Patterns of Force is the name of the infamous Star Trek episode in which the crew of the Enterprise encounter a planet ruled by Nazis. The story is that that the Enterprise has been assigned to search for the missing historian John Gill. He was last known to be studying the culture of the planet Ekos. They discover that Ekos has a more advanced technology than expected and is ruled by a Nazi party with exactly the same insignia and ideology as the Nazis who ruled Germany. Further investigation by Kirk and Spock reveal that John Gill is the Fuhrer. They learn that Gill has become a figurehead and real power rests with his deputy Melakon who is planning a genocidal war against the neighboring planet Zeon. They managed to confront Gill, who has been drugged and McCoy is able to revived him enough to answer questions. When Kirk demands to know why Gill introduced Nazism to the Ekotians, Gill replies that their culture was primitive and divided. By organizing them according to National Socialist principles, without the ethnic hatred, he hoped to unify the planet and help them to advance. He picked the Nazis because they were the most efficient state in Earth’s history.
Spock agrees saying, “That tiny country, divided, beaten, bankrupt, rose in a few years to stand only one step from global domination.”
Gill and Spock were wrong, however, and Spock was being, dare I say it, illogical. In fact, Nazi Germany was not a particularly efficient state. The government was shot through with corruption at the highest levels. The Nazis purged the German civil service shortly after they took power, making party loyalty and racial purity more important than experience and qualifications. This had predictable results. The Nazis were also supporters of the concept of a centrally planned economy, remember Nazi is short for National Socialist. This also had predictable results. During World War II, Germany did not turn to a full war economy until 1943 and the free-market, capitalist wartime Unites States was more regimented and more efficient and productive. Hitler’s rule was an administrative nightmare since he didn’t leave clearly defined areas of jurisdiction, or lines of authority among his top lieutenants, thinking that as long as they were fighting each other, they weren’t conspiring to overthrow him.
Along with the corruption and general inefficiency of Nazi rule, there were policies that were simply irrational. Consider the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a crime against humanity, but it was also illogical. The men and materials used to round up millions of Jews and other undesirables, ship them to concentration camps, and exterminate them could have been better used fighting the war. The victims could have been used for slave labor and killed after Germany won the war. The enormous diversion of resources, while the Nazi regime was fighting for its life was irrational to the point of insanity. The Holocaust is the worst example of misplaced priorities, but hardly the only one. In the last two years of the war, Goebbels wanted to make the greatest movie of all time, Kolberg. The production of this film, the most expensive in German history, was actually given a higher priority than supplying the Wehrmacht with needed supplies and ammunition. Thousands of German soldiers were pulled from the front to work as extras. Hardy the most efficient state in Earth’s history.
There seems to be a persistent delusion that authoritarian states with centrally planned economies are some how more efficient than free countries. Mussolini made the trains run on time. (He didn’t.) The Communists in the Soviet Union were the future and their planners would create unparalleled economic growth that would bury the West. (It didn’t work out like that.) And on and on. It doesn’t even have to be a brutal dictatorship to excite this sort of ill founded admiration. Germany and Japan have a much closer relationship between private industry and government than is the norm in the United States. At various times both these nations were held up as examples they we should follow. The close cooperation was held to result in a better more efficient economy, better suited for long range planning than the often adversarial relationship found in the US with private competing companies that were more apt to plan only as far as the next quarter. The fact that such close relationships opened the door to crony capitalism and tended to give established companies an enormous advantage over upstarts seemed to be ignored.
The latest target of this kind of idiocy is not democratic at all but semi-Communist China. Somehow the idea has developed that a country ruled by a government that can rule by decree without the give and take of any democratic process is better run than a free nation. Thomas Friedman has become notorious for his admiration of China’s system.
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.
More recently we have had a statement by Jeffrey Immelt on how China is better run.
Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric and Chairman of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness was interviewed by Charlie Rose on Bloomberg Television Monday evening. When asked about China, Immelt praised the Chinese and their centrally planned economy:
CHARLIE ROSE: China is changing. It may be being stabilized as we speak. What does that mean for China and what does it mean for the United States? Should it change expectations?
JEFF IMMELT: It is good for China. To a certain extent, Charlie, 11 percent is unsustainable. You end up getting too much stimulus or a misallocation of resources. They are much better off working on a more consumer-based economy, less dependent on exports. The one thing that actually works, state run communism a bit– may not be your cup of tea, but their government works.
No it doesn’t. No, China is not overtaking us, any more than the Germans, Japanese, or Russians were. No, China is not being run by a reasonably enlightened group of people. According to Freedom House, China rates a 6.5 out of 7 with 7 being least free. The Chinese government continues to censor the media and Internet and while restrictions on personal expression are looser than in the past, China is far from being a haven of free speech., The government is very corrupt. While China has enjoyed phenomenal economic growth in the last two decades, the benefits of that growth have not been well distributed. Something like 30% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Property rights are non-existent in China where the government owns all of the land and decides how it is to be used. Health and safety regulations for Chinese industry are either non-existent or unenforced.
Despite the central planning, or really because of it, resources tend to be misallocated. The most notorious example of this are the mysterious ghost towns of China, cities built for no apparent reason out in the middle of nowhere. I am sure there are many more examples.
I don’t imagine that any of these facts will change the minds of the authoritarian admirers. The reason such people admire authoritarianism is less because of any facts or examples of superior efficiency but because they like to imagine themselves as the elites telling everyone else what to do. In the end it is not about efficiency. It is about power.