Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Righting Wrongs in China Depends on Rights

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Righting Wrongs in China Depends on Rights

Article excerpt

Dissident Chen Guangcheng is speaking out about the need for rule of law in China. But the party is slowly accepting individual rights. And studies show those few rights are yielding positive results.

Famed dissident Chen Guangcheng has been in the United States less than two weeks, and he's already firing off complaints in the US media about his country's leadership. His main criticism: China doesn't lack for good laws but only needs to enforce them.

The Communist Party does indeed govern more by fiat and whim than by rule of law. The reason is simple. The party has a low regard for individuals to self-govern. As a result, laws come from the party, not elected representatives of all the people, and thus can be ignored.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope. The party has been forced over the years to grudgingly recognize some rights for the individual, either in governance or in owning property. In fact, new evidence from scholars about the effects of such rights may convince the incoming crop of new leaders this fall that an expansion of individual liberty is China's best path for continuing prosperity.

One study by four researchers published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that the steady introduction of elections in rural Chinese villages has reduced income inequality, created an acceptance of higher taxes, and increased spending on public goods at the local level by 27 percent.

Elections of village "chairmen" have been steadily allowed since the early 1980s, when reformers in Beijing realized that China was too big for the party to keep check on corrupt party leaders in every hamlet. Only the local people could do that.

At first, however, the party chose the candidates. But in the past 15 years, many candidates were nominated by villagers.

The result is better accountability of local leaders to the people. …

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