Shui-Yan Tang – “10 Principles for a Rule-Ordered Society: Enhancing China’s Governing Capacity”


My name is Yan Tang. I’m on the faculty
in a Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California.
My main research and teaching areas is public administration. The title of my
new book is “10 Principles for a Rule-Ordered Society: Enhancing China’s Governing
Capacity”. The main idea in the book is to try to tell people that we want to
develop ways of solving public problems. So it’s very important to think about
the use of rules to think about how we coordinate people in terms of getting
them to work together, to solve problems together. That kind of issue of course I
mean is highly related to what governments do. But if you think about it,
in a general broader perspective, the use of rules is not just about running
governments, it’s also about how to run a civic organization. And actually in my
book, I actually talked about examples from running a household. When you want
to ask your children to study hard, so what are some of the the rules you can
set up that a reasonable, that provide enough good incentive and enforceable that your children would like to follow them, but in a happy way. So that’s the
reason why I wrote a book, for a variety of people who might be facing situations
in which they have to use rules to solve whatever collective business, economic
problems they have to address. In China the governing system, not just today but
going back 2,000 years, that is a highly centralized governing system. All the
major rules, policies, decisions are made at the central level. But then the
central government makes all the rules but who is responsible for implementing
them? It is mostly local governments. So a lot of situation, local government
officials want to do a good job. But then the problem is the central government wants to do a good job and you know make
rules, policy that can help the country to solve problems. But because of the
highly centralized structure that you create and manage their concerns, there is kind of a disjunction between what is needed and what the central government
desires to do. So they create these kind of dynamics in terms of local government
in order to adjust best to local circumstances but with pressure coming
from the central government. That in many cases creates some degree of
perverse incentive in terms of local government trying to fulfill whatever
the formal targets set by the central government. But in many cases
neglecting a lot of the final issues that are needed to deal with local
circumstances. And in some circumstances because of all this rigidity or all
these performance targets imposed from above, so actually there’s a systemic
pressure for local government in many cases to develop their own informal
rules to evade those central directives. In some circumstances they did it
for good intention, but it’s just the nature of the system that often makes it
difficult for local officials to you know to fully comply with central
directives. Rules should be made by those who are affected by them. That’s the
basic principle. So of course not everybody can participate. Well we might
have to elect representative to make rules on our behalf but we want them
make sure that those who make the rules are accountable but not using the rules
for self advantage. So that is the fundamental of a rule order society, that
rules have to be reasonable and have to be you know enforced. But is very
important we don’t just want to have rules, because rules could be draconian,
could be unreasonable, could be the foundation for tyranny, we want to have a
rule order society that is based on democratic principle of
accountability. There are a lot of ways of improving the ability of people to enforce reasonable societal expectations. Right? A more effective and
impartial judicial system obviously is one thing China could do better. The
ability for individual citizens to have a role in actually suing companies or if
not suing at least to have regular channel for exposing whatever that is
being done incorrectly or against the law. And I would say the
most important thing is you develop a situations in which people who are
actually responsible for producing the food that they perceive the kind of
societal demand for them to be more responsible. I use an example from Malcom
Gladwell, the book “The Tipping Point”, right so the major ideas is how to create a
tipping point for developing the societal expectation that so what was
done in the past or whatever the self benefiting activities that a harming
society, wouldn’t be tolerated anymore. Then the crux of the matter is how in
different circumstances you create a tipping point for people to believe that
the old way of doing thing is no longer viable. And in the book I also used the
Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong as an example
that the crux of the matter is how to create a tipping point. I don’t have a
magic formula for that, but my sense is the ultimate thing to remember is that
we are all social animals. Not that we just follow what everybody else is doing. But
you have to develop a situations in which people understand that if you do
the right thing then that’s what everybody expects. But it’s not just
about people’s expectations it’s also about how doing the right thing would also
be rewarding in the long run. So there’s the reason why in the book, I in my
conclude conclusion, I mention ‎Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote “Democracy in America”.
So his famous expression of self-interest rightly understood is
kind of the foundation of all everything I said in the book, is how to develop
a rule order society that is based on people’s self-interest rightly
understood. Unless you use that basic principle then it’s very difficult to
really expect a well-functioning, you know a productive and and humane
reasonable society. And my hope is anyone who has read my book should come up with
actually a rather optimistic view about China’s future, because in the book even
though I mentioned a lot of the problems happening in China, traditionally and
nowadays, and the very reason why I wrote the book, is I thought there are a lot of ways China could do better. And there
are ways and we know more or less some of the basic principle by which the
whole Chinese society can improve on by itself. So ultimately my book is, the
way I read it, is optimistic. And actually I showed my book to some of my friends
and some of them actually were saying oh you might be too optimistic about
what you propose would be actually adopted by those in power. Then I would
say the way I would try to convince people is think about it, I mean we we
have a emerging China, everybody is hopeful and I mean in many
cases we now really want to think long term. It’s not just about whether you you
make a lot of money in your lifetime but we think about how to keep China a good
society, prosperous society, a reasonable democratic society for future
generations. If you want a thing for the future, even though you’re empowered, you’re benefiting yourself, but you want to preserve China as a good rule
order society for your future generations. So this is something that is very
important. So on that note, that’s the reason why I
would describe my focus ultimately an optimistic book about the future of
China.

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