Is the Chinese blend of capitalism, communism, and mercantilism an alternative to Western “democratic capitalism”? Author and economist Dambisa Moyo argues so in a recent TED talk, suggesting that Western countries (which means, first and foremost, the United States) need to “compete or cooperate” with the Chinese model.

As “competition” between states tends to involve armies instead of goods, I’m glad that Dambisa Moyo suggests that Western democracies should “cooperate”, by “expanding trade and investment around the world, demonstrating how western liberal democracy and free markets are a good choice”. Going the other way will do nothing to impose the “Western way of life” but it will almost certainly require the government seizing the liberty of Western citizens, in its attempt to succeed: paraphrasing William Graham Sumner, it would be the conquest of America by China.

I think Moyo is right in pointing out that there is no strong evidence that “democracy is a prerequisite to growth”, whereas the opposite is true, i.e. a polity needs to enjoy a certain degree of prosperity to prompt a yearning for political equality, that typically resides within the middle classes.

What I am not so sure about is the extent to which we can talk of homogeneous “models”. Opening trade (not to mention lower barriers to immigration) is often opposed, in Western democracies, precisely because it jeopardises the political distribution of entitlements – which characterizes, nowadays, our polities. On the other side, I am not convinced by the notion that the Chinese Communist Party and its leadership are an homogeneous bloc either.

It may be that the US and other Western countries will follow Moyo’s advice. That can happen for a variety of reasons: in a sense, our societies may find it difficult to digest a bellicose attitude towards China, as they already suffer from anxiety concerning our efforts in the Middle East. Also, organizing “the West” as a trade bloc may turn out to be so difficult, that freer trade with China will be an inescapable bottom line. Again, perhaps China is already such an important trading partner for us, and that increasing the cost of trading with it might have a devastating effect. You can go on speculating.

What I think will not happen, is that neither Western publics nor Western ruling classes will acquire the consciousness to embody a different “model of development”, and thus act upon that. Deliberate political determinations, if anything, will move us farther away from freer trade, not closer to that goal.