A Review of “The Clash of Civilizations”

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In 1996 scholar Samuel P. Huntington wrote a famous book titled “The Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington postulated that after the Cold War:

In this new world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilizations. The rivalry of the superpowers is replaced by the clash of civilizations. In this new world the most pervasive, important, and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities. Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilizations.

I recently had the pleasure of reading through much of Huntington’s book. Huntington posits that the West will be challenged by two civilizations: the “Islamic civilization” and the “Sinic civilization.”

The book was written more than a decade ago (and the Foreign Affairs article which led to the book almost two decades ago). Despite this, the book has withstood extremely well the test of time. Much of Huntington said in 1996 could be duplicated without changing a single word today.

This is especially true with regards to what Huntington writes with regards to the “Islamic civilization”. Huntington wrote his book before the September 11 attacks. His thoughts about the Islamic-Western conflict are thus very prophetic. Many have criticized the “Islamic civilization” in similar ways that Huntington does in his book. However, most of these criticisms were written after 9/11. Huntington wrote that the West would clash with Islam before 9/11. He got it absolutely right.

(One minor critique: the West does work with Islamists. See: Libya, Syria.)

Huntington’s words with regards to the “Sinic civilization” have also withstood the test of time. Indeed, one could make the exact same analysis today as Huntington did more than a decade ago with regards to relations between the West and the “Sinic civilization.” It’s amazing how the East Asian situation today is exactly the same as the East Asian situation circa 1996.

There is one thing which Huntington gets badly wrong, however. And he gets it wrong in two distinct ways. This is Japan.

Firstly, Huntington classifies Japan as a separate civilization from the rest of East Asia. But there is just as much difference between China and South Korea as there is between China and Japan. Why, then, isn’t there a “Korean civilization” according to Huntington’s scheme? Or why not a “Vietnamese civilization” or “Xinjiang civilization”? There really is no good reason for this. The only difference, in fact, between Japan and the other parts of the “Sinic civilization” is that Japan successfully adapted to the West a century before the rest of East Asia the world.

In reality Japan is part of the “Sinic civilization.” See this graphic if you don’t believe me.

Of course, putting Japan and the rest of East Asia in one civilization really screws up Huntington’s analysis.

Secondly, Huntington spends a lot of time describing the economic tensions between Japan and the United States during the early 1990s. He does this because it fits well with his theory of clashing civilizations. Japan and the United States are doomed to clash because they belong to different civilizations.

Unfortunately, this is one part of the book that failed to withstand the test of time. Today relations between Japan and the United States are better than ever. After the collapse of the Japanese bubble, economic conflict (indeed, any conflict at all) between the two “civilizations” has essentially disappeared.

All in all, reading Huntington definitely makes you think. While I’m not particularly a fan of Huntington’s tone, he definitely is an articulate and intelligent writer.

 

 

A Very Interesting Story About Cheap Chinese Goods

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

China has long enjoyed a reputation of producing cheap goods. This has generally been a negative reputation; cheap Chinese goods are accused of stealing the jobs of many otherwise happily employed workers.

Here is one city devastated by cheap Chinese imports:

…the city can ill afford to lose more commerce. For centuries it enjoyed high levels of literacy and a degree of architectural sophistication. But its main industries, cotton and leather, have collapsed, unable to compete with low-cost imports.

“The Chinese are choking small-scale businesses,” laments Sani Yusuf…

The story is by the Economist and can be found here.

There’s an interesting twist to this otherwise typical tale, however: it takes place in Kano, Nigeria.

In other words, cheap Chinese imports are outcompeting Nigeria goods. But Nigeria is a poorer country than China. The typical Nigerian makes less money than the typical Chinese person. Wages are almost certainly lower in Nigeria. It should be Nigerian goods that are cheaper than Chinese goods, not the other way around.

Of course, there are good reasons why Nigerian goods aren’t cheaper than Chinese goods. Productivity is lower in Nigeria. Nigeria doesn’t have a reliable electrical grid, for instance; China does. It’s hard to produce goods cheaply in a factory when the electricity goes out half the time.

Still, this is a fascinating story. We don’t normally think about Chinese goods being cheaper than those from a country poorer than China. And yet it happens.

A final note. Like many African countries, Nigeria is currently entering the second decade of an economic boom (fueled by Chinese demand for commodities). Nigerians live longer and are richer than they ever have before in history. So don’t feel too sorry for Nigeria; it’s doing better than it has for a long, long time.

 

 

A Very Interesting Story About Cheap Chinese Goods

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

China has long enjoyed a reputation of producing cheap goods. This has generally been a negative reputation; cheap Chinese goods are accused of stealing the jobs of many otherwise happily employed workers.

Here is one city devastated by cheap Chinese imports:

…the city can ill afford to lose more commerce. For centuries it enjoyed high levels of literacy and a degree of architectural sophistication. But its main industries, cotton and leather, have collapsed, unable to compete with low-cost imports.

“The Chinese are choking small-scale businesses,” laments Sani Yusuf…

The story is by the Economist and can be found here.

There’s an interesting twist to this otherwise typical tale, however: it takes place in Kano, Nigeria.

In other words, cheap Chinese imports are outcompeting Nigeria goods. But Nigeria is a poorer country than China. The typical Nigerian makes less money than the typical Chinese person. Wages are almost certainly lower in Nigeria. It should be Nigerian goods that are cheaper than Chinese goods, not the other way around.

Of course, there are good reasons why Nigerian goods aren’t cheaper than Chinese goods. Productivity is lower in Nigeria. Nigeria doesn’t have a reliable electrical grid, for instance; China does. It’s hard to produce goods cheaply in a factory when the electricity goes out half the time.

Still, this is a fascinating story. We don’t normally think about Chinese goods being cheaper than those from a country poorer than China. And yet it happens.

A final note. Like many African countries, Nigeria is currently entering the second decade of an economic boom (fueled by Chinese demand for commodities). Nigerians live longer and are richer than they ever have before in history. So don’t feel too sorry for Nigeria; it’s doing better than it has for a long, long time.

 

 

Why Didn’t Britain Ever Give Democracy to Hong Kong?

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Great Britain is a democracy and a country dedicated to helping spread liberty around the world.

At least today. There used to be a time when Great Britain was not a friend to democracy. Indeed, there used to be a very undemocratic thing called the British Empire.

One of the last great British colonies was a city called Hong Kong. Hong Kong stayed under British control for far longer than its other colonies, and Hong Kong was still painted in the pink of the British Empire long after the rest of the empire was gone. Indeed, Hong Kong was still British long after the idea of empire began to be thought of as something very negative.

But there is something very strange about what the British did with Hong Kong, or rather what the British did not do. That is, for the longest time Great Britain never attempted to introduce democracy to Hong Kong. In the end, Hong Kong never did become a democracy under Great Britain. It is not a democracy today.

Now, this would be more easily explained if it happened before the Second World War. Before World War II, of course, it just wasn’t the European way to give democracy to their colonies. But Wikipedia’s page on Democratic development in Hong Kong doesn’t start until the 1980s. This was long after decolonization and the idea that empires were good. Indeed, the first elements of local autonomy in Hong Kong were introduced with the agreement to give back sovereignty of Hong Kong to China.

Why did Great Britain never make Hong Kong a democracy? Why didn’t it do this in the 1960s or 1970s? Why did it continue appointing bland British bureaucrats, who had never lived there and knew nothing about the place, to run Hong Kong? It seems that this failure has something to with the continuing British nostalgia of empire.

In America today people are not proud of America’s colonies. They’d rather forget it. You can talk to an American for a lifetime, and the subject of the Philippines will never come up. Indeed, the last time I actually talked with an American about American colonization escapes me. But talk with a British person long enough, and eventually the subject of the British Empire will always come up. Probably they’ll even speak in a half-nostalgic tone about the days of Britain’s glory. They’d do it again if they could.

Hong Kong’s political system today is a strange thing. People in Hong Kong vote in free and fair elections, they can protest and assembly, but the rules are bent so that ultimately only the Chinese government’s candidate can win. Yet, ironically, Hong Kong today is more democratic than it was during the vast majority (perhaps the totality) of its time under British rule. This is doubly ironic, because Great Britain is a democracy and China is not.

If Great Britain had had the option of ruling Hong Kong as long as it pleased, would Hong Kong today be a full democracy? Maybe not. Probably not.

Would Hong Kong even be as democratic as the not-really democracy it is today?

Probably so. But perhaps not. Even the “perhaps” is quite disturbing.

 

 

Why Didn’t Britain Ever Give Democracy to Hong Kong?

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Great Britain is a democracy and a country dedicated to helping spread liberty around the world.

At least today. There used to be a time when Great Britain was not a friend to democracy. Indeed, there used to be a very undemocratic thing called the British Empire.

One of the last great British colonies was a city called Hong Kong. Hong Kong stayed under British control for far longer than its other colonies, and Hong Kong was still painted in the pink of the British Empire long after the rest of the empire was gone. Indeed, Hong Kong was still British long after the idea of empire began to be thought of as something very negative.

But there is something very strange about what the British did with Hong Kong, or rather what the British did not do. That is, for the longest time Great Britain never attempted to introduce democracy to Hong Kong. In the end, Hong Kong never did become a democracy under Great Britain. It is not a democracy today.

Now, this would be more easily explained if it happened before the Second World War. Before World War II, of course, it just wasn’t the European way to give democracy to their colonies. But Wikipedia’s page on Democratic development in Hong Kong doesn’t start until the 1980s. This was long after decolonization and the idea that empires were good. Indeed, the first elements of local autonomy in Hong Kong were introduced with the agreement to give back sovereignty of Hong Kong to China.

Why did Great Britain never make Hong Kong a democracy? Why didn’t it do this in the 1960s or 1970s? Why did it continue appointing bland British bureaucrats, who had never lived there and knew nothing about the place, to run Hong Kong? It seems that this failure has something to with the continuing British nostalgia of empire.

In America today people are not proud of America’s colonies. They’d rather forget it. You can talk to an American for a lifetime, and the subject of the Philippines will never come up. Indeed, the last time I actually talked with an American about American colonization escapes me. But talk with a British person long enough, and eventually the subject of the British Empire will always come up. Probably they’ll even speak in a half-nostalgic tone about the days of Britain’s glory. They’d do it again if they could.

Hong Kong’s political system today is a strange thing. People in Hong Kong vote in free and fair elections, they can protest and assembly, but the rules are bent so that ultimately only the Chinese government’s candidate can win. Yet, ironically, Hong Kong today is more democratic than it was during the vast majority (perhaps the totality) of its time under British rule. This is doubly ironic, because Great Britain is a democracy and China is not.

If Great Britain had had the option of ruling Hong Kong as long as it pleased, would Hong Kong today be a full democracy? Maybe not. Probably not.

Would Hong Kong even be as democratic as the not-really democracy it is today?

Probably so. But perhaps not. Even the “perhaps” is quite disturbing.

 

 

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