Chris Patten is right about the universal superiority of liberal market democracy, but is wrong about the causes of the Asian crisisby Martin Wolf / October 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Chris Patten did not expect to become Hong Kong’s last governor. He rather hoped to become foreign secretary, but the voters of Bath intervened. In Hong Kong Patten became, if not an angry old man, an impassioned middle aged one. This book, with its rousing defence of the universal relevance of liberal democracy, is one of the results.
Patten brought Britain’s imperial history to a close. To his credit, he made a belated effort to do so as honourably as was possible in unhappy circumstances. Hong Kong was to be handed over to the corrupt despotism from which its inhabitants-or their parents-had fled. But Patten was determined to go as far towards democracy as “Hong Kongers themselves were prepared to go, but no less far either.” He was right. Let the Chinese regime do as it will-it almost certainly will anyway. As Patten says, it was contemptible for Britain to do China’s dirty work for it.
The experience of negotiating with China strengthened his understanding of what he stood for and what he believes the west stands for, too. “Values are universal,” declares Patten. “So, too, is the case for market economics, which work everywhere better than any other economic system, and free and open economies perform most effectively in plural societies. Liberal economics and liberal democracy go hand in hand.”
He has reacted vigorously to blather from more or less paternalistic Asian despots in favour of “Asian values.” He is right. As much by luck as design, the west evolved a system of government and economic organisation which is the least bad ever. But it is far from perfect and the move from agrarian despotism to industrial democracy is fraught with difficulty. Today’s great Asian financial crisis is just another proof of that.
As Patten points out, a market economy is not a place where top businessmen rule. That is what the Russians believe, still under the sway of the old Marxist-Leninist delusions. Nor is it a system in which political elites connive with their peers in business to divide up the spoils. The heart of the market economy is law-governed competition. For competition to be fair, it must be subject to laws which apply equally to everybody-to big businesses and small ones; to rulers and ruled. The market economy means economic freedom under the rule of law. But the rule of law can only endure in a…