From James Taranto’s latest “Best of the Web” column:
Worst of Both Worlds
Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard professor who once served as chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, makes an interesting observation in the course of pondering the future of capitalism:
For now at least, the only serious alternatives to today’s dominant Anglo-American paradigm are other forms of capitalism.
Continental European capitalism, which combines generous health and social benefits with reasonable working hours, long vacation periods, early retirement, and relatively equal income distributions, would seem to have everything to recommend it–except sustainability. China’s Darwinian capitalism, with its fierce competition among export firms, a weak social-safety net, and widespread government intervention, is widely touted as the inevitable heir to Western capitalism, if only because of China’s huge size and consistent outsize growth rate. Yet China’s economic system is continually evolving.
Americans on the liberal left–think of a certain former Enron adviser and the worst writer in the English language–often tout both the European and Chinese systems as superior to our own. They don’t seem to admire China for the absence of a social safety net or lax health and safety regulations. Do they somehow think that a European-style social welfare state will magically become sustainable given Chinese-style authoritarianism?
If the experiment is “the more authoritarian the European-style social welfare state is, the more sustainable it is,” well, that’s already been attempted — with rather unfortunate results for all concerned.