Londres 2012: Vous avez dit déclin? (London finally vindicates America’s decentralized entrepreneurial approach and reveals inherent limitations of Beijing consensus)

All-time Summer Olympics medals table 1896-2012You will find more statistics at Statista
Être sujet hellène libre, ni esclave, ni métèque. Serment olympique (1er point, 338 av. JC)
Il n’y a plus ni Juif ni Grec, il n’y a plus ni esclave ni homme libre, il n’y a plus ni homme ni femme; car tous vous êtes un en Jésus-Christ. Paul (55-56?)
Ne savez-vous pas que ceux qui courent dans le stade courent tous, mais qu’un seul remporte le prix? Courez de manière à le remporter. Tous ceux qui combattent s’imposent toute espèce d’abstinences, et ils le font pour obtenir une couronne corruptible; mais nous, faisons-le pour une couronne incorruptible. Paul
Un des grands problèmes de la Russie – et plus encore de la Chine – est que, contrairement aux camps de concentration hitlériens, les leurs n’ont jamais été libérés et qu’il n’y a eu aucun tribunal de Nuremberg pour juger les crimes commis. Thérèse Delpech
Le thème du déclin de l’Occident est utilisé de plus en plus fréquemment par ceux qui cultivent à son égard ressentiment, désir de revanche, ou franche hostilité : c’est le cas de la Russie, dont tous les Occidentaux cultivés intègrent pourtant le génie artistique dans le patrimoine occidental ; de la Chine, qui attend son moment historique avec une impatience qu’elle a du mal à dissimuler ; ou du régime de Téhéran, dépositaire autoproclamé d’une mission d’expansion de l’islam dans le monde. Quels que soient les arguments utilisés par ces pays, ils méritent qu’on leur fasse au moins une concession : ils disposent pour étayer leur thèse de solides appuis, et notamment de la répugnance croissante du monde occidental, Etats-Unis compris, à continuer d’être des sujets de l’histoire. En revanche, ces adversaires ignorent une chose aussi importante que ce qu’ils comprennent : le déclin est un des plus grands thèmes de la culture occidentale, depuis le récit d’Hésiode Les Travaux et les Jours à l’orée de la civilisation grecque, jusqu’à l’ouvrage, médiocre celui-ci mais beaucoup plus connu, d’Oswald Spengler au début du XXe siècle Le Déclin de l’Occident. (…) Il y a là une vraie supériorité des pays occidentaux, qui ont passé des décennies à tenter de comprendre l’abîme dans lequel ils ont plongé, sur la Chine et la Russie, qui auraient pourtant matière à réflexion. (…) La réflexion et le souvenir seuls peuvent donner la force de reconnaître dans la violence et la désorientation de l’époque le prélude potentiel de nouvelles catastrophes. Ils constituent même le premier pas pour tenter de les éviter. Si les massacres passés sont des sujets tabous, comment condamner ceux du présent ? Si les liens de Pékin avec le régime de Pol Pot sont censurés au moment du procès des Khmers rouges, si le nombre des victimes de la révolution culturelle ne fait l’objet d’aucun travail sérieux en Chine, si les archives du goulag ou de la guerre en Tchétchénie doivent être protégées des autorités russes, que penser de l’attitude de ces pays à l’égard de massacres à venir ? Thérèse Delpech
Tout se passe comme si, à l’heure actuelle, s’effectuait une distribution des rôles entre ceux qui pratiquent le repentir et l’autocritique – les Européens, les Occidentaux – et ceux qui s’installent dans la dénonciation sans procéder eux-mêmes à un réexamen critique analogue de leur propre passé (..). Tout indique même que notre mauvaise conscience, bien loin de susciter l’émulation, renforce les autres dans leur bonne conscience. Jacques Dewitte
Oui, on entend cela [que la Chine n'est pas faite pour la démocratie], et pas seulement en Chine, de la part d’occidentaux aussi. Que l’on arrête avec ces stupidités dégradantes pour notre peuple, pour moi, la démocratie, c’est tout simplement la justice et le parti unique conduit forcément aux injustices. Et quoi, la justice ne serait pas faite pour la Chine ? L’air, l’eau, le ciel ne conviennent pas à la Chine ? L’ordinateur ou le téléphone portable ne sont pas faits pour la Chine? Bao Tong (Ancien bras droit de Zhao Ziyang, le patron du PC au moment de Tiananmen)
Une théorie à la mode veut que le succès de la Chine ait donné naissance à un nouveau «consensus de Pékin», qui remettrait en cause l’importance de l’économie de marché et de la démocratie —les deux marques de fabrique du «consensus de Washington». Le consensus de Pékin proposerait ainsi un système économique pragmatique et une politique autoritariste prête à l’emploi.  Richard McGregor
Nous avons constaté que le sport était la religion moderne du monde occidental. Nous savions que les publics anglais et américain assis devant leur poste de télévision ne regarderaient pas un programme exposant le sort des Palestiniens s’il y avait une manifestation sportive sur une autre chaîne. Nous avons donc décidé de nous servir des Jeux olympiques, cérémonie la plus sacrée de cette religion, pour obliger le monde à faire attention à nous. Nous avons offert des sacrifices humains à vos dieux du sport et de la télévision et ils ont répondu à nos prières. Terroriste palestinien (Jeux olympiques de Munich, 1972)
Commencer le relais en Grèce et le terminer environ 2.400 kilomètres plus loin, à Berlin, renforçait l’idée d’un héritage aryen entre l’ancien et le nouveau pouvoir. Cela faisait également allusion à la conception d’Hitler d’une progression naturelle et civilisationnelle entre l’empire grec, romain et allemand. Max Fisher
Des pays comme la Jamaïque n’ont pas de programme aléatoire, ce qui fait qu’il se passe parfois des mois sans que personne ne soit contrôlé. Je ne dis pas que leurs athlètes sont sous substance, mais tout le monde devrait être logé à la même enseigne. Carl Lewis (2008)
60% des athlètes des JO sont dopés. Victor Conte
Je trouve ça plutôt amusant que les Australiens s’en offusquent. Parce que dans l’eau, si vous regardez Brenton Rickard (nageur australien) dans la ligne d’eau à côté de moi, il fait exactement la même chose (…) Si vous ne faites pas ce geste, vous rétrogradez. Moralement, ce n’est pas la chose à faire mais je ne vais pas sacrifier ma performance et quatre années de travail alors que quelqu’un va utiliser ce geste et repartir avec la médaille. Chaque nageur le fait, au point que pour moi, ce mouvement est légal. Cameron van der Burgh
Il n’y a pas de secret, il faut 10 ans et 10.000 heures de travail pour arriver au plus haut niveau. Michel Gadal, Directeur technique national (DTN) de la Fédération française de tennis de table (FFTT)
Les hommes ont fait appel après avoir été exclu des Jeux Olympiques d’été pour deux disciplines. Même s’il y a un nombre croissant de compétiteurs masculins, la natation synchronisée et la gymnastique rythmique, ne présenteront aucun homme en compétition. (…) Un groupe de nageurs synchronisés a écrit au CIO et à la FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation, ndlr) au mois de juin dernier pour exprimer leur ressenti vis-à-vis de cette exclusion. Belinda Goldsmith
China’s projected medal decline points to a common post-host hangover and a more fundamental weakness in its approach to athlete development: the decline of the sports school. Over the past decade, the number of sports schools in China has decreased by 40%, according to state-run newspaper Global Times, as the country’s booming economy has created more career options for rural youth whose families once viewed sports schools as a meal ticket or the only means of social mobility. Now families are more likely to turn down an invitation to a sports school because other options exist.
The potency of the U.S. system is its ability to spread money and opportunity to the broadest spectrum of athletes. "You’ve got this competitive system of clubs and coaches and schools all looking for talent," says Chris Welton, chief executive of Helios Partners, a sports-consulting firm that works with Olympic organizations around the world. "If you’ve got athletic talent in this country, it’s so much harder to be missed." The system largely leaves training up to the athletes, forcing them (and their parents) to be hungry and entrepreneurial in their search for the best coaching and money to fund their training. The WSJ
 Les préleveurs ont éprouvé des difficultés à effectuer des contrôles inopinés sans que Lance Armstrong puisse bénéficier d’un délai de vingt minutes. Il a été prévenu avant tous les contrôles. Je repense à un prélèvement inopiné alors qu’il s’entraînait dans le sud de la France lors de son retour sur le Tour en 2009. Son entourage avait accumulé prétextes et palabres pour obtenir ce fameux délai. En vingt minutes, beaucoup de manipulations sont possibles. Il effectuait des perfusions de sérum physiologique pour diluer son sang. Il remplaçait sa propre urine par une urine artificielle. Il s’administrait l’EPO par petites doses. La substance était indécelable. (…) Sur le Tour 1999, Lance Armstrong a été contrôlé positif aux corticoïdes mais l’affaire a été étouffée. (…) Ces appuis débordaient sur l’UCI et sur le Comité international olympique. Aussi, Lance Armstrong s’était entouré de scientifiques physiologistes, dont certains se sont défaussés par la suite. (…) On ne savait qu’à la dernière minute dans quel hôtel il s’était installé. D’où ces nombreux barrages. Ce fut un vrai parcours du combattant car il était prévenu sur ses lieux de résidence. Il avait des moyens considérables pour se protéger et mettre en place une logistique. La rumeur voulait qu’il eût fait acheminer du sang depuis les Etats-Unis dans son jet privé. (…) En octobre 2009, Armstrong est convié à un déjeuner à l’Elysée. Derrière cette visite, on sait qu’il souhaitait obtenir le départ du président de l’AFLD, Pierre Bordry. Lequel a démissionné un an plus tard. En mars 2010, Armstrong a offert un vélo au chef de l’Etat. Quelques mois plus tard, le président de la République a profité d’une étape du Tour pour ériger Lance Armstrong en modèle pour la jeunesse. (…) Le cas Armstrong (…) n’est pas un cas isolé. Son auréole a été consolidée au fil des années. Lance Armstrong est le produit d’un système, celui du pognon, de la gagne à tout prix, du retour sur investissement. Michel Rieu (conseiller scientifique de l’Agence française de lutte contre le dopage)
Armstrong (…) se dope mieux que les autres, s’entoure des meilleurs médecins, comme le Dr Ferrari ; et, au sein de son équipe, les autres, à son service, se dopent pour lui", relate Antoine Vayer. Il prend principalement de l’EPO, substance qui permet d’oxygéner le sang et d’augmenter le transfert d’oxygène, mais pas uniquement, "en 1999 et même avant, il prenait un vrai cocktail de substances : des corticoïdes, de l’hormone de croissance, de la testostérone", poursuit le chroniqueur sportif. Ces substances dopantes lui permettent d’entrer "dans le trio majeur des recordmen de puissance. Sur les cols, il dépasse les 430 watts", précise Antoine Vayer. (…) Comment échappe-t-il aux contrôles antidopage ? "Armstrong avait de très bonnes relations avec l’Union cycliste internationale (UCI) et son président de l’époque Hein Verbruggen", raconte Antoine Vayer. Le champion était en effet l’un des principaux donateurs de l’UCI. (…) Armstrong, qui répète encore aujourd’hui qu’il n’a jamais été contrôlé positif de toute sa carrière, avait mis en place un protocole bien rôdé pour ne pas être pris par la patrouille. Michel Rieu évoque la "technique d’Armstrong" : "Il y avait toujours un délai de vingt minutes entre le moment où le médecin se présentait pour contrôler Armstrong et le moment où le champion se présentait, il postait notamment des vigies devant son immeuble pour augmenter ce délai", explique-t-il. "Pendant ces vingt minutes, poursuit Michel Rieu, un protocole était mis en place par des scientifiques pour que le contrôle soit négatif : on évacuait son urine et on la remplaçait par de l’urine artificielle, on diluait son sang et on perfusait du sang physiologique. (…) Quand les tests détecteurs de l’EPO ont été introduits, en 2000, des protocoles de fond ont été mis en place par son équipe pour empêcher la détection du produit miracle dans son sang. "Il faisait des cures d’EPO dans des lieux inaccessibles, puis s’en injectait des toutes petites doses, indétectables, pour entretenir l’effet du produit", relate Michel Rieu. Autre technique : "Le cumul de l’autotransfusion sanguine et d’EPO, qui permet de prolonger les effets de la substance", poursuit le membre de l’AFLD. (…) Il y a toujours des coureurs au-delà des performances humainement possibles. Par exemple, Contador sur le Tour d’Espagne fait du 420 watts très fréquemment, ce n’est pas possible sans dopage", note Antoine Vayer. Le spécialiste continue d’appliquer ses outils mathématiques pour mesurer la puissance des cyclistes et observe "des différences entre les résultats des tests et les performances sur le terrain en consommation maximum d’oxygène. Si l’on regarde les performances on sait donc qui triche, mais on laisse faire, comme pour Armstrong", analyse-t-il. Le Monde

Attention: un déclin peut en cacher un autre!

10 500 athlètes et 204 nations participantes (plus trois indépendants contre 241 athlètes et 14 nations en 1896 – manque plus que le Vatican!), accession  – certes au prix de l’apparition du voile islamique et de l’exclusion (par manque de pratiquants?) des hommes de la gymnastique rythmique et de la natation synchronisée – des femmes à tous les sports boxe comprise pour la première fois; logo censé dissimuler le mot Zion; refus de commémoration du 50e anniversaire du massacre de Munich;  quasi-incident diplomatique pour confusion de drapeaux;  exclusions ou retraits de médailles pour dopage, refus de jouer, manifestation nationaliste, propos racistes ou délit d’opinion par petit ami interposé!; demandes d’asile politique, "évasions" et autres "disparitions"; nouvelle et toujours aussi invraisemblable rafle jamaïcaine sur l’athlétisme (12 médailles dont 4 en or pour un pays de moins de 3 millions d’habitants!); jeune (Chinoise) de 16 ans nageant plus vite que les meilleurs hommes

Au lendemain de la mort de celui qui, en marchant le premier sur la lune (exploit répété par onze de ses compatriotes et toujours inégalé depuis un demi-siècle), avait finalement démontré au monde il y a plus de 40 ans la supériorité technologique du modèle occidental …

Comme de la révélation du secret de polichinelle de lincroyable système de dopage et surtout de complicités au plus haut niveau qui avaient permis à l’infâme homonyme du marcheur lunaire de gagner dans la plus grande impunité la bagatelle de sept tours de France …

Les Jeux olympiques d’été de Londres n’ont pas manqué de motifs de satisfaction comme de polémiques.

Pourtant avec la suprématie retrouvée (avec prédiction à l’avance du WSJ, s’il vous plait, malgré un suspense qui dura jusqu’au bout!) de l’équipe olympique américaine et sa plus grande moisson de médailles (104 dont 46 d’or) depuis Saint Louis 1904 (242 dont 79 d’or – transformé, du fait notamment de la distance, en véritable championnat national américain du fait de la présence de seulement 12 nations ou, après le boycott de Moscou 1980 suite à l’invasion soviétique de l’Afghanistan, Los Angeles 1984 (effet-hôte + boycott soviétique) …

Ne faisant en fait que confirmer son incontestable domination pour le total des médailles (2 406 médailles dont 978 d’or) depuis la réinvention, après leur interdiction avec les sordides jeux du cirque en 393-394 par l’empereur chrétien Théodose Ier, des jeux sacrés antiques en 1896 et ce même si ses grands rivaux ne se joignirent que bien plus tard à la compétition (1952 pour l’Union soviétique qui avec son satellite est-allemand trusta les 1ères places jusqu’en 1992 avant de laisser la place en 1996 à la Fédération russe, la Russie ayant précédemment fait deux petites apparitions en 1908 et 1912, et 1984 pour la Chine) …

Il est clair que ceux qui avaient un peu vite enterré les Etats-Unis depuis leur 2e place de Pékin (en médailles d’or – 51 contre 36 – et non en total de médailles – 110 contre 100) où effet-hôte oblige, la Chine avait pu un temps faire illusion (la Russie, elle pour la première fois, n’atteint même pas le podium derrière une Grande-Bretagne bénéficiant à fond de l’effet-hôte!), en sont malgré leurs éventuelles dénégations ou jérémiades pour leur argent.

Mais surtout, comme le rappelait dans un brillant article du Monde d’il y a trois ans la récemment décédée et regrettée Thérèse Delpech, que la vraie supériorité du modèle occidental (notamment le si décrié "Consensus de Washington") sur le  "Consensus de Pékin" des bouchers toujours impunis du laogai et du goulag censé l’avoir détroné est justement sa formidable capacité d’autocritique

Le déclin de l’Occident

Le thème de l’effondrement civilisationnel n’est pas qu’une dérive nostalgique. C’est un trait majeur de notre culture qui lui permet de s’autocritiquer

Thérèse Delpech

Le Monde

23 novembre 2009

Le thème du déclin de l’Occident est utilisé de plus en plus fréquement par ceux qui cultivent à son égard ressentiment, désir de revanche, ou franche hostilité : c’est le cas de la Russie, dont tous les Occidentaux cultivés intègrent pourtant le génie artistique dans le patrimoine occidental ; de la Chine, qui attend son moment historique avec une impatience qu’elle a du mal à dissimuler ; ou du régime de Téhéran, dépositaire autoproclamé d’une mission d’expansion de l’islam dans le monde.

Quels que soient les arguments utilisés par ces pays, ils méritent qu’on leur fasse au moins une concession : ils disposent pour étayer leur thèse de solides appuis, et notamment de la répugnance croissante du monde occidental, Etats-Unis compris, à continuer d’être des sujets de l’histoire.

En revanche, ces adversaires ignorent une chose aussi importante que ce qu’ils comprennent : le déclin est un des plus grands thèmes de la culture occidentale, depuis le récit d’Hésiode Les Travaux et les Jours à l’orée de la civilisation grecque, jusqu’à l’ouvrage, médiocre celui-ci mais beaucoup plus connu, d’Oswald Spengler au début du XXe siècle Le Déclin de l’Occident.

Le fil du déclin court dans notre histoire comme un refrain lancinant, qui n’est nullement lié à l’horreur du changement, dont le monde occidental a au contraire considérablement accéléré le rythme, mais à une véritable obsession, qui est celle de la chute. Ce n’est pas simplement un héritage judéo-chrétien : avant la chute des mauvais anges du christianisme, il y avait déjà, dans la mythologie grecque, celle des Titans. Dans les deux cas, les héritiers de ces histoires conservent la mémoire d’une irrémédiable perte.

Les versions philosophiques ou littéraires de ce thème sont innombrables : Le Timée de Platon comprend le récit d’un temps circulaire où il n’est mis fin à la dégénérescence progressive de la création qu’avec l’intervention divine. Avant Platon, Socrate avait dénoncé un des signes du déclin de la pensée avec la montée des sophistes – Thrasymaque ou Calliclès – qui s’intéressaient beaucoup plus à la puissance qu’à la vérité. Au début du XVIIe siècle, John Milton donne de la lutte des anges une version si terrible dans Le Paradis perdu que Bernard Brodie choisira d’en retenir le récit pour introduire un de ses livres sur la bombe atomique.

A peu près au même moment, Miguel de Cervantès consacre son oeuvre la plus importante à la nostalgie du monde de la chevalerie : la triste figure de Don Quichotte exprime la tristesse d’un homme qui ne peut pas vivre dans un monde où l’héroïsme et les aventures n’ont plus de place que dans l’imagination. Quand l’illusion est devenue impossible à soutenir, il meurt de mélancolie sous le regard désespéré de son fidèle Sancho, prêt à reprendre seul les folles entreprises de son maître.

Douze ans avant Le Déclin de l’Occident (1918-1922) de Spengler,  Andrei Biely donne une version beaucoup plus puissante de l’incendie qui commence à saisir le monde d’hier au début du XXe siècle : "Les événements commencent ici leur ébullition. Toute la Russie est en feu. Ce feu se répand partout. Les angoisses de l’âme et la tristesse des individus ont fusionné avec le deuil national pour produire une horreur écarlate singulière."

En somme, comme le disait Jacques Bainville, "tout a toujours très mal marché". Les avenirs radieux, les lendemains qui chantent, ne sont que des épiphénomènes dans la culture occidentale, qui finissent d’ailleurs le plus souvent de façon catastrophique, ce dont témoigne amplement le XXe siècle. Comme quoi le pessimisme peut avoir du bon. C’est un avertissement que peu de grands esprits ont négligé.

Même les auteurs dont on cite à tort et à travers les propos enthousiastes sur l’histoire en ont souvent conservé précieusement une solide dose. Emmanuel Kant, par exemple, dont on vante volontiers le projet de paix perpétuelle, sans doute parce qu’il n’a jamais été aussi utopique et perdu dans le brouillard, affirmait qu’avec le bois tordu de l’humanité on ne saurait rien façonner de droit.

C’est une conclusion que les Européens ne sont jamais tout à fait parvenus à faire partager aux Américains, dont l’Eden semble manquer d’un acteur essentiel : le serpent. Cette absence est, si l’on peut se permettre cette expression, particulièrement frappante dans l’administration Obama, qui ouvre les bras à tous vents, sans craindre les tempêtes ou même les mauvais courants d’air à l’abord de l’hiver. Le président américain devrait relire Herman Melville, qui, pour avoir de solides racines écossaises, n’en est pas moins un des plus grands écrivains que l’Amérique ait produit.

Certes, il y a dans le thème du déclin un risque évident : le découragement face à toute entreprise humaine, voire, ce qui est pire, une forme de complaisance dans la chute, qui est, précisément, l’attitude du personnage de Jean-Baptiste Clamence dans l’oeuvre de Camus qui porte ce nom. Tout le monde est coupable dans un monde où la chute est la règle et la rédemption un leurre. Il n’y a plus ni valeurs, ni hiérarchie, ni jugement possibles. La différence entre le meurtrier et sa victime est une affaire de perspective, comme l’est celle qui sépare le "bon" du "mauvais" gouvernement dont une célèbre fresque de Sienne a représenté les caractéristiques. On peut se vautrer dans le déclin – public et privé – comme d’autres dans la fange et y trouver un certain confort : les choses sont ainsi, pourquoi s’en faire ?

Mais la force du thème est celle du retour sur soi et de la réflexivité, qui permet de mesurer les erreurs, les fautes, et de porter un jugement sur l’engourdissement éthique où le monde est plongé. Les peuples qui refusent de se pencher sur leur passé n’atteindront jamais la maturité historique. A bon entendeur, salut !

Il y a là une vraie supériorité des pays occidentaux, qui ont passé des décennies à tenter de comprendre l’abîme dans lequel ils ont plongé, sur la Chine et la Russie, qui auraient pourtant matière à réflexion. Les Européens ont, encore aujourd’hui, conscience de se trouver "au milieu des débris d’une grande tempête", comme l’écrivait Balzac des rescapés de la Révolution française. Il suffit pour en témoigner de suivre la production cinématographique allemande.

La réflexion et le souvenir seuls peuvent donner la force de reconnaître dans la violence et la désorientation de l’époque le prélude potentiel de nouvelles catastrophes. Ils constituent même le premier pas pour tenter de les éviter. Si les massacres passés sont des sujets tabous, comment condamner ceux du présent ? Si les liens de Pékin avec le régime de Pol Pot sont censurés au moment du procès des Khmers rouges, si le nombre des victimes de la révolution culturelle ne fait l’objet d’aucun travail sérieux en Chine, si les archives du goulag ou de la guerre en Tchétchénie doivent être protégées des autorités russes, que penser de l’attitude de ces pays à l’égard de massacres à venir ?

Certes, le retour sur soi, pour être nécessaire, n’est pas suffisant. Le monde occidental doit encore affronter d’épineux problèmes : la disparition progressive des grandes questions qui ont agité l’esprit au profit des "puzzles" ou des "minuties" dénoncées par Karl Popper dès 1945 traduit un rétrécissement de la vie intellectuelle au moment précis où la possibilité d’éclairer de nouveaux horizons a considérablement augmenté avec les moyens de communication contemporains ; la revanche du sacré, avec un retour fracassant de la religion sous des formes violentes et destructrices, renvoie au vide spirituel de nos sociétés : elle ne rencontre d’ailleurs aucune autre réponse que celle des armes. Le travail est à peine engagé sur ces sujets en Occident. Mais le don du souvenir est pour les peuples comme pour les individus le début de la cure psychique. D’où l’intérêt du thème du déclin.

Pour conclure donc, ce thème n’a pas pour fonction d’entretenir une culture crépusculaire ou d’annoncer sans trop de réflexion l’avènement de l’Asie sur la scène mondiale. De quoi parle-t-on au juste en évoquant un ensemble géographique aussi disparate ? Et qui peut dire ce que cet avènement nous réserverait ? L’avenir nous paraîtrait moins profondément déstructuré si nous tirions les conséquences d’une vérité toute simple : le seul moyen de participer à la réalisation d’un monde plus stable est d’en avoir une idée.

Ceux qui disposent des meilleurs outils pour la produire sont aussi ceux qui ont la conscience la plus aiguë du caractère tragique de l’histoire. Les grandes catastrophes du XXe siècle font partie de notre héritage. Nous sommes des êtres du déclin et du gouffre qui ont soif de renaissance et de salut. Beaucoup de peuples pourraient se reconnaître dans ce miroir.

Politologue et philosophe, chercheur associé au Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI) et membre du conseil de direction de l’Institut international d’études stratégiques (IISS), elle a notamment écrit chez Grasset "L’Ensauvagement" (2005), "Le Grand Perturbateur : réflexions sur la question iranienne" (2007), et publiera en 2010 "Variations sur l’irrationnel".

Voir aussi:

Get Ready for a U.S. Romp

London was supposed to be China’s moment to seize the Olympic medal count. But our projections suggest the U.S. will win—and win big.

MATTHEW FUTTERMAN, LORETTA CHAO AND GEOFFREY A. FOWLER

The WSJ

July 20, 2012

Time to unfurl Old Glory and break out the red, white and blue boxer shorts.

Four years after China became the first country since 1992 to win more Olympic gold medals than the U.S., The Wall Street Journal’s medal projections for London suggest the Star-Spangled Banner will once again play more often than any other anthem.

And for the fifth consecutive Summer Games, the U.S. should finish atop the overall medal table.

China’s victory in the gold-medal race in 2008 was supposed to herald the arrival of the newest Olympic superpower, a vast country with 1.3 billion people and a proven government-sponsored training program. Even at the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, there was a growing sense that China would win the most gold and overall medals in 2012.

And the Winner Is …

The top national teams ranked by projected gold-medal count at the London Olympics. Wall Street Journal projections are a product of the probabilities of success based on recent performance, interviews with experts and other factors.

How China’s Powerhouse Ran Out of Steam

Instead, London should vindicate America’s decentralized and entrepreneurial approach to developing the world’s best athletes. The Wall Street Journal’s projections show Team U.S.A.’s 530 athletes should leave London with 40 gold medals and 108 overall, topping the Chinese, who are projected to collect 38 gold medals and 92 overall.

The Journal’s forecasting system takes into account basic information such as interviews with experts and the performances of athletes in recent national and international competitions. But rather than simply anointing first-, second- and third-place finishers in each event and calling it a day, the model assigns probabilities to the top medal contenders, then uses those probabilities to project the most likely outcomes.

Can China’s Olympians keep up with U.S. Olympians in London 2012? Will they match the success they saw in Beijing 2008 when they hosted the event, or will the London 2012 be a bust? The WSJ’s Emily Veach makes a few predictions.

For instance, the U.S. women’s basketball team, which hasn’t lost a game at the Olympics since 1992, is an 80% favorite to win the gold by our count—while the next most likely winners come in at 10%. Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, who has to prevail over stiff competition from Roger Federer and hometown favorite Andy Murray, has just a 40% chance for gold. After tallying those probabilities, we enlisted sports actuary John Dewan, owner of Baseball Info Solutions, to run 1,000 simulations of the Games.

The results were emphatic: The U.S. won or tied for the most medals 998 times. And while the gold-medal race was less certain, the U.S. won it 746 times to 304 for China. There were 57 ties and seven scenarios in which Russia was a surprise winner.

Some events were so close they were tough to handicap. This year, there’s a cracker of a match before the Opening Ceremony even takes place, as the U.S. women’s soccer team takes on a talented French side in a rematch of their 2011 World Cup semifinal. We expect the U.S. to survive on the strength of deadly scoring duo Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, and to earn a medal, but the match shouldn’t be missed.

Same goes for the showdown in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, where China’s Liu Xiang, Cuba’s Dayron Robles, and Jayson Richardson of the U.S. are all capable of winning gold and setting a world record. Wall Street Journal projections have Xiang and Robles in a dead heat. And only a fool would miss the men’s 200-meter freestyle, where American Ryan Lochte should beat France’s Yannick Agnel by a fingernail, but not more.

As for individual sports disciplines, the predictions show the U.S. dominating where it usually does—in medal-rich swimming and track and field. Those two sports should account for 57 U.S. medals, or 53% of the U.S. haul. Swimmer Michael Phelps isn’t chasing eight gold medals again, but he could easily win five gold and seven overall.

Chinese success in winning medals relies less on raw athletic talent than it does on intense training. The Chinese do best in the sorts of events where a tireless commitment to practice pays dividends. China, for example, should rack up medals in weightlifting (eight), diving (nine) and table tennis (six). In 2008, China won 16 medals in badminton and shooting and just two in swimming and track. Its swimming is improved, thanks to distance specialist Sun Yang, who is expected to win both the 1,500-meter and 400-meter freestyle races.

Britain’s Olympic improvement should continue, too, with the country’s hopes riding on a few key athletes, including distance runner Mo Farah, who may try to pull off the rare feat of winning both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races. Meanwhile, Germany should continue to confound the experts, winning just 49 overall medals, far below what a country so populous, wealthy and successful at the Winter Olympics should.

On the other end of the spectrum: Jamaica. Led by Usain Bolt, the planet’s fastest man, and the world’s top sprint team, Jamaica should claim a dozen medals, four of them gold. Not bad for a country of just 2.9 million people.

Sore Ankles and Split Seconds

A return to U.S. Olympic supremacy would come at a time when the economy is lagging and when Americans are feeling somewhat less than superpower-like. It also arrives in the middle of a presidential race in which both candidates could use the outcome for their benefit: President Obama by noting that the triumph occurred on his watch and Mitt Romney by touting his credentials as the chief of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Team U.S.A.’s projected success is subject to the whims of world-class athletic competition, of course—an environment where a sore ankle or a few hundredths of a second can make the difference between victory and defeat. Two American swimmers, Phelps and Missy Franklin, could help the U.S. win a dozen gold medals, or they could get the flu and leave empty-handed.

If probability becomes reality, however, a U.S. romp could presage more dominance in the future. The USOC receives no support from the federal government. But nothing gets Americans to reach into their pocketbooks on behalf of the Olympics more than seeing Americans win.

"The better we do, the more money we can raise," says Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the USOC.

Olympic improvement tends to come with hosting the Games, as when China soared in 2008. Besides the psychological advantage of competing at home, host countries invest in facilities, coaching and athlete development. China poured money and effort into "Project 119," a program to target the 119 potential gold medals in sports where China was traditionally weak, such as swimming, boxing and athletics. The Chinese won 51 gold medals and 100 overall in 2008, up from 28 and 63 in 2004.

The British have spent nearly $500 million to fund training and athletic-development programs since 2009. The Journal projects that Team GB, as it is known, will win 22 gold medals and 66 overall this year, a vast improvement from eight years ago, when Britain won nine gold medals and 31 overall.

The U.S. hasn’t hosted a Summer Olympics since 1996 and won’t host another one until at least 2024. It spends relatively little on athletes. The USOC shells out on average $106.2 million a year to train and treat its winter and summer athletes and maintain its training centers in Colorado Springs, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Chula Vista, Calif.

However, while the USOC has the ultimate power of naming the country’s Olympic team, it has relatively few resources and athletes under its direct control. The national governing body for each sport, such as USA Track & Field and USA Swimming, is largely responsible for developing future Olympians. In most cases, those groups rely largely on the U.S. collegiate, scholastic and recreational sports systems.

During the 2010-11 school year, the latest for which figures are available, U.S. college athletic departments spent $12.1 billion, according to U.S. Department of Education filings. High-school athletic departments spend several billion dollars more. U.S. parents dig deep also, spending hundreds of millions on training in hopes their kids become the next Abby Wambach or Nastia Luikin.

Compare that with China, where state-run sports schools comb through communities searching for the extremely tall to play basketball and the double-jointed to learn diving. The state oversees their training into adulthood.

That system, says Bill Martin, the former president of the USOC, wouldn’t work in the U.S. "It’s not part of the DNA of our country to have one controlling authority on sports," he says. "The beauty of our system is that Olympians can come out of anywhere, and they do."

China’s projected medal decline points to a common post-host hangover and a more fundamental weakness in its approach to athlete development: the decline of the sports school. Over the past decade, the number of sports schools in China has decreased by 40%, according to state-run newspaper Global Times, as the country’s booming economy has created more career options for rural youth whose families once viewed sports schools as a meal ticket or the only means of social mobility. Now families are more likely to turn down an invitation to a sports school because other options exist.

Chinese sports officials declined to comment for this story, but Susan Brownell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, who has written extensively about Chinese sports, says the country "is just really slowly moving toward a sports system that is more in line with what other countries have—very slowly."

Hunting for Talent

The potency of the U.S. system is its ability to spread money and opportunity to the broadest spectrum of athletes. "You’ve got this competitive system of clubs and coaches and schools all looking for talent," says Chris Welton, chief executive of Helios Partners, a sports-consulting firm that works with Olympic organizations around the world. "If you’ve got athletic talent in this country, it’s so much harder to be missed."

The system largely leaves training up to the athletes, forcing them (and their parents) to be hungry and entrepreneurial in their search for the best coaching and money to fund their training.

Jesse Williams, the NCAA high-jump champion in 2006, failed to make the final at the 2008 Olympics. When his career continued to sputter, Williams switched coaches to train with Cliff Rovelto at Kansas State University. Rovelto overhauled his training and jumping style. Williams did away with his 300-meter repetitions and now never runs farther than 60 meters leading up to a major competition. His regimen is focused on reaching maximum speed in his final steps before his jump as he sprints toward the bar, clawing the track with his whole foot instead of bounding into his jump while running on his toes.

The changes helped Williams win the gold at the IAAF World Championships in South Korea last summer, and now he is headed for London. "I feel like I can jump over Times Square," he said in a recent interview.

GENERATION NEXT

The decentralized U.S. approach produces elite talent like Gabrielle Douglas.

Then there is Gabrielle Douglas, the 16-year-old who won the U.S. Olympic Trials competition in gymnastics. Her family cobbled together enough money and support to send her from her home in Virginia at 14 to West Des Moines, Iowa, where she lived with a host family and trained with Liang Chow, coach of 2008 gold medalist Shawn Johnson.

Douglas is part of a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team that includes 2011 world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber (Michigan) and gold-medal hopeful Alexandra Raisman (Massachusetts).

The team is favored to win the women’s team gold medal in London, something few would have predicted eight years ago when the Chinese were ascendant.

Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, says the relatively decentralized American approach has created "a system that has a pipeline that continues to bring new kids into the elite level."

Mr. Futterman, a Wall Street Journal staff reporter in New York, can be reached at matthew.futterman@wsj.com. Contact Ms. Chao, a staff reporter in Beijing, at loretta.chao@wsj.com, and Mr. Fowler, a staff reporter in San Francisco, at geoffrey.fowler@wsj.com. Laurie Burkitt and Kersten Zhang contributed to this article.

Voir également:

The Comeback Country

How America pulled itself back from the brink—and why it’s destined to stay on top.

Daniel Gross

Newsweek

April 8, 2010

In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown and the deep, long recession that followed, the decline of America has become the preferred intellectual preoccupation of the elite—left, right, and center. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist, has argued that the Obama administration’s tepid response to the recession and the financial meltdown will sandbag the U.S. recovery. Historian Niall Ferguson has made the case that high debt and profligate spending will cause the downfall of a once mighty empire. Harvard economist Ken Rogoff frets that the U.S. could become the next Greece. In January, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, once dubbed l’Americain, delivered a blistering speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos that criticized the U.S.-led model of global capitalism.

After the failure of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, industries and institutions tethered to the easy-money era were nearly sliced in half. And so was America’s economic self-esteem. Between the end of 2007 and the first quarter of 2009, $9 trillion of wealth evaporated. The relentless boom of China, India, and Brazil, with their cheap labor and abundant natural resources, emerged as a frightening new threat. The collapse coincided with other foreboding omens: $4-a-gallon gas, the rise of the tea partiers, an ungovernable Senate, an oddly blasé White House, unrepentant banks, and stubbornly high unemployment. The broad measure that tallies frustrated part-timers and those who have given up remains at 16.9 percent. If the U.S. doesn’t tumble back into recession, the consensus holds, we’ll face a Japan-style lost decade. A 2009 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 27 percent were confident their children’s standard of living would be better than their own.

Bleak is the new black.

But the long-term decline of the U.S. economy has been greatly exaggerated. America is coming back stronger, better, and faster than nearly anyone expected—and faster than most of its international rivals. The Dow Jones industrial average, hovering near 11,000, is up 70 percent in the past 13 months, and auto sales in the first quarter were up 16 percent from 2009. The economy added 162,000 jobs in March, including 17,000 in manufacturing. The dollar has gained strength, and the U.S. is back to its familiar position of lapping Europe and Japan in growth. Among large economies, only China, India, and Brazil are growing more rapidly than the U.S.—and they’re doing so off a much smaller base. If the U.S. economy grows at a 3.6 percent rate this year, as Macroeconomic Advisers projects, it’ll create $513 billion in new economic activity—equal to the GDP of Indonesia.

So what accounts for the pervasive gloom? Housing and large deficits remain serious problems. But most experts are overlooking America’s true competitive advantages. The tale of the economy’s remarkable turnaround is largely the story of swift reaction, a willingness to write off bad debts and restructure, and an embrace of efficiency—disciplines largely invented in the U.S. and at which it still excels. America still leads the world at processing failure, at latching on to new innovations and building them to scale quickly and profitably. "We are the most adaptive, inventive nation, and have proven quite resilient," says Richard Florida, sociologist and author of The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. If these impulses are embraced more systematically and wholeheartedly, the U.S. can remain an economic superpower well into the current century.

So what will our new economy look like once the smoke finally clears? There will likely be fewer McMansions with four-car garages and more well-insulated homes, fewer Hummers and more Chevy Volts, less proprietary trading and more productivity-enhancing software, less debt and more capital, more exported goods and less imported energy. Most significant, there will be new commercial infrastructures and industrial ecosystems that incubate and propel growth—much as the Internet did in the 1990s.

The current pessimism is part of a historical economic inferiority complex. To hear some critics tell it, things have been going south in this country since the cruel winter in Jamestown, Va., in 1609, when most of the settlers died. And for most of the 19th century, America was the immature, uncouth cousin that required huge infusions of European capital to build its railroads. The U.S. emerged from World War II as the globe’s industrial, financial, and technological leader by default—the rest of the developed world had destroyed much of its industrial capacity. Yet Americans were insecure about their rising status. In the 1920s, many Progressives returned from Mussolini’s Italy convinced that Il Duce had a superior economic model. During the New Deal, bankers and industrialists earnestly fretted that Franklin Roosevelt would ruin the nation’s prospects for growth by establishing a new safety net. The U.S.S.R.’s launch of the sputnik satellite in 1957 inspired fears that the Soviet Union’s presumed technological lead would allow it to triumph in the Cold War. And in the 1980s, Japan threatened the U.S. with exports of electronics and cars and by buying trophy properties like Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf resort. "The Cold War is over, and Japan won," as Sen. Paul Tsongas put it in 1992.

Of course, the declinists were often wrong—Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach returned to U.S. ownership within a decade. Just as exuberant projections are generally made precisely at the top (remember Dow 36,000?), prophecies of long-term decline usually gain traction after we’ve suffered a catastrophic fall. This time around, the chorus of naysayers reached its climax in March 2009, when Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke was widely mocked for his identification of "green shoots" of recovery. In the first quarter of 2009, the economy was shrinking at a 6.4 percent annual rate. By the fourth quarter it was growing at a 5.9 percent rate. Consider the scope of that swing: the growth rate of a $14.5 trillion economy shifted by 12.3 percentage points in about nine months. Like a massive sailboat pivoting 180 degrees in choppy seas, this wrenching turnaround produced a massive wake, and induced nausea among many of its passengers.

The recovery came quickly because the public and private sectors reacted with great speed. In the 1990s, Japanese policymakers deliberated and delayed before embarking on a program that included interest-rate cuts, a huge stimulus program, expanded bank insurance, and the nationalization of failed institutions. In 2008 and 2009 it took the U.S. just 18 months to conduct the aggressive fiscal and monetary actions that Japan waited for 12 years to carry out. And the patient responded to the shock therapy, as the credit markets and financial sector bounced back. Since the announcements of the Treasury-imposed stress tests in May 2009, banks have raised more than $140 billion in new equity capital. In August 2009, not even the most cockeyed optimists could have projected that within four months, Bank of America, Citi, and Wells Fargo would return $100 billion in borrowed funds to the taxpayers. But they did.

CIT Group, the small-business lender that lost its way in an ill-timed foray into subprime, is a perfect example of those quick reflexes. It filed for Chapter 11 on Nov. 1, 2009. In five weeks it wiped out $10.4 billion in debt (including $2.3 billion of TARP funds) and emerged from bankruptcy. It has brought in a new CEO—John Thain, who had run the New York Stock Exchange and Merrill Lynch—and is now focusing on its core business of lending to small and midsize firms. "Restructuring, whether it is done out of court or bankruptcy, is an accepted genre in the U.S., whereas overseas it still carries much more of an onus," says Stephen Cooper, a founder of Zolfo Cooper, which pioneered the business of administering triage to seriously wounded companies.

Fixing broken financial structures is only the beginning. In periods of slack demand, the single most important factor that drives profitability is the ability to do more with less. Here again, Americans seem to have an innate competitive advantage. Whether it was Frederick Taylor, the inventor of scientific management, walking around Victorian-era factories with stopwatches, timing workers’ motions; or Henry Ford perfecting the assembly line; or W. Edwards Deming developing total quality management; or Walmart’s insanely effective supply chains—the pursuit of efficiency is as American as apple pie. In this crisis, companies embraced cost cutting and efficiency. From the fourth quarter of 2008 to the fourth quarter of 2009, productivity rose 5.8 percent. In 2007 and 2008, productivity growth was 1.7 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

In the short term, the ruthless pursuit of efficiency translates into the uncomfortable—and unsustainable—dichotomy of rising profits and falling employment. But the focus on efficiency is creating new business opportunities for smart companies. At BigBelly Solar, a Needham, Mass.–based firm whose solar-powered trash compactors reduce the need for both labor and energy, sales doubled in both 2008 and 2009. "Cities and institutions like universities and park systems are eager to do more with less," says CEO Jim Poss. Leasing 500 compacting units has allowed Philadelphia to cut weekly pickups from 17 to five, and will save it $13 million over 10 years. BigBelly employs fewer than 50 people, but like many businesses in fast-growing markets it indirectly supports a much larger number of jobs. At Mack Molding, an Arlington, Vt., contract manufacturer, 35 workers are kept busy on two shifts producing compactors. "When you add the employees at the more than 50 component suppliers, this work is supporting another 180 jobs," says Joan Magrath, vice president of sales and engineering at Mack Molding. BigBelly compactors, which are entirely made in the U.S., have been exported to 25 countries. It’s a drop in the bucket. But thousands of startups and small businesses are trying to crack the markets developing at home and abroad.

In fact, since bottoming in April 2009, exports have risen smartly, from $121.7 billion in April 2009 to $142.7 billion in January 2010—an increase of 17.3 percent. Boeing will deliver about 460 commercial planes in 2010, up from 375 in 2008, with the vast majority going to non-U.S. buyers.

All well and good, the skeptics note, but we’ve got a long way to go. To recoup the 8.2 million jobs lost since December 2007, it’ll take four years of growth at 170,000 jobs per month. And by definition, it’s hard to identify the next transformative economic force—the next steam engine or interstate-highway system. White House economic adviser Larry Summers tells a story about the economic summit in Little Rock after the 1992 election. In the thousands of pages of briefing papers and policy briefs, one word didn’t appear: Internet.

Beyond creating jobs for those who built and maintain it, the Internet functions as a powerful platform on which all sorts of new businesses—and ways of doing business—can be rolled out. And constructing entirely new ecosystems is another discipline at which the U.S. excels. "In a reset, we get great individual innovation," notes Richard Florida. But more important is the rise of systems innovation, like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse building electrical systems. "That leads to new models of infrastructure and new kinds of consumption."

Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in April 2003 with a single product: songs selling for 99 cents. Seven years later, iTunes is a much larger business: hardware like the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad; audiobooks, movies, ringtones, apps, and e-books. It’s a boon for retailers, movie studios, independent coders, analytics firms, and accessories makers—the market for cases, sleeves, and headphones for i-devices is north of $1.5 billion annually. In late March, the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers doubled the size of its two-year-old iFund, which backs app makers, to $200 million.

Now consider two interrelated systems: energy and auto manufacturing. In the past two years, the old policy of subsidizing housing and Wall Street has been replaced by a new one that seeks to boost national operating income through efficiency. Skepticism about the potential for millions of "green jobs" to materialize overnight is warranted. But in some areas, a process similar to the iTunes experience is developing. The Danish wind-turbine maker Vestas in recent years has announced investments of nearly $1 billion in wind-turbine-manufacturing plants in Colorado, which, when completed, will directly employ about 2,500 people. But Vestas has also attracted a dozen-odd suppliers, including components producers like Aluwind, PMC Technology, Bach Composite, and Hexcel. And it’s not just about the hardware. Renewable Energy Systems Americas, the largest manager of wind farms, moved its corporate headquarters to Broomfield, Colo., in 2008. Last month Colorado mandated that 30 percent of the state’s energy be produced from renewable sources by 2020.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the wounded auto industry, in which even small gains in efficiency can produce big economic gains. Simply improving the mileage of the U.S. fleet by one mile per gallon would save 6.1 billion gallons of gas per year, or $17 billion at today’s prices. To help the industry respond to a new mandate that the U.S. car and light-truck fleet reach average fuel efficiency of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, up from 20.5 today, the Energy Department is providing loans and loan guarantees to large companies—Ford has received $5.9 billion in loans to transform several factories—and to startups like Fisker Automotive.

Henrik Fisker, a veteran auto executive born in Denmark, started his eponymous company in August 2007 to produce a premium plug-in hybrid. "The U.S. is traditionally a nation of innovators, but the reason it makes the most sense to be here is because the consumer is also willing to take risks," he says. Fisker raised $250 million in venture capital, snapped up engineering talent on the cheap, and has tapped into the automotive supply chain, which is eager for new business. Last October the company bought a recently shuttered General Motors plant in Wilmington, Dela., for the knockdown price of $18 million. Armed with a $528.7 million federal loan guarantee, Fisker plans to spend more than $150 million retooling the plant. It’s preparing to ship the first Karma (retail price: $87,000) to dealers by the end of this year. But the rollout of electric and plug-in hybrids also has the potential to create its own ecosystem—dealers, charging stations, accessories, software applications. Henrik Fisker says: "The development of this industry will influence how we make electricity in this country."

Such Silicon Valley bravado may ring hollow in a period of diminished expectations. Yet even amid its historic humbling, the U.S. has shown an ability to bring new ideas to global scale rapidly. At Davos, where the world seemed to celebrate the demise of America as a vital economic force, the hottest ticket was the party thrown by Google. Elites elbowed for position at the bar, danced poorly, and tapped out text messages on their iPhones, made by?.?.?.?Apple. Google and Apple are the nation’s third- and ninth-largest companies by market capitalization, respectively, with a combined value of $398 billion. Now consider that in early 2002, in the wake of the last meltdown and the post-Enron crisis in American confidence, their combined value was a few billion, consisting mostly of Apple, which traded for less than the cash available on its balance sheet. Google was a privately held company with about 600 employees. Now both are iconic global brands, major exporters, and spurs to innovation and growth—they represent America the way Chevrolet and McDonald’s once did.

The last two expansions have been 120 months and 92 months, respectively. If the U.S. continues to adapt as it has, and if it produces a few more game changers like Google and Apple, there’s no reason that the expansion that started in July 2009, against all the odds and predictions, can’t last just as long.

Voir enfin:

China’s Silicon Ceiling

Free markets require free minds.

Daniel Gross

Newsweek

January 14, 2010

Google vs. China represents a clash of what may be the two most powerful forces of the first decade of the 21st century. Like China, Google has changed the terms of competition in several crucial markets, thanks to its advantages in hardware, productive capacity, and engineering brainpower. The juggernaut rolls into new industries—e-mail, GPS, smart phones, operating systems for netbooks—heedless of the competition, racking up profits and disheartening competitors.

But now one of the world’s most rapidly growing companies has threatened to pull up stakes from one of the world’s most rapidly growing markets. It’s a move that raises many questions about Google and its future—and a larger question about China. Can China get rich without becoming free?

History suggests it can’t. Until recently China, which was technologically more advanced than Europe in the middle of the last millennium, had been left behind. Historians, led by the magisterial David Landes of Harvard, have made a convincing case that the slow erosion of arbitrary authority—the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the rise of rights, constitutions, democracy—helped stoke the capitalist revolution. For the past few centuries, the developed world has been led economically by democratizing commercial empires—Britain in the 18th and 19th, and the U.S. in the 20th. Without free minds, it’s difficult to have free markets, and vice versa. Trying to develop economically while controlling the flow of information has generally been a losing bet. Either such regimes fail to grow and collapse (the Soviet bloc), or the forces of economic liberalism ultimately lead to political liberalism, as in Chile.

For the past 30 years China has been testing a new, inverted model: breakneck economic development while retaining strict limits on personal liberty. The Communist Party has wrenched the nation into the 21st century. The hardware is certainly impressive—the maglev trains, shiny new airports, and modern skyscrapers. China has displaced the U.S. as the world’s largest car market, and is about to surpass longtime rival Japan as the second-largest economy. Such growth has attracted American companies, which inevitably make a series of trade-offs when they decide to head east. They accept local joint-venture partners and the risk of intellectual property theft, and learn to negotiate a commercial culture in which the government may arrest and jail a key executive, as happened with Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. As a group, the Fortune 500 has overlooked or come to terms with the lack of political freedom. After all, General Motors or KFC are in the business of selling stuff, not principles. And they have to be in China because that’s where the action is. "If you don’t come to the Chinese markets, other countries will," said Zheng Zeguang, director general of North American Affairs in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

That’s why Google came. Last summer, Google advertisements were ubiquitous in Shanghai. But Google is unlike other U.S. companies that have succeeded in China. It sells access to information. Its business model requires freedom of linking, surfing, and expression. And that’s why it, along with other media and New Economy companies, hasn’t done well in China. Google has 14.1 percent of the Chinese search market, compared to homegrown Baidu’s 62.2 percent. Worse for Google (motto: don’t be evil), doing business in Guangzhou means being complicit in activities that are antithetical to its mission. "How far do you go down the path to becoming a de facto adjunct to government control of information?" asks Zachary Karabell, author of Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy.

Like Google, China is led by engineers—but the leaders were trained as civil engineers. Google’s software engineers became billionaires by devising a democratic algorithm. China’s civil engineers are turning the process on its head. They believe the nation is getting richer precisely because they are keeping democratic tendencies in check. In the two weeks I spent in China last November, I heard Westernized elites make all sorts of rationalizations for why the time isn’t right for democratization. The main argument: in a nation of 1.3 billion people, 56 ethnic groups, and unbalanced development, encouraging free elections, civil society, and political organizing would be a recipe for chaos—and an obstacle to growth. One senior bureaucrat pointed out that the growth rates of South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia declined once they became more democratic. "When you emphasize development and efficiency, then you have a problem with the system of democracy," said Zhe Sun, director of the Tsinghua University Center for U.S.–China Relations in Beijing. For a regime whose legitimacy rests on economic progress, no such delays can be tolerated.

Yes, Shanghai feels a lot like New York. But don’t presume that just because Americans and Chinese share a consuming culture that they also share a political one. As I stood in Tiananmen Square on a chilly November day, I turned to my guide. "That was really something, what happened here 20 years ago," I said. "Yes," he responded in his near-fluent English. "Those terrorists really killed a lot of soldiers."

Market forces prevail, but the government clearly has its hands on the steering wheel and its feet on the gas pedal and brakes—especially in information-intensive industries like Internet search. And so even as it welcomes investments by the Fortune 500, China engages in large-scale cyberattacks on the most technologically advanced company in the world. The crisis that plunged the world into recession has only given the Chinese more confidence in their model. In November, I met with Qian Xiao-qian, vice minister of the State Council for Information of China. "To say the Chinese government controls the Internet is exaggerated," he said. (After the meeting, I fired up my laptop and was blocked from getting to Twitter, Facebook, and Andrew Sullivan’s blog.) Qian enumerated all the things people can’t do on the Internet: no online pornography, no attempts to incite racial discrimination, and no attempts "to violate the Chinese Constitution and subvert the state." The rules, however, are arbitrary, opaque, and subject to change.

Qian ticked off the impressive numbers—China has 338 million Netizens as of June 2009, 700 million mobile subscribers, and 180 million blogs. That’s certainly enough users to build businesses around, with or without Google.

Can China continue to grow without allowing Google—and the next Googles of the world—free rein in China? It’s worked out well so far. But there are a few caveats to the story.

First, China still has a long way to go before it’s considered rich. And some sympathetic analysts argue that it’s not fair to hold China’s civic development to American standards. The U.S. had China’s present-day economic profile—per capita GDP of about $5,000, 40 percent of the workforce in agriculture, 30 years into the process of industrialization and urbanization—in 1900, a time when there were no direct elections for Senate, women couldn’t vote, and segregation reigned in the South.

Second, much of China’s extraordinary development has been based on moving peasants into manufacturing. The key to future job growth, says Stephen Green, chief economist at Standard Chartered Bank in Shanghai, will lie in the service sector. And the largest components of the services sector—financial services, entertainment, media—remain firmly in the grip of the state. Going forward, it will become more difficult for a services-based economy to prosper with restraints on communication and expression. China faces a fundamental paradox, says Damien Ma, an analyst at the Eurasia Group. "It needs to have fairly closed information flow for political stability purposes, but doing so stifles innovation."

And that’s the rub. Any type of political system can produce excellent hardware; the Soviet Union, which ruled Russia when Google cofounder Sergey Brin was born there in 1973, managed to produce nuclear weapons and satellites. Likewise, China has built truly impressive hardware: some 67 bridges now span the Yangtze River, a superfast supercomputer made entirely from parts made in China, high-speed trains. But in the 21st century, a country needs great software in order to thrive. It has to have a culture that facilitates the flow of information, not just goods.

Une réponse à Londres 2012: Vous avez dit déclin? (London finally vindicates America’s decentralized entrepreneurial approach and reveals inherent limitations of Beijing consensus)

  1. [...] article du Monde d’il y a trois ans la récemment décédée et regrettée Thérèse Delpech, que la vraie supériorité du modèle occidental (notamment le si décrié “Consensus de Washington”) sur le “Consensus de Pékin” des [...]

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