02/23/2013 03:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Governance Matters in Whether Societies Go Forward or Backward

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On Friday night, Arianna Huffington generously hosted a book party for the book Nicolas Berggruen and I have just published, Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century: A Middle Way Between East and West.

After opening remarks by Arianna, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Nicolas Berggruen, I summarized the main theme of the book: governance matters in whether societies go forward or backward.

Here are my brief remarks:

"Governor Jerry Brown and I visited China some 30 plus years ago. In those days, China was just beyond the Cultural Revolution and could barely feed itself. Shenzen, now the factory to the world, was little more than a village. Ground was just being broken on the Three Gorges Dam. Everyone rode bicycles.

We all know what has happened in the 30 years since: Despite its many problems and issues -- corruption, pollution, lack of free expression and now lately, cyberspying -- China has managed to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. The largest network of bullet trains in the world connect glittering megacities with state of the art subways underneath. Shanghai schools test the best globally. China is now the world's second largest economy. China has leapt forward.

In those same 30 years -- despite being the birthplace of Apple, Google and Facebook -- California has gone backwards. Where once we dreamed of building a society as magnificent as our landscape, we ended up instead with mountains of debt, D+ schools, spending MORE on prisons than higher education and an infrastructure that China puts to shame.

When Gov. Brown and I visited China 30 years ago one of our hosts was the father of Xi Jingping -- China's new leader. Xi's father ran the 'opening up and reform' efforts in Guangzhou province for Deng Xiaoping. He was looking then for Western investment. When Xi Jinpiing visited California last year it was Jerry Brown and Antonio Villaraigosa looking for Chinese investment here! How the tables of history turn.

All this is not to say that China doesn't have immense problems and America great strengths. It is to say that governance matters in whether a society goes forward or backwards, including, or maybe even especially, advanced democracies.

The point is that there is no guarantee that democracy will end up on the right side of history unless we fix the kind of gridlock, paralysis, lack of consensus and absence of long-term perspective that afflicts us so manifestly today in Washington.