Seen and Heard: Irvin Studin, East Teaches West and Vice Versa


Rajin Singh

Several select and celebrated Asian nations have been deadly serious about the economic welfare of their societies as well as their stature in the international community. This seriousness is driven by the political need to deliver outcomes that improve the economic and social welfare of their societies. State regimes like that in China depend on it. On Tuesday January 29th, School of Public Policy and Governance Professor and Global Brief Editor-in-Chief Irvin Studin discussed the policy promiscuity of Asian nations in contrast to Western nations at SPPG as part of the International Briefing Series.

Asian nations look around the world for help in their drive toward development. They’ve picked up on the best ideas on offer to propel their societies forward—quickly. The East has strategically looked to the West for ideas, technologies and best practices since the early 20th century. It’s this strategic promiscuity, Irvin Studin argues, that characterizes the seriousness with which these nations operate.  Serious leaders and policymakers understand the importance of global travel, establishing international relationships and closing culture gaps.

This policy promiscuity has come with considerable success. Taiwanese firms have nurtured relationships with Silicon Valley across the Pacific in order to learn and reverse engineer the technologies that now give them a global competitive advantage in microchip manufacturing. China learned to play the greentech game by voyeuristically watching clean technology development in Germany and Denmark. Now that country is satiating global demand for wind turbines and solar panels. Strategic promiscuity has paid off for Asia.

The explanatory power of Irvin Studin’s distinct vocabulary rests in how it’s able to illustrate the otherwise ambiguous practice of how nations should strategically conduct themselves vis-à-vis the international community. Serious nations have little problem promiscuously involving themselves strategically in the cultural and economic spheres of other societies. They are secure enough in their statehood to pivot toward those societies in a way that would help improve their stature in the international community. But what can the West get from promiscuously facing the East?

Apart from the elegant vocabulary, Studin’s argument helps propel discussions surrounding national strategy development by asking what we in the West can learn from the East. He contrasts a deliberative and argumentative Western ‘rule of reason’ model with an Eastern ‘algorithmic’ model of meticulous planning. Whereas in Western democracies policy discussions are held in the public view, in East Asia policy discussions are approached technically within closed policy networks. The result is that East Asian states have developed a temperament for longer term planning, which is critical for strategically posturing a country for success into the future.

Canada, likewise, needs a strong temperament for planning if it’s to become a major player in the future. Unlike China and Singapore, reforms to induce this temperament for planning will have to be within the context of Canada’s democratic institutions. Studin recommends several options or goals that would move Canada in this direction. Canadian policymakers must strive towards further collaboration between all levels of government so that Canada can move gracefully and effectively in one strategic direction. The public financing of political party think tanks would professionalize the political class in order to promote continuity in times of political transition. Finally, education should be approached strategically at the federal level as the quality and scope of Canada’s international engagement is in part determined by the international literacy of its citizens. By promiscuously adopting ideas like these to foster a long-term temperament to plan, Canada will create the opportunities to position itself more advantageously in the international community.

Rajin Singh is a MPP Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. He holds a Hons. B.A. in Political Science and History from Victoria University in the University of Toronto. Rajin previously worked as a Policy Advisor for the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation and as Co-Manager of the Global Ideas Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

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