<em>Guest Post by Win Monroe</em>: Can Putin and Hu Cope with Economic Recession?


Win Monroe is a research intern at the New America Foundation.

Leaders from both Russia and China had harsh words for American-style capitalism at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.
But, as energy prices collapse and demand for exports fall, the legitimacy of these autocratic state capitalists is also being called into question. The contract these governments signed with their citizens – which promised prosperity in return for loyalty – is showing strain on both sides.
As the crisis unfolds, Russian citizens increasingly object to the Kremlin’s handling of economic policy. Despite the cold weather, this has led to a marked increase of demonstrations and political activism, including a rally in Moscow that resulted in police beatings and 61 arrests.
Meanwhile, the financial crisis has also sent China’s economy reeling due to the sharp decrease in global demand as consumers reign in spending. As factories slow down production, they have already laid off more than 20 million migrant workers who have flooded the cities for jobs or have returned to the countryside. This is likely history’s largest reverse migration and its political consequences have yet to play out.
As the recession deepens, both China and Russia face mounting unrest.
On December 4th Russian police raided a human rights organization in St. Petersburg which had been collecting Soviet records and ten days later the government announced that it was expanding the definition of treason.
China has all together stopped publishing numbers regarding demonstrations and riots. And in the third week of December the Chinese government began to block websites from outside the mainland – including the New York Times – although many have been restored now.
The rapid shifts in global events since this summer raise questions as to whether Russia and China really do offer an alternative development model that can compete with liberal democracy over the long-term.
To examine and debate this question, the New America Foundation will host discussion TOMORROW, Friday, February 6 from 12:30pm – 2:00pm EST with G. John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney, co-authors of “The Myth of the Autocratic Revival: Why Liberal Democracy Will Prevail,” which appears in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Dimitri Simes, president of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest, will offer his thoughts as well.
For those who cannot attend in person, the discussion will stream live on The Washington Note.

–Win Monroe


16 comments on “<em>Guest Post by Win Monroe</em>: Can Putin and Hu Cope with Economic Recession?

  1. JohnH says:

    This constant barrage negative press about certain countries is designed to make sure that the American public knows that the US is threatened. It helps fund defense budgets and prepares the psychological terrain in case a President decides to take the nation to war. Iraq suffered from years of negative press before Bush 43 invaded. Now the list includes Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, none of which represent any particular threat, except to the profits of a few corporate interests, mainly energy companies.
    Now Saddam was not one of the nicer guys around, but it’s not hard to find equally reprehensible regimes that the US supports totally. Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan spring to mind.
    It would be interesting to know how the constant stream of negative press gets coordinated. And whether TWN was called upon to do its “duty.”


  2. ... says:

    dons- indeed! from my pov israel is a much more dangerous nation that seems to need enemies in order to define itself… the constant barrage of news on how dangerous iran is with no mention of the danger israel poses is a real concern for anyone who is paying attention..
    it is almost like the mainstream media has a vested interest in projecting things a certain way!!!! could it be that making war is ‘short term’ beneficial to some select groups, but long term not for the rest of the planet? i know how i answer that question…


  3. DonS says:

    “…”, JohnH, Dan, etc., along the lines of “it is quite interesting how the focus on others problems can be a release from looking at your own and in this articles particular case i would tend to agree with you.. “, I find interesting and disturbing how so much and so many purveyors of “information” and “news” promote the meme of the “very dangerous Iran”, when it’s only one of many “rogue” states (to use the DOS label) and, further, it’s danger is mainly towards Israel, to the extent that the danger is real (a stretch in my view due to Israel’s nuclear capability). I just listened to the Diane Eehm show, and even on that upholder of rational discourse unquestioningly mouths the phrases of this horrible fear of Iran getting nuclear weapons.
    BTW, David Ignatius was on the show and made all sorts of excuses that he wasn’t unfairly cutting off Erdogan, and that he didn’t mean to insult him at Davos. He said the three others on the stage were essentially “ganging up” on Peres, so Peres got all emotional. Yeah what a “gang”; included the Secretary General of the UN


  4. ... says:

    johnh- interesting observation which i would tend to agree with you on.. while things may not be rosy in either china or russia, as you point out the disturbing trends in the usa aren’t anything to be proud of either.. it is quite interesting how the focus on others problems can be a release from looking at your own and in this articles particular case i would tend to agree with you..
    there’s a difference building cultivating stereotypes and actually looking at something for what it is.. i doubt munroe’s intent was the former, but since he didn’t talk about how the usa is fairing with an economic recession, one could be left with the impression of ethnocentrism..


  5. JohnH says:

    Dan Kervick–I disagree. This is really about anti-Russian, anti-Chinese propaganda. As you can see, I really, really dislike the purveyors of propaganda.
    If the piece explained how unrest in Russia and China somehow posed a threat to us, then I would consider it a serious, appropriate subject.
    However, it does nothing to solve problems. Instead, it only exacerate them by publicly depicting our rivals as bad, just like Cheney was fond of doing. Of course, no note is made of America’s massive prison population and world leading incarceration rates. And this doesn’t count America’s targeted assassinations and secret prisons and torture sites abroad.
    Given the economic state of affairs, America is likely to face domestic unrest as well. And that will be accompanied by even more repression and incarceration. But instead, the foreign policy mob will continue to keep the spotlight glaring on China and Russia.
    Sad that TWN stoops to this level.


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    John H, I don’t know why you are so upset. The things Monroe describes are actually happening, and the whole post just introduces the panel in which the issues will be debated.


  7. TonyForesta says:

    Intriguing commentaries brothers. I see the validity in Paul Norheim “middle earth” option.
    Words, and the context of the use of those words, and thier true definitions are critical to this discussion. For example capitalism in the academic sense is entirely different from crony capitalism, or casino capitalism, or bandit capitalism. The first term describes a theoretical model. The other three terms describe the financial system as we know it, and can measure it today in far more accurate and incisive descriptives and definitions of the practical application of socalled ‘capitalism’ in America.
    European governments are in equal if not worse situations than America economically, yet their populations are in much better shape and many more advantages, because European governments provide thier citizens with critical safteynets, HEALTHCARE primarily, but the dole or government assistance programs as well, better education systems, and more stringent privacy laws and protections. All the worlds financials systems and government are facing deppressionlike economic problems, – but European societies, – their citizens, – their people – are much better off, (though certainly suffering) and far more secure and protected (the facing many uncertainties) than Americans, whose government has turned it’s back on, and robbed and pillaged the poor and middle class to feed the superrich, the predator class for eight years.
    China and Russian are rizing out of the ashes of brutal totalitarian dictatorships. While not suffering as well from the “great unwinding” their societies – their people have a brighter future because of China’s manufacturing preeminence, and Russia’s energy resources. No one will escape the pain that is certain to reverberate through the entire world, but nations that provide the better safteynets for thier citizens, and who have value as producers or providers of goods and services will whether this perfect storm, – while America is doomed to a fate of inevitable decline and dimunition on every front because the American government favors the superrich – the predator class above and beyond it’s citizens, and is no longer competitive in many critical markets for goods and services.
    The other critical point is in the ideological design and practical functions of repsective governments. Future governments that provide protections and safetynets for their citizens on one hand, and fiercely regulate or control the wanton criminal abuses of industry on the other will survive and prosper. Governments that fail to provide for their citizens and overtly favor the predator class exclusively, and governments that do not provide competitive products and services, and governments that fail to regulate industries from rank abuses, and criminal conduct and hold those abusere and criminals accountable – are doomed to FAIL.
    Sadly America is moving in all the wrong directions.


  8. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag, your response forces me to try to clarify what I said,
    and I`m not sure if I`m able to do so.
    I would think that neither you nor I are completely comfortable
    with the word “legitimacy” here. It is a floating concept, and
    may cross over to “popular” and back again. Erichwwk even
    claims that those two concepts may be identical (using Hamas
    as an example).
    With regards to domestic elections within a country (examples:
    Bush winning 50/50 in 2000 versus Obama winning a clear
    majority in 2008) it may be clear enough. But what if the
    famous dog that Obama is giving her daughters would give him
    a 10 % increase in the polls? Is that gaining him political
    legitimacy or simply popularity? How to distinguish them?
    This is almost as difficult in a post industrial society as to
    define legitimacy in premodern societies, or in current
    authoritarian societies: some have popular support, others do
    not. If you accept what I called legitimacy on an “international
    level” as a concept, it is even more difficult to define.
    I would guess that we disagree on what “legitimacy” may mean,
    since you seem to identify the people of certain Arab and
    European people with their leaders, as you`ve done in former
    posts related to the invasion of Gaza and the “Arab streets”.
    What I alluded to, was the American hegemony in the post WWII
    world. And to make myself clearer in the context of American
    “hegemony” and “power”, I would prefer to us another word
    than legitimacy (although the concept is related to many of the
    factors mentioned below). I would exchange the word
    “legitimacy” with the word “acceptance”.
    This acceptance has a passive and an active component. Passive
    as a response to America`s military, and to a certain extent also
    its economical power. Active, or affirmative, as a response to
    American culture (blues, jazz, rock, pop, disco, hip hop,
    Hollywood, Broadway, TV series, sitcoms, soap operas, the
    celebrity culture…), and its scientific and technological
    progress, its cars, hamburgers, Coca Cola, TV`s, its Silicon
    Valley and Apple and Google and Amazon, admired and loved
    and hated all over the world, and currently called “soft power”.
    For the Western part of the European continent, in ruins after
    WWII, it was the Marshall plan in combination with what I
    mentioned above that created the affirmative acceptance or
    “legitimacy” of American leadership in the world.
    For the Eastern part of Europe, under the Soviet rule, it was
    American culture and power, but also its promise of individual
    and political freedom. The American dream.
    For Africa, in extreme poverty, waking up to independence after
    decades of European colonialism and oppression, America
    represented the same as for the rest, but perhaps especially the
    illusion of a life of luxury, as well as the trust of a superpower
    without a colonial past, at some occasions even opposing
    European colonial powers.
    Asia is very diverse, but for some parts of Asia, all of these
    things mattered in perhaps a different mix than in other regions
    and continents.
    In the Middle East most of the above mentioned is also precent,
    but mixed up with resentment and ambivalence, given the grip
    of variants of Islam that are highly formed by old feudal,
    agrarian, premodern societies; given former colonial experience,
    and also given the American and Israeli behavior in that region,
    that has been more or less indistinguishable from the former
    European colonialists. For them, Israel and America represent a
    continuation of the behavior of the Europeans in the region.
    Most important: America became a myth for people all over the
    globe in the last part of the 20`th century. America became
    popular, but this also gave America, and its claim of leadership
    or hegemony, a certain “legitimacy”.
    Add to this America`s moral authority (promoting not only
    democracy, but also human rights, women rights, freedom of
    speech, etc. etc.) and you have the foundation of the power, the
    accept and legitimacy that America enjoyed during more than
    half a century.
    That, WigWag, was what I was talking about. Just like Israel for
    big parts of the Western World, America for most parts of the
    planet has been a myth. And given the experience of the last
    years – the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo, the financial collaps,
    torture, overweight Americans on TV, Katrina in New Orleans,
    the shoes thrown at Bush, the failure of the invasions both in
    Afghanistan and Iraq, the imperial overstrech, the astronomical
    debt — all this makes America less attractive, less of an ideal,
    less iconic, more prosaic, more brutal, and overall less powerful.
    And just like we learned about the heroic Israelis building a new
    society in the deserts of the Holy Land with their kibbutzes and
    orange farms, mixed up with stories from the Bible, the sight of
    Israel as a bull killing Arab civilians with phosphor bombs
    collides with the myth.
    The myth is dead. The moral authority of the United States and
    Israel is demolished. And thus much of the international
    legitimacy of America and Israel has actually vanished during a
    surprisingly short span of time.
    To argue that there are uglier and more brutal regimes in the
    world will not improve the reputation of America and Israel. The
    charisma of America`s newly elected president is so strong
    because his country has lost that charisma. In contrast, the
    coming leader of Israel will fit perfectly into the prosaic,
    aggressive and brutal face of Israel today. The myth is over. It`s
    time for reflexion.


  9. Anon says:

    Kudos to Paul Norheim for raising that issue(s) which most
    Americans know essentially nothing about or don’t care. Most
    troubling, they don’t think they need to care.
    Spending most of my adult life in or around the military, living
    in Europe, and some in the Middle East, I frequently sit around
    utterly bewildered but marveling at the incredible
    ego/ethno/cultural centrism the U.S. has drifted in to.
    It didn’t use to be that way. When one reads Chalmers Johnson
    one can’t help but be really concerned.
    Consider: the two most least probable success stories of Asia
    the past 30-40 years Singapore and China. And the two key
    leaders in these stories, Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiaoping,
    turned out to be the ultimate pragmatists, not ideologues. And
    the U.S. today?


  10. JohnH says:

    More schadenfreude, knee-jerk patriotism from those who relish demonizing America’s rivals. Other than bloviating righteous indignation, exactly what do pieces like this buy us? Is Win Monroe really an intern, or a shill for the foreign policy mob’s ‘attack dog’ PR, AKA ‘public diplomacy?’
    Why not save our energy for fixing America’s own problems, which are plentiful? For instance, what are the US’ goals for Afghanistan? And Iraq? And Iran? Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar describes how America’s position just deteriorated this week.
    It’s pretty clear to me that the foreign policy mob has steered America adrift, leaving the country with few good options in Central and South Asia.
    And while we’re at it, why not do a little constructive criticism and question the legitimacy of America’s autocratic allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan?
    Seems to me that there are plenty of constructive projects to work on besides bloviating about something over which the American government has little influence.


  11. erichwwk says:

    Depends on what your definition of “is” is.
    By my definition, legitimacy IS identical with (internal)popularity, ie a government is legitimate to the extent it has the consent of those it governs. To use the term from an outsider perspective, seems to be to be either some normative use of the term- This seems to be the case with which the US views Hamas, eg, thus making it “legitimacy” identical with state recognition or as a synonym for power.
    More to the point is the issue of the Obama administration in terms of legitimacy. It appears to me to be less and less of a “change” administration, as it is a rapid return to the exercise of the stifling power of the Cheney administration, sans the use of covert torture (even here, if folks saw the Amy Goodman piece w/ Scott Horton and Michael Ratner on appointing a special prosecutor to fulfill our UN treaty obligations, the difference may not be all it appears to be.)
    If Obama continues down the road with his Cabinet appointments, appointing staunch conservatives to key Cabinet positions, and where liberals have been appointed, moving responsibilities to cabinets run by conservatives, Obama will quickly lose his legitimacy. To many of us, a Bush lite would be the best of all possible outcomes- what we fear as a Bush heavy, the sort of thing the Judd Gregg appointment represents.
    “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’


  12. WigWag says:

    “China has all together stopped publishing numbers regarding demonstrations and riots. And in the third week of December the Chinese government began to block websites from outside the mainland – including the New York Times – although many have been restored now.”
    China has a serious and growing problem with its Muslim insurgency. Muslims are spread throughout China but are especially numerous in Northern provinces especially Xinjiang and Gansu. While there are several distinct ethnic groups, the Uyghur’s have been the most radicalized and there have been numerous terrorist attacks launced against Han Chinese in Xinjiang. The number of attacks increased markedly in the run-up to the Olympics.
    Europe and the United States have a huge interest in a stable China. The United States and Western Europe have significant negative national savings rates that are financed by the significant positive savings rates of Asian nations, especially China. The country most likely to lead the world out of the current economuc doldrums is China, especially if it increases domestic consumption.
    Turmoil in China could easily lead to disasterous economic consequences around the world.


  13. ... says:

    torture, renditions, tin-pot capitalism (or dictatorship under bush/cheney) with unnecessary wars as well from the same bully = a fall in global legitimacy…


  14. WigWag says:

    “The problem for America is that it suffers a dramatic fall in global legitimacy – and this will not be solved by the simple fact that the American people have elected a new, charismatic president.”
    Has the United States really suffered a dramatic fall in global legitimacy? I certainly agree that it has experienced a dramatic fall in global popularity, but legitimacy and popularity are not the same thing.
    Who views the United States government as less legitimate? The emerging Asian powers like China, India, Korea or Japan? The Arab nations begging the Americans to bomb Iran and isolate Hamas? Canada? Mexico?
    Do Putin and the Russians question American legitimacy? What about the rest of Europe? The former Warsaw Pact members now part of the ruling elite in Europe don’t seem to have problems with American legitimacy. Chancellor Merkel doesn’t, Prime Minister Brown doesn’t. Neither do President Sarkozy or Prime Minister Berlusconi.
    So who exactly views the United States as less legitimate than it used to be?
    I certainly understand that US popularity has taken a hit in the Muslim world and amongst leftists in Europe, but do they even question American legitimacy?


  15. Paul Norheim says:

    As regular readers of this blog will know, I rarely (if ever) brag
    about the advantages of the political system in my own country
    (Norway) in this blog.
    However, as the economical crisis unfold, you may see that
    neither the autocratic state capitalism Chinese or Russian style,
    nor the extremely deregulated capitalism American style will
    prevail in the context of the current global crisis. I would guess
    that the social-democratic system found in the Scandinavian
    countries will have a better chance in this context.
    Scandinavia is certainly not immune to the effects of the
    financial meltdown (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have their
    share in the housing bubble, and are all intertwined with the
    global economical and financial system). But they have far better
    pensions, health care and social system than America, are more
    democratic than China and Russia, and also have a relatively
    better regulated banking and financial system.
    To compare these tiny countries with superpowers is admittedly
    like comparing peanuts and coconuts. But a social-democratic
    system is at least theoretically possible both in America, Russia,
    and China. The social and economical costs for ordinary people
    of a crisis like this one, will likely be less in Scandinavia than in
    the authoritarian or liberalist capitalist systems compared
    And you`ll learn nothing about the nature of this particular
    crisis if you just use it as an opportunity to say that
    “authoritarian capitalism” is much worse than “liberal


  16. Paul Norheim says:

    I think it`s useful to distinguish between different kinds of
    legitimacy here. The legitimacy of the autocrat state capitalists
    was strengthened on the domestic level during good times – but
    it was much lower in the “international community”. The
    legitimacy of the Russian and Chinese regimes may become
    severely weakened domestically as the economic crisis unfold –
    but not necessarily in an international context.
    The US is very different. During good times (like the Reagan
    years, and especially the post cold war Clinton era) America`s
    legitimacy was strong both domestically and globally.
    Due to the policies, priorities and attitudes of the George W.
    Bush administration, combined with a financial collapse,
    America suffers both a domestic and a global weakening of
    legitimacy. In a best case scenario, the domestic part of that
    legitimacy problem may be largely improved by electing a new
    president (one of the advantages of democracies).
    The problem for America is that it suffers a dramatic fall in
    global legitimacy – and this will not be solved by the simple fact
    that the American people have elected a new, charismatic
    These considerations become rather academic in a worst case
    scenario for, let`s say China: it may simply disintegrate due to
    long term tensions on several levels, combined with an
    economical collapse.
    If China and Russia survive intact as nations, America will still
    have to struggle with its decreased global prestige (if not also
    domestically). It should even get used to it.
    The dramatic shift in power from the US to the BRIC nations
    may however be delayed for a decade or more, due to the
    financial and economical crisis. Evidently, all the big powers get
    hurt simultaneously right now – as well as most of the small
    And in any case, it`s certainly not the state capitalism of China
    and Russia, but capitalism American style that will be blamed
    for the global depression, regardless of what happens within
    China and Russia.


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