Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Will political violence in China increase?

Here's a sobering thought:

Recall that at higher levels of income societies are safer.  It turns out that all the benign effect of higher income depends upon the society being democratic.  Indeed, it is more striking than that: in the absence of democracy, as a society starts to get rich it becomes more prone to political violence.  Democracies get safer as income rises, whereas autocracies get more dangerous.  If it helps, you can think of this as two lines, an upward-sloping one showing how democracies get safer as income rises, and a downward-sloping one showing how autocracies get less safe.  The level of income at which democracy has no net effect on violence, $2,700 [per capita], is simply the point at which these two lines cross over.  Applying this to the society with the most astounding income change in our times, China has now passed the income threshold - per capital income has soared past $3,000.  So, if China runs to form, year by year its spectacular economic growth is now making it more prone to political violence unless it democratizes.

Paul Collier, Wars, Guns, and Votes (Harper, 2009), p. 21.

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What's the causal relationship here? (Wait, let me just go look at the book...)

Posted by: Matthew Robertson | Aug 4, 2011 9:53:31 PM

This a pretty silly things to post. Instead of examining the actual social and political causes of "political violence" (what is he describing?) the author uses statistical correlation as a prediction of China future? I hope there is at least a handwaving argument for causality interest next paragraph.

Posted by: a reader | Aug 4, 2011 10:03:34 PM

Shoot! predictive text. Meant to say in the next paragraph.

Posted by: a reader | Aug 4, 2011 10:05:01 PM

" the absence of democracy, as a society starts to get rich it becomes more prone to political violence. Democracies get safer as income rises, whereas autocracies get more dangerous."

With respect, this has not been the experience of Singapore!

Posted by: Fu Dawei | Aug 5, 2011 6:47:36 PM

Singapore would strike me as a poor example that is incommensurable with the largely ethnically homogenous and geographically static population that is China. Additionally, to state that Singapore is a pure autocracy is invalid. The socio-economic metrics do not give a proper comparison. A large part of the upper income level holders that bring up the per capita statistics in Singapore are a product of volitive immigration, which gives them a different perspective as a country's population, if they were purportedly oppressed. Which, for the most part, I do not agree they are in the first place.

However, I do agree this article is an excessively simple breakdown, if used to assert what China's future holds. However, from a broad stroke analysis of social dynamics it would seem to hint towards some validity. Where as economic failure in a democracy is the oppressor, in an autocracy the government is the oppressor and therefore the concentration of wealth (i.e. means and resources) in the hands of the oppressed would at some point lead to a tipping point due to the oppressed's increasing ability to source and organize dissent. Or more importantly one's belief in the ability to do so.

The key I see is that in a democracy the belief is that governance is a product of the constituents and therefore the majority mindset is that it is not oppressive per se, however, once the economics fails to a point of dire condition, it must be an inherent corruption in the system. And therefore in need of change. Something that only becomes an impetus once one is unable to 'eat'. In an autocracy, the oppression is a direct product of the non-representative government, and the belief as to such is pervasive but the fear of censure and the lack of hope retain their containing effect. But, once the economic means arise, the fundamental mental state of the oppressed, being a lack of hope and/or capability dissipates and gives way to a belief in the capability to effect change and possibly more time to contemplate the state of one's existence in a given sovereign, as increased income usually leaves more time for individual 'leisure' or the ability to engage in other aspects of life beyond pure unrelenting need for financial means in order to obtain basic life necessities.

All that being said, I think this article should have looked to some of these metrics in the Jasmine Revolutions for very contemporary and appurtenant models. Their forms of government and also their populations' socio-economic statistics could really help to shed some light on the whole theory.

Posted by: HVB | Sep 1, 2011 10:46:02 AM

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