The Reagan Gambit

P6 asks us to Think about it in regards to China undergoing the sort of economic implosion due to an Arms race, like the gambit that Reagan pulled in the 80s on Russia. (This started out as a comment, and then got too long, so I’m putting it here instead.)

Like P6, I don’t think it was the entirety of Russia’s fall, but I do think that Reagan’s gambit was instrumental. Something like that is always a matter of pushing an existing trend over the edge. The Soviet Gambit that Reagan pulled wouldn’t work with China, but economic warfare on a different track, (like fostering a grassroots boycott of Chinese products like the sort that is hammering France right now) could start the slide.

Soviet Russia, like all of major failures, wasn’t a single-point failure. It was a cascading failure. Central control is always tenuous at best, and has to be subsidized (Russia was able to do this with natural resources, the Nazis did it with technology, the Italians… uh… serve as an example.) Mismanagement cascaded into ideological war, ideological war strained the mismanaged economy by requiring expensive low ROI programs, the low ROI programs strained the mismanaged economy further, US superiority in the ideological programs caused a ramp-up on the low-ROI programs, rinse, repeat, *boom*.

China seems to have escaped that cycle by not pursuing the ideological war, and keeping things to the surrounding Asian states. When they start using things like the space program as ideological tools, they risk the danger of getting pulled into that cycle, and there is no question that the US has more money to burn than they do. Right now, I think their program is 90% economic and military, so they are skirting that danger. If we could push them to abandon the militarily and commercially useful and start doing low ROI missions like the Mars shot, then we might be able to drag them into it, but I’m not betting on it.

But that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be a similar Bush Gambit. Right now, the sort of thing that could push the strained Chinese economy (almost all central economies are eternally strained — even Japan) into a cascading failure would be North Korea. The Chinese seem to be backing away from it, but the ROK is a child state of Red China. When NK melts down, it will be bad for China. If it is a peaceful meltdown, China will be forced into the ideological war to save face. If we can keep the ideological war cold (and not hot) then we will eventually win.

The alternative ROK meltdown is war. When that happens, China’s biggest problems (barring radioactive fallout) will be refugees. They will flood out of the peninsula and into mainland China. China will be forced to either accept them and the poison of discontented people who have experienced the worst of communism, and be forced into an ideological war to prove them wrong, or they will have to bottle the refugees up in camps or graves, and face potential hot war over human rights issues, or the same ideological war we have been talking about when it gets out to their own people where the refugees are.

China is walking the communist razor blade. They might walk for a long time, but slipping — even if they don’t fall — will still be bad.


  1. P6 says:

    Thing is, the USofA, under current policies, is a centralized economy too. Taken to a certain extent, that would be a good thing.

    Without some kind of restraint, all economies seem to be taken over by robber-barons. That happened in Soviet Russia. It is currently happening in to Capitalist America.

    (By the way, you CERTAINLY can’t abuse my comments as badly as Publicola!)

  2. Funny… I came to the same speculation as the previous commenter from a different direction. The share of the US GDP going to government is larger than it has been since World War II, and almost all of it is going to socialist programs (not centralized capitalism, P6 – that is a contradiction in terms!). Thus we run a risk of being unable to afford a cold war.

    Furthermore, given the current pathetic state of education of our citizens by our socialized, politically correct government school system and our left wing mass media, it is unlikely we could muster the willpower for another cold war. Heck, the leftists are already doing their best to sap our will to even hold onto our gains in the last hot war, and it is only two years since our last “Pearl Harbor” (except this one cost more lives, occurred in a US state, and cost our economy $1,000,000,000,000).

    On top of that, the Chinese are not nearly as centralized as the USSR was… perhaps not even as centralized as Japan. Their most likely economic undoing will be corruption, a problem that inevitably wrecks the economy of nations that have no true property rights.