USSR and China, post-1989

June 7, 2011 at 12:25 am (Development)

I’ve been wanting to write about the prospects and possible consequences of democracy in China for a while, but every time I find myself hopelessly ignorant of too many things and end up retreating to the books. I think it is very difficult in general for any reasonable and honest writer to make any particular claim about politics which he would be willing to defend strongly. The more you know, the more uncertainly there seems to be. Hence why I refuse to profess any particular political belief (though I hold many) beyond a few general guiding principles: religion is undesirable, war is almost always bad, and nationalism is a disease.

I think I will concede, then, that I don’t have any particular opinion on Chinese politics that I am willing to defend and debate about. I will, however, offer some specific but illuminating (I hope) bits of statistics in this post that often seem overlooked in contemporary debates. For the period 1945-1991 the PRC is often lumped together with the Soviet Union as the “Second World” by Western observers, and while I think they are a lot less similar than most people realize, it is nonetheless very useful to compare the economic growth of the Soviet states and China from 1989 to today. Here is a link to a graph of GDP per capita (PPP/inflation-adjusted) over time for several post-Soviet states and the People’s Republic of China. Here is another link showing instead GDP per capita growth. Both graphs are from around 1982 to present. The data is from the World Bank. The graphs are reproduced below for convenience (but try out Gapminder nonetheless, if you haven’t):

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