Voice

I thought China was in a bubble before thinking that was cool.

Your humble blogger has been banging on about how China's weaknesses are significant and its strengths have been badly overestimated.  So you would think I'd be happy to read this Edward Wong front-pager for the New York Times:

After the economies of Western nations imploded in late 2008, Chinese leaders began boasting of their nation’s supremacy. Talk spread, not only in China but also across the West, of the advantages of the so-called China model — a vaguely defined combination of authoritarian politics and state-driven capitalism — that was to be the guiding light for this century.

But now, with the recent political upheavals, and a growing number of influential voices demanding a resurrection of freer economic policies, it appears that the sense of triumphalism was, at best, premature, and perhaps seriously misguided. Chinese leaders are grappling with a range of uncertainties, from the once-a-decade leadership transition this year that has been marred by a seismic political scandal, to a slowdown of growth in an economy in which deeply entrenched state-owned enterprises and their political patrons have hobbled market forces and private entrepreneurship.

“Many economic problems that we face are actually political problems in disguise, such as the nature of the economy, the nature of the ownership system in the country and groups of vested interests,” said Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing. “The problems are so serious that they have to be solved now and can no longer be put off.” 

Wong didn't even delve into the state of China's big banks, which Bloomberg's Jonathan Weil examines and concludes that they're facing a world of hurt, or China's civil-military conundrum, which I blogged about earlier in the week. 

So China is doomed, right?  The bubble is gonna pop big time, right? 

Well... maybe.  Whenever I get too bearish on Beijing, two things drag me back from the brink:  1) China's sheer size means it can muddle through and still increase its relative power; and 2) it's possible for China to experience a severe downturn and still recover quite nicely.  As I pointed out a few years ago:

[I look] at China and see the parallels with America's rise to global economic greatness during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From an outsider's vantage point, America looked like a machine that could take immigrants and raw materials and spit out manufactured goods at will. By 1890, the U.S. economy was the largest and most productive in the world. As any student of American history knows, however, these were hardly tranquil times for the United States. Immigration begat ethnic tensions in urban areas. The shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy led to fierce and occasionally violent battles between laborers, farmers, and owners of capital. With an immature financial sector, recession and depressions racked the American economy for decades.

It is not contradictory for China to amass a larger share of wealth and power while still suffering from severe domestic vulnerabilities.

China-watchers tend to be divided between the Bubblers and the Extrapolators.  I'm still more sympathetic to the Bubblers, but if the "China is doomed" meme goes mainstream, I might have to defect. 

Daniel W. Drezner

Your weekly post on higher education

Lots o' stuff to chat about in the higher education universe, but let's keep it to three items in this blog post:

1)  My student-soon-to-be-Doctor-of-Philosophy Patrick Meier and Chris Albon blog "Advice to Future PhDs from 2 Unusual Graduating PhDs."  They make some interesting, provocative, and dare I say counterintuitive arguments. 

I disagree with a couple of their points.  First of all, I ain't buying "the blog is the new CV."  The blog is a calling card, and if you're lucky it's a branding device -- but it's not the same thing as a vita.  Second of all, I think they tend to inductively generalize from their own experiences and capabilities.  Not everyone should take on outside projects or teach at every opportunity, because these are excellent not-writing-your-dissertation activities.  Finally, I think their seven pieces of advice are out of sequence.  Their #3, #6 and #7 are the most important things.  Only once you've answered those questions should you even consider following the rest of their advice.  Still, read the whole thing

2)  I see that Naomi Schaefer Riley got fired from her Chronicle of Higher Education gig for writing a 500 word blog post bashing dissertations-in-progress in African-American studies without reading them.  Riley has written her response on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page.  James Joyner provides an excellent round-up of the affair.  My take is similar to Joyner in that, to be blunt, neither the Chronicle nor Riley come out of this looking very good.  The Chronicle looks like it kowtowed to the pressures of academic political correctness by either not reacting sooner or standing their ground.  Riley, on the other hand, has put herself in the indefensible position of calling for greater academic rigor while whinging that those standards shouldn't apply to her when she blogs for the Chronicle.  So, a pox on everyone's house for this affair. 

3)  The House of Representatives, in its infinite wisdom, has voted to cut funding for political science -- and only political science -- from the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences part of the National Science Foundation.  Representative Jeff Flake's justified cutting the funding using pretty much the same logic as Senator Tom Coburn did in 2009 when he lamely tried to do the same thing [At least he didn't claim that "social scientists brought our world to the brink of chaos"!!--ed.  Thank goodness for small favors.] . 

See John Sides, Erik Voeten, Michael Flynn , Seth Masket and Jay Ulfelder  for some useful responses.  Ulfelder's point is particularly trenchant:

There’s real irony here in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives voting to defund a political-science program at a time when the Department of Defense and “intelligence community” seem to be increasing spending on it. With things like the Minerva Initiative, ICEWS, IARPA’s Open Source Indicators programs, the parts of the government concerned with protecting national security seem to find growing value in social-science research and are spending accordingly. Meanwhile, the party that claims to be the stalwart defender of national security pulls in the opposite direction, like the opposing head on Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmi-pullyu. Nice work, fellas.

Indeed.