The Writing on the Wall by Will Hutton

This book grapples with the economic and political prospects of China. However, its thesis that China is particularly unstable does not convince the reader. Since its publication, the economies of the West have had to resort to unorthodox monetary and fiscal policies to avoid collapse. Further, the European project has become controversial due to the crisis in Greece. And the legitimacy of the USA has been challenged by Occupy Wall Street.

Despite tensions in Hong Kong, it has been hard to see cracks in the hegemony of the Chinese Communist Party. While the economy of China has endured a sticky patch, experts like Martin Jacques remain confident that muddling through will permit stabilisation around a more sustainable growth rate.

The problem with the analysis is that it is based on wishful thinking which does not respect Chinese orthodoxies. Many of the values of the Enlightenment are laudable. Nonetheless, the relevance of Enlightenment philosophy to understanding the way we live now is controversial. This is partly because of the divergence in thinking between Enlightenment figures. Further, Hutton depends too much on late Habermas when making fuzzy policy prescriptions.

In a world of competing interests, environmental crises and major economic contradictions it seems unrealistic to expect that practical politicians in China or the United States will put aside their ideologies in exchange for unproven musing based on questionable assumptions about human nature.

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