Then a funny thing happened -- China's growth model started to show its flaws, and they're pretty serious. It turns out that state-led investment is not always the most productive way of boosting economic growth. Corruption and environmental degradation are pretty serious issues. Over the past few months, the fifth generation of leadership has taken steps to rein in out-of-control spending and borrowing. This has triggered its own narrative that China will now follow the path of Japan into fading challenger to U.S. hegemony.
So, China is rising because of its economic model, or China is flailing because of its economic model? Here's an alternative way of thinking about it -- what if China's new leadership is honestly trying to reform its model? Based on statements to date, it might be that China's leaders are willing to take a short-term hit in lost growth to retool the economy more toward domestic consumption. This would mean slower but more sustainable growth in the future. The odds of such reforms being successful are unclear -- President Xi Jinping is a fan of economic liberalization but quite opposed to any kind of political liberalization, and one wonders how the latter will constrain the former -- but China's development path to date has defied prediction so far. It would not be surprising if that continued.
That's simply the most obvious example of a simple narrative trying to following examples where life does not exactly fit what people are saying about life. There are others:
The easiest prediction to make as a foreign affairs pundit is that Israeli-Palestinian talks will crash and burn. Maybe, just maybe, however, this is the one thing that Secretary of State John Kerry can accomplish in a world where American foreign policy is run by the White House.
The Obama administration's belated decision to arm the Syrian rebels followed laments about how Assad's forces were winning. Except that every time one side in this conflict seems to have the upper hand, the other side finds a way to rebound.
Over the past five years, the easiest pundit trick in the book is to claim that global governance has failed: see, in this calendar year alone, Mark Leonard, Mohamed El-Erian, Martin Indyk and Robert Kagan and, most recently, Clive Crook. The truth is actually far more complicated: in a lot of crucial areas, global economic governance has muddled through surprisingly well.
My point here isn't to proclaim An End to Theory -- indeed, that would be just another All Powerful Narrative that wouldn't explain much. As Slate's Ben Kenigsberg has pointed out, even in this season of box-office duds, some movie formulas still have some juice left. Lynch is correct to point out the power of political science models -- but I'm equally correct to point out their limitations.