No Accounting For Taste

An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago described the results of a Pew survey that inquired as to how the denizens of various nations felt about their governments and economies. Two authoritarian nations — China and Russia — did very well, while the Western democracies fared quite poorly.

We read:

Eighty-six percent of Chinese people surveyed said they were content with the country’s direction, up from 48 percent in 2002. The next highest country, Australia, was 25 percentage points lower, at 61 percent. And 82 percent of Chinese were satisfied with their national economy, up from 52 percent.

By comparison, only 23 percent of people surveyed from the United States said they were satisfied with their country’s direction and only 20 percent said the American economy was good.

Russians were the third most-satisfied people with their country’s direction, at 54 percent, despite Western concerns about authoritarian trends in the country.

Except for Spain, which placed fourth at 50 percent, the people of major European countries were far from content. Only about 3 in 10 British, French and Germans expressed satisfaction with the direction of their nations.

This is an interesting and provocative result. One might argue that it is precisely this attitude of permanent dissatisfaction that has provided the spur for the success of the West. But it would be far too glib to do so, I fear; authoritarian states have been known to do well also, and authoritarian China is obviously on the march.

Pat Buchanan, with whom I have many differences, but who is an intelligent and thoughtful man, suggests in a recent newsletter that it is far from certain that Western-style democracy will have the last laugh. Read his essay here.


  1. JK says

    I cannot comment on the Russian results, however it might be fair to point out that the average Chinese citizen, negatively reflecting on things such as “the state of affairs” risks reducing his/her freedom of movement. So, “Yes sir. The sky is clear, the sky is blue. I notice the scent of pansies in the air.”

    Posted August 9, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Well, I am sure you are right, JK, and that was my lovely wife Nina’s first remark as well on hearing about the survey.

    I don’t think that is as likely to be the case in the Russian result, however, not these days at least — though I may be mistaken. Perhaps our friend Jess, who spends a lot of time in Russia, might comment on that one.

    But even if it is the spur of dissatisfaction that goads the West forward, we also must acknowledge that some cultures may be fonder of the bridle than we.

    Posted August 9, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

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