Informality and its Discontents
China’s problem with poorly formalized power:
As an old-style Leninist party in a modern world, the CCP is confronted by two major challenges: first, how to maintain “ideological discipline” among its almost 89 million members in a globalized world awash with money, international travel, electronically transmitted information, and heretical ideas. Second, how to cleanse itself of its chronic corruption, a blight that Xi has himself described as “a matter of life and death.” […] The primary reason the Party is so susceptible to graft is that while officials are poorly paid, they do control valuable national assets. So, for example, when property development deals come together involving real estate (all land belongs to the government) and banking (all the major banks also belong to the government), officials vetting the deals find themselves in tempting positions to supplement their paltry salaries by accepting bribes or covertly raking off a percentage of the action. (XS emphasis.)
(The article as a whole is ideologically pedestrian.)
Obscure the degree to which government is a business, and it will find a way to make itself one, around the back (with its executives privatizing sovereign property on an ad hoc, chaotic basis). Exhortations (from Sun Yat-sen, repeated by Mao Zedong) to “Serve the People!” are no substitute for sound administrative engineering, of a kind that rationally aligns incentives, and lucidly recognizes the sole consistent function of government — maximization of sovereign property value. The pretense of altruistic government and the reality of rampant corruption are exactly the same thing, seen from two different sides. The illusion of a public sphere is the root of the social sickness.
The gist of Orville Schell’s analysis is that China has deviated disturbingly from a functional Western model it would be better advised to return to. On the contrary, it is China’s continued (profound) submission to a Western demotist framework of administrative legitimation that makes its problems so intractable. A government devoted to serving the people is radically corrupt by essence. Government properly tends the national estate, as the agent of its owners. Open, clear, and unapologetic admission of that basic principle seems no closer in the East than the West.
ADDED: “Russian corruption is the new Soviet Communism.” … and the old Soviet Communism, and the older universal Jacobinism, and everything spawned from it. Corruption is what demotism is, rather than what it looks like to itself in the mirror.