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Giving the Well-Performing State Its Due

MADRID – The triumph of democracy and market-based economics – the “End of History,” as the American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama famously called it – which was proclaimed to be inevitable with the fall of the Berlin Wall, soon proved to be little more than a mirage. However, following China’s intellectual pirouette to maintain one-party rule while embracing the capitalist credo, history’s interpreters shifted their focus to the economy: not everybody would be free and elect their government, but capitalist prosperity would hold sway worldwide.

Now, however, the economic tumult shaking Europe, the erosion of the middle class in the West, and the growing social inequalities worldwide are undermining capitalism’s claim to universal triumph. Hard questions are being asked: Is capitalism as we know it doomed? Is the market no longer able to generate prosperity? Is China’s brand of state capitalism an alternative and potentially victorious paradigm?

The pervasive soul-searching prompted by such questions has nurtured a growing recognition that capitalism’s success depends not only on macroeconomic policy or economic indicators. It rests on a bedrock of good governance and the rule of law – in other words, a well-performing state. The West overlooked the fundamental importance of this while it was fighting communism.

The standard bearers of the Cold War were not just the United States and the Soviet Union, but, in ideological terms, the individual and the collectivity. When competing in newly independent or developing countries, this ideological opposition became Manichean, fostering a fierce suspicion, if not outright rejection, of rival principles. As a result, strengthening state institutions was too often seen in the West as communist subterfuge, while the Soviet bloc viewed the slightest notion of individual freedom and responsibility as a stalking horse for capitalist counter-revolution.