Beyond 2008: The Beijing Olympics, Obama's Election, and the Global Financial Crisis
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 1, 2008
It is now December, 2008 is almost over. This year, three historic events occurred. They were the Beijing Olympics, Obama's election as President of the United States, and the global financial crisis, whose outcome remains in question.
The Beijing Olympics took place on mainland China, under the aegis of the world's most powerful authoritarian regime. Obama, a black man, was elected president by a white majority in the United States of America, the most powerful democracy in the world. A financial crisis is sweeping the globe. Whether you are black or white, whether you live under a democratic or authoritarian regime, you are not immune. These three events seem unrelated, but from an historical perspective, they are closely related.
Many observers make specious comparisons between the Great Depression of 1929 and the financial crisis of 2008. The Great Depression of 1929 was triggered by an imbalance in market supply and demand. The financial crisis of 2008 was the result of Wall Street money games. The Great Depression of 1929 led to Keynesian intervention, to tariff barriers, and protectionism. It also gave birth to Nazi and Fascist totalitarianism. The financial crisis of 2008 has led to a resurgence in Keynesian theory. But the world has learned a number of hard lessons, and understands the need to eliminate economic barriers. Take China, for example. Authoritarianism shows no signs of abating. Instead, it seems tailor-made for solving people's economic problems. Contrast these two economic disasters that occurred 80 years apart. Contrast Keynes with Hayek, democracy with authoritarianism, and capitalism with economic justice. We need a deeper and broader understanding of the alternatives. Such an understanding will be a precious historical legacy.
Obama has been elected President of the United States. This is a major breakthrough, perhaps even the salvation of mankind. The U.S. began with black slavery. It has now elected a black president. This shows that democracy is capable of creating a rational and humanistic order, and has withstood the test of time. Obama's election suggests a number of paradoxes. On the one hand Obama's election was a reaction to Bush's unilateralism. It was also a protest against Wall Street financial barons. It was tantamount to a condemnation of democracy and capitalism. On the other hand, Obama's election also shows that democracy is capable of self-examination and includes checks and balances. Once voters wake up, they are capable of casting aside a former national hero such as Bush, and electing a black president. What more can one say about democracy?
The Beijing Olympics was an opportunity for mainland China to showcase 30 years of reform and liberalization. It was a mid-term report on the largest political and economic transformation in the history of mankind. The pyrotechics of the Beijing Olympics represented a strange combination of a planned economy and market economy. The ruins of the Sichuan earthquake revealed an authoritarian regime's efficiency in disaster relief and reconstruction. Beijing's domestic response to the global financial crisis demonstrated the effectiveness of a peculiar combination of Keynes and Marx. The 2008 Beijing Olympics should not be compared to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler's Olympics was a swearing in ceremony for Nazism. Hu Jintao's Beijing Olympics by contrast, represents 30 years of transition. The Beijing Olympics, the Sichuan Earthquake, and the global financial crisis, all have a bearing on the success or failure of mainland China's unique political and economic path. It is the subject of world attention. Keynes may be back, but Marx, particularly Mao's version of Marx, can never come back. After all, democracy is a civilizational trend that transcends Keynes and Marx.
The global financial crisis has touched off a debate between Keynes and Hayek, about whether to expand or shrink the role of government. Reagan and Bush were champions of Hayek. The result was that the world's assets evaporated on our computer screens, right before our eyes. Obama's election reflects a re-examination of capitalism. The Beijing Olympics and the Sichuan Earthquake triggered a debate over mainland China's transformation. It provided new thinking. Having undergone the global financial crisis, a blend of Keynes and Hayek has emerged.
The expansion of democracy and capitalism enabled Wall Street's financial plunder, and the looting of the world's hard-earned money. What was this, if not a return to human rights violations? On the other hand, as long as people remain vigilant, the maintenance of economic justice remains the responsibility of government. We hope democracy can return to protecting the rights and interests of the majority, instead of negating the value of democratic institutions. Obama's election, ought to be the essence democracy. The Beijing Olympics are no proof of the viability of a dictatorship. Rather, they prove that reform and liberalization was correct.
The Great Depression of 1929 gave birth to the Nazi and Soviet political totalitarianism and a planned economy. It made them all the rage, and transformed Marx into a Super-Keynesian. This must not be our fate in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Mainland China's transformation and Obama's election suggest a different outcome from 1929.
2008.12.01 02:52 am
常有人以一九二九年經濟大蕭條與二○○八的金融大海嘯相比，卻屬似是而非。例如，一九二九的經濟風暴是因市場供需失調而觸發，但二○○八的金融海嘯則是源 自華爾街的金錢遊戲；又如，一九二九年的風暴，非但使凱因斯的干涉主義抬頭，且引爆了經濟壁壘與保護主義，更孕育了納粹法西斯的極權主義；然而，二○○八 的金融海嘯，雖然亦使政府角色提升而出現所謂凱因斯理論復辟的現象，但全球共度艱險的認知已取代了經濟壁壘；且以中國為例，亦未見極權主義更趨惡化的跡 象，反而皆以救濟民生為首務。對照這八十年來的兩場經濟災難，對於「凱因斯／海耶克」、「民主／專制」、「資本主義／經濟正義」的思辨，應當可有更細緻且 更昇華的體認，這將是彌足珍貴的歷史遺產。
歐巴馬當選美國總統，可視為全人類總文明的重大突破與救贖。美國以黑奴制度起家，如今卻選出了一個黑人總統；這可以證明，民主制度能實現理性及提升人性的 假說，是禁得起檢證的。歐巴馬的當選呈現了一個矛盾弔詭：一方面，歐巴馬的當選，是對於布希「片面主義」的反彈，亦是對華爾街金融寡頭的抗議，皆不啻是對 民主資本主義的聲討；但另一方面，歐巴馬當選的本身，也顯現了民主體制中具體存在的反省與制衡能力，選民可以一朝醒來唾棄他們曾經視為國家英雄的布希， 「甚至」選出了一個黑人總統，民主還有什麼可以懷疑的？
北京奧運是中國三十年「改革開放」的展示會，也是人類歷史上規模最大的一場政經轉型工程的期中報告。北京奧運在煙火中展現了計畫經濟與市場經濟的奇特結 合，四川大地震則在廢墟中展現了專制體制在恤災重建時的效率，因應金融海嘯的大手筆內需計畫亦展現了「凱因斯／馬克斯」在中國的奇妙組合。然而，不必以二 ○○八的北京奧運與一九三六的柏林奧運相比；希特勒的奧運是納粹的誓師典禮，但如今胡錦濤的北京奧運則是中國三十年轉型的結果。經歷京奧、川震、金融海嘯 等衝擊，中國的這條別樹一幟的政經路線將會有何種表現，非但攸關中國的成敗，亦是世界文明的矚目課題。然而，可以確定的是，即使凱因斯回來了，「馬克 斯」（尤其是「毛化的馬克斯」）卻未必能回來；畢竟，政治的民主仍是超越凱因斯與馬克斯的文明主軸。
金融大海嘯，再度觸動了凱因斯（擴張政府角色）及海耶克（節制政府角色）的辯論。從雷根至布希，皆是海耶克的擁護者，結果幾乎使全世界所有人的資產在電腦 螢幕跳動的數字中嚴重縮水或消失；而歐巴馬當選所反映的對資本主義的反省，以及京奧與川震引發的對中國轉型工程的議論，亦皆提供了一個新思維的產房。想像 中，經歷這次金融大海嘯，應當會有一種「凱因斯／海耶克」的化合思維出現。
民主資本主義的伸展，縱容了華爾街的金融掠奪，劫掠了全世界人用心血賺來的錢財，這豈不是無以復加的反人權行徑？但是，反過來說，當人們警覺，維持經濟正 義仍是政府的責任，也只是希望「民主」的本質回歸至保護多數平民的權益，而不是就此否定了民主體制的價值。歐巴馬的當選，應當是民主的昇華；而京奧並非證 明專制的成功，卻是顯示改革開放才是對的。