A CHOICE BETWEEN DESPOTISMS: COMPARING WESTERN AND EASTERN INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT PARADIGMS
Beres, T. Alex
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This paper claims that the way infrastructure is developed, more than a boring and technical topic, demonstrates a regime’s character. As the 20th century was dominated by Western-led infrastructure efforts including such great achievements as the Panama Canal, the U.S. interstate highway system, and the implementation of the Marshall Plan, the 21st century seems poised to be led, at least in terms of infrastructure development, by Asia and a rising China. Policy papers and foreign affairs discussions talk about China’s infrastructure development and also about delays or the “crumbling infrastructure of the West” but rarely if ever are there deeper philosophical and policy questions being asked. This papers sets out to build upon and enhance this deeper discussion by examining the differences between Western and Eastern infrastructure development paradigms. The paper examines historic case studies related to the building, expansion, and enhancement of the Panama Canal, to provide a constant in a research variable that spans several Western-led projects as well as most recently a Chinese-led infrastructure investment. What was found was that with the growth of democratic standards and more administrative regulations, the Western paradigm has evolved, and only a hundred years ago, the West’s paradigms looked much like the East’s does today. Except for the fact that policy conditions have always been different between the two paradigms. At least from the cases studied, the West has always adhered to some form of liberal enlightenment principles enforced through policy conditions, whereas recently, despite contrary prevailing literature, the Chinese do enforce policy conditions, but on a more singular, grand, and old fashioned scale. Finally, the paper studies what it is about the development of infrastructure itself that has made it the aid-of-choice for Chinese-led efforts? Ultimately the paper makes several ambitious propositions, that need further research and study to prove: the current choice between ways of infrastructure development – East versus West – is a choice between despotisms, the Western democratic soft-despotism prophesized by Alexis de Tocqueville, and the East’s older harder despotism, and finally that “infrastructure statecraft” should be studied as a sub-set of diplomacy and statecraft.