Who will rise and fall at this week’s Communist Party congress in Beijing remains shrouded in the usual thick mist of Chinese politics. But the outcome of the twice-a-decade leadership conference is clear: President Xi Jinping will emerge with an even stronger grip on the nation. The congress will thus move China another step away from the management-by-committee that’s marked its reform period and towards something closer to one-man rule. For some China watchers, worried about the risks rising in the world’s second-biggest economy, a more powerful Xi may sound like good news. Conventional wisdom holds that only a strong leader will be able to push through contentious economic reforms in the face of China’s entrenched interests. The more control Xi can grasp, the faster reforms will proceed and the better off China — and the world — will be. China’s own history, however, argues otherwise. Since 1949, the country has progressed faster economically when governed, in effect, by coaliti...

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