poverty long enough with no way out, they will eventually start fighting back. It’s in our nature to survive, and when we get backed into a corner and we’re probably going to die anyway, many people will choose to fight.
The thing that ultimately pulled down the Soviet Union, though, was the Western societies led from the front by the United States. There was little or no collaboration or trade between the capitalist societies of Europe and North America because our ideologies prevented us from supporting governments that treated their people in ways that we found abhorrent. A strict rejection of everything that communism stands for prevented the Soviet Union from being able to capitalize on the kind of economic transactions that allows a superpower to maintain its position and continue to grow. It slowly bled to death over several decades as it was cut off from the rest of the world.
China, on the other hand, has enjoyed massive economic success on the world stage, even though it doesn’t really have much differentiating it from what the Soviet Union always was. Sure, they put some token efforts forward to make it appear that they allow their citizens to be “free”, but it’s an obvious fact that the government rules there with an iron fist. All you have to do is look at the various atrocities it continues to commit against its own people to see that. So what makes China different?
The unfortunate reality is that it is the weakening of the United States that is the primary culprit of China’s undeserved success. Our slow shift toward laziness has created a dynamic that allows evil governments to gain continued power in the world while we sit back and shrug our shoulders. Their government has little in the way of innovation, preferring to just steal the work of others through political or economic espionage. It’s much easier to just copy what everyone else is doing than to invest in genuine research.
And of course there’s the slave labor that provides us with the products most of us in the West enjoy today. It’s difficult to ignore being able to buy something for a fraction of the cost of something made in a more liberal country, and every single one of us is guilty of it. When you have a choice of paying $400 for a Chinese battery versus nearly $1000 for a United States battery, it’s nearly impossible to actually make the ethical choice, especially when you don’t have a lot of extra money lying around.
This is the strategy of China, which is no different from the strategy of the Soviet Union. The only reason it works this time around is because the Western nations who supposedly value liberty have lost the will to fight against the oppressive government that has weaseled its way onto the world stage. We’ve been bamboozled into believing that China is a benign nation that just wants to bring its people out of poverty and give them a high standard of living. This is true to be sure, but we’ve allowed ourselves to become blind to the plan behind the plan. The only reason China is as well off as it is now is because it’s been slowly stealing from nations that actually work.
If the United States had to stand all on its own, with no help from the outside world, the spirit of our country would allow us to innovate to the point that we could figure out how to make it work. We have enough oil and coal here to keep the lights on, and our tech sector is unrivaled in the world. It would certainly be a struggle, but our open and honest society promotes coming up with new ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem.
China, on the other hand, would eventually fold as it continues to shut down innovation that might be dangerous to the state. They have just as much in the way of space and natural resources as we do, but it is their view of the world that would prevent them from coming out on top. Real innovation requires an openness that socialism and communism cannot tolerate and still maintain power.
It is that openness that creates success as individual people come up with real world solutions to fundamental problems. America became a superpower because we innovated our way into the technologies required to make it happen. China could only copy what we did first. Left to their own devices, without the opportunity to steal, beg or borrow from countries that actually make new things, the nation would stagnate itself into nothingness in just a few decades, much like the Soviet Union.
If we want to promote a world where human life is respected and freedom is the law of the land, we must start rejecting any government that espouses these authoritarian ideals. It will require some personal sacrifice for everyone, but in the end the world will be a better place because of it. It comes down to us choosing to reject it, and forcing our leadership to do the same. Freedom must be fought for, not just for ourselves, but for the world. We used to believe that, and it’s time to start believing it again.
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