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The Path to China’s Future

In the long run, market socialism, like central planning, is bound to fail because it is contrary to human nature. For more than 70 years, various forms of socialism were tried in the Soviet Union—with no success. Why should ‘‘market socialism’’ succeed in China? Adding an adjective to socialism—even if it is ‘‘market’’—will not cure the institutional inconsistencies in China. As Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky (1987: 127) wrote in To Choose Freedom,

Those of us who have lived under socialism exhibit the once bitten, twice shy syndrome. Perhaps Western socialism is in fact different and will produce different results. . . . The truth of the matter is that the various ideas that seem fresh and innovative to Western specialists have already been tested in the USSR. And if some of those experiments were eventually repudiated, it was not because socialism has been perverted in the USSR, . . . , but because these innovations proved to be utterly unfit for real life. A cruel experiment half a century long has failed to alter human nature.

The ‘‘fatal conceit’’ inherent in the Soviet vision was to think that government planners could run an economy like a machine and achieve long-run prosperity (Hayek 1988). Although China has recog- nized the error of central planning and has introduced a market system, that system is still half-baked. The question is: Will China move all the way to market liberalism or remain mired in market socialism? Will China jump into the sea of private enterprise or remain suspended in a trancelike state under the illusion that market socialism will solve its problems?

In considering that question, China’s leaders would do well to heed the advice of Nien Cheng—who, like many in China, suffered the grave injustices of the Cultural Revolution. She writes (1990: 334),

China is faced with the choice between socialism and a market system; a mixed system is doomed to failure. The obstacles to China’s development can be removed only if China goes all the way toward a private market system with constitutional protection for both eco- nomic and civil liberties. China’s crisis is a crisis of confidence; the people are in a half-awakened state of mind. The old regime has lost its legitimacy but a new regime has not emerged to fill the vacuum, and there has been no clear commitment to the path of markets and freedom of choice.

To regain consciousness and emerge from the semi-conscious state that now envelops China will take time. But reality requires that China recognize the death of communism. Reality also requires that China embark on thoroughgoing reform or face the prospect of being left behind in the wake of the liberal revolution that is now sweeping the globe.


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