Dambisa Moyo: Is China the new idol for emerging economies? (2)
Ladies and gentlemen, it's no surprise that around the world, people are pointing at what China is doing and saying, "I like that. I want that. I want to be able to do what China's doing. That is the system that seems to work." I'm here to also tell you that there are lots of shifts occurring around what China is doing in the democratic stance. In particular, there is growing doubt among people in the emerging markets, when people now believe that democracy is no longer to be viewed as a prerequisite for economic growth. In fact, countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Chile, not just China, have shown that actually, it's economic growth that is a prerequisite for democracy. In a recent study, the evidence has shown that income is the greatest determinant of how long a democracy can last. The study found that if your per capita income is about 1,000 dollars a year, your democracy will last about eight and a half years. If your per capita income is between 2,000 and 4,000 dollars per year, then you're likely to only get 33 years of democracy. And only if your per capita income is above 6,000 dollars a year will you have democracy come hell or high water.
What this is telling us is that we need to first establish a middle class that is able to hold the government accountable. But perhaps it's also telling us that we should be worried about going around the world and shoehorning democracy, because ultimately we run the risk of ending up with illiberal democracies, democracies that in some sense could be worse than the authoritarian governments that they seek to replace. The evidence around illiberal democracies is quite depressing. Freedom House finds that although 50 percent of the world's countries today are democratic, 70 percent of those countries are illiberal in the sense that people don't have free speech or freedom of movement. But also, we're finding from Freedom House in a study that they published last year that freedom has been on the decline every year for the past seven years. What this says is that for people like me who care about liberal democracy, is we've got to find a more sustainable way of ensuring that we have a sustainable form of democracy in a liberal way, and that has its roots in economics. But it also says that as China moves toward being the largest economy in the world, something that is expected to happen by experts in 2016, that this schism between the political and economic ideologies of the West and the rest is likely to widen.
What might that world look like? Well, the world could look like more state involvement and state capitalism; greater protectionisms of nation-states; but also, as I just pointed out a moment ago, ever-declining political rights and individual rights.
The question that is left for us in general is, what then should the West be doing? And I suggest that they have two options. The West can either compete or cooperate. If the West chooses to compete with the Chinese model, and in effect go around the world and continue to try and push an agenda of private capitalism and liberal democracy, this is basically going against headwinds, but it also would be a natural stance for the West to take because in many ways it is the antithesis of the Chinese model of de-prioritizing democracy, and state capitalism. Now the fact of the matter is, if the West decides to compete, it will create a wider schism. The other option is for the West to cooperate, and by cooperating I mean giving the emerging market countries the flexibility to figure out in an organic way what political and economic system works best for them.
Now I'm sure some of you in the room will be thinking, well, this is like ceding to China, and this is a way, in other words, for the West to take a back seat. But I put it to you that if the United States and European countries want to remain globally influential, they may have to consider cooperating in the short term in order to compete, and by that, they might have to focus more aggressively on economic outcomes to help create the middle class and therefore be able to hold government accountable and create the democracies that we really want.
The fact of the matter is that instead of going around the world and haranguing countries for engaging with China, the West should be encouraging its own businesses to trade and invest in these regions. Instead of criticizing China for bad behavior, the West should be showing how it is that their own system of politics and economics is the superior one. And instead of shoehorning democracy around the world, perhaps the West should take a leaf out of its own history book and remember that it takes a lot of patience in order to develop the models and the systems that you have today. Indeed, the Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer reminds us that it took the United States nearly 170 years from the time that the Constitution was written for there to be equal rights in the United States. Some people would argue that today there is still no equal rights. In fact, there are groups who would argue that they still do not have equal rights under the law.
At its very best, the Western model speaks for itself. It's the model that put food on the table. It's the refrigerators. It put a man on the moon. But the fact of the matter is, although people back in the day used to point at the Western countries and say, "I want that, I like that," there's now a new person in town in the form of a country, China. Today, generations are looking at China and saying, "China can produce infrastructure, China can produce economic growth, and we like that." Because ultimately, the question before us, and the question before seven billion people on the planet is, how can we create prosperity? People who care and will pivot towards the model of politics and economics in a very rational way, to those models that will ensure that they can have better living standards in the shortest period of time.
As you leave here today, I would like to leave you with a very personal message, which is what it is that I believe we should be doing as individuals, and this is really about being open-minded, open-minded to the fact that our hopes and dreams of creating prosperity for people around the world, creating and meaningfully putting a dent in poverty for hundreds of millions of people, has to be based in being open-minded, because these systems have good things and they have bad things.
Just to illustrate, I went into my annals of myself. That's a picture of me. Awww. (Laughter)
I was born and raised in Zambia in 1969. At the time of my birth, blacks were not issued birth certificates, and that law only changed in 1973. This is an affidavit from the Zambian government. I bring this to you to tell you that in 40 years, I've gone from not being recognized as a human being to standing in front of the illustrious TED crowd today to talk to you about my views. In this vein, we can increase economic growth. We can meaningfully put a dent in poverty. But also, it's going to require that we look at our assumptions, assumptions and strictures that we've grown up with around democracy, around private capitalism, around what creates economic growth and reduces poverty and creates freedoms. We might have to tear those books up and start to look at other options and be open-minded to seek the truth. Ultimately, it's about transforming the world and making it a better place. Thank you very much.