What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

State Capitalists Can't Have It Both Ways

June 12, 2012, 12:00 AM
China$

With the European Union mired in crisis and the United States struggling to recover, it's easy to conclude that capitalist democracies' engines of economic growth have run out of steam.  While their elected politicians make myopic decisions to score political points, state capitalist leaders like China's build infrastructure and plan for the long term.  Is it time to admit the superiority of a new kind of economic system?

That's the question many economic and political thinkers have been asking in the years since the global financial crisis began, most notably Ian Bremmer in his book, The End of the Free Market.  And they're asking with good reason - with voters going to the polls as often as every two years, politicians in democracies can't seem to focus on anything except winning reelection.  As a result, they neglect the long-term investments that could help their economies to grow; making those investments would incur costs today for benefits that might appear long after the politicians left office.  Meanwhile, leaders of state capitalist countries from Singapore to Saudi Arabia stay in power for a decade or more, carefully guiding their economies through years of stable growth.

These distinctions are fairly obvious, but there's one that's a bit more subtle.  A state capitalist government has zero accountability; unseating it requires a full-on revolution.  By contrast, the frequent elections in democracies offer plenty of accountability.  The problem in democracies is one of preferences.  The voters themselves are shortsighted, so it's no surprise that their leaders are as well. 

If voters rewarded politicians who planned for the long term, then the economic policies of democracies would look very different.  The genius of democracy is that this shift could occur without a costly change in the political system.  Democracies can have it both ways - accountability and farsighted planning - as long as their voters are focused on the long term.

That's not true of state capitalist systems, which will never be accountable to their citizens except in moments of national upheaval.  Such upheavals can be devastating in the short term; they plague economies with uncertainty, reduce investment, and waste resources on unproductive activities like killing people.  In other words, all that long-term planning could go for naught if your system lacks accountability.  There are exceptions, of course: South Korea, Taiwan, and others have managed to shift from state capitalism to democracy in relatively peaceful ways.  Yet for countries like China - where unrest is already manifest - the risk of upheaval remains. 

In the meantime, the challenge for democracies is to become just as farsighted as the state capitalist systems that have drawn the world's envy.  It will be tough - factors ranging from our own narcissism to the increasing complexity of the global economy are making it harder to plan for the future.  But while we try to bring about this small revolution in our thinking, the state capitalists may be dealing with a much bigger revolution of their own.

 

More from the Big Idea for Tuesday, June 12 2012

Today's Big Idea: Beyond Capitalism?

Since the 2008 economic crisis, everyone's got an opinion about what's wrong with Western capitalism. Proposed solutions range from heavy regulation of Wall Street to returning to a barter economy... Read More…

 

State Capitalists Can't Hav...

Newsletter: Share: