Which is the World’s Most Competent State?

Martin Jacques has a BBC essay hailing China for the competence of its government.

Even though China is still a poor developing country, its state, I would argue, is the most competent in the world.

Take infrastructure – the importance of which is belatedly now being recognised in the West. Here, China has no peers. Its high speed rail network is the world’s largest and will soon be greater than the rest of the world’s put together.

And the state’s ubiquity – a large majority of China’s most competitive companies, to this day, are state-owned. Or consider the one-child policy, which still commands great support amongst the population.

The competence of the state is little talked about or really valued in the West, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. […]

With the Western economies in a profound mess and with China’s startling rise, the competence of the state can no longer be ignored. Our model is in crisis. Theirs has been delivering the goods.

As China’s dramatic ascent continues – which it surely will – then China’s strengths will become a growing subject of interest in the West. We will realise that our relationship with them can no longer consist of telling them how they should be like us. A little humility is in order.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of this will be the state. We think of it as their greatest weakness but we will come to realise that it is one of their greatest strengths.

I agree that competent government is to be valued.

But I am not sure China’s government is the world’s most competent – more than say those in Northern Europe or elsewhere in Northeast Asia. We do not need to be quite so humble as Jacques says. Still, it is certainly a very effective state.

Plus, Jacques does not raise the question why China has a competent state. If we look at the mini-Chinas (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore) – each has a highly competent and effective state too. So do the other Northeast Asian nations: the Koreas and Japan. Yes, North Korea is a tyranny, but it is a reasonably competent one. It looks like the generally high level of human capital in this region is a basic reason for its competent states.


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