America’s movers and shakers can’t seem to stop ogling Chinese authoritarian chic. While few would defend China’s repressive political system, numerous politicians, business executives, and pundits bow before China’s state-directed capitalism, equating authoritarianism with efficiency and ruthlessness with enlightenment.

At the heart of this ogling lies an admiration for Beijing’s ability to undertake large projects far more quickly than America’s democratic gridlock would ever allow. In reality, Chinese central economic planning generates massive inefficiencies and imposes drastic human costs. Below is merely the short list.

China’s state media once trumpeted the trains’ top speed of 210-236 mph as the fastest in the world, but the trains were never designed to run above 186 mph. In April, they were slowed accordingly. Caxin.com, the website of China’s leading business and finance publication, reports that the “high-speed bubble” was all a “naked, systemic lie,” concocted and fanned by the Railways Ministry.

Where gargantuan government investment has created rapid growth in China’s renewable energy industry, it has also resulted in bottlenecks and overcapacity. For instance, China now boasts the world’s largest wind capacity — but approximately one-third of its wind farms stand idle at any given time, unable to connect to the electricity grid.

As a U.S.-trained economist turned Chinese official observed recently, China’s economic inefficiencies are caused by its political contradictions. Instead of ogling Chinese authoritarian chic, Americans would do well to recognize the same. Meeting China’s rising global influence requires sensible policies. Fashioning them would first require seeing China and its limitations more clearly.

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