Column

Motivation

In 1978 China abandoned a planned economy that the government thought could facilitate productive forces and would guarantee fairness. Li Yining, a professor of economics at Peking University stated that China was wrong on both counts. See How China’s Leaders Think (2010), by Robert L. Kuhn, page 98.

Professor Li states “After several decades under the planned economy, the facts tell us that enterprises and people are not motivated – and without motivation, productive forces cannot develop. Under the planned economy, there is no competition, no equal opportunities, and no freedom to relocate. ….. After the Cultural Revolution, China’s economy was on the brink of destruction. At that point, the Chinese people had to choose a new system. And they chose the market economy”.

In 1998, Shao Ning, Director General of the Department of Enterprise Reform in China referred to a negative of a planned economy as “lack of motivation on the part of people at all levels. In a centrally planned economy nobody’s personal interests are served by implementing the plans, so it’s very difficult to motivate people”. See page 256 of Robert Kuhn’s book.

In 1758, the economist Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations referred to the principle of self interest or motivation at page 236 where he states “But the principle which prompts to save, is the desire of bettering our condition; a desire which, though generally calm and dispassionate, comes with us from the womb, and never leaves us till we go in the grave. ….. An augmentation of fortune is the means by which the greater part of men propose and wish to better their condition”.

In 1861 at Cincinnati, Ohio, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Mr. Chairman, I hold that while man exists, it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind”.

How is the market economy (and the pursuit of self interest) protected in China’s one party communist state?

The answer lies in the China’s new social contract described at page 196 of Kuhn’s book. He states: “The Chinese people now live, work and dress as they like, choose more or less whatever entertainment appeals to them, and discuss whatever they like, even criticizing the government – so long as they do it privately. ….. The one proviso is that they do not challenge the primacy of the Communist Party, or form organizations that could become sources of alternative, independent political power”.

The benefits of a market economy in China have created wealth that has allowed the Chinese government to initiate many social programs that have generally elevated the standard of living of the Chinese people.

The above suggests that a person’s interest in a better human condition may be a universal characteristic of mankind.

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