I wondered when this would be coming along and in what form it would take, so now the suspense ends. Well I’m just going to presume that I’m included amongst the "people" he’s talking about. So sit back while I swing and howl from the chandelier. I’ll leave you to judge credulity (childish or otherwise; his and mine) for yourselves.
But first: I never, ever said or implied that "China is turning ‘capitalist’" or anything of the kind. I did say that China is attracting capital investment from abroad; an easily verifiable fact. Now, we can all argue about whether to be more "appalled" by someone calling China "capitalist" or America "capitalist" — and surely America is closer to the real thing, having at least once (200 years ago or so) laid down a sort-of moral foundation for the thing (except for that Constitution thingy, and the enormous contradiction of brutal institutionalized slavery) based in Hellenic and Enlightenment ideals — but I just don’t see the point in splitting such hairs given that capital in both places is ultimately (here and now) beholden to gunpoint at the hands of the state. However you get there and in whatever concrete form it takes, that’s the reality everywhere and nobody has the luxury of ignoring it here or there: the end consequences of principled and uncompromising defiance is exactly the same (death).
Billy points to this City Journal article
by the Frenchman Guy Sorman that’s certainly loaded with plenty of
anecdotes (sad, tragic, and evil) and unsupported assertions (mainly in
the form of dissident evaluations), but suspiciously short on real
facts. Worse, it’s completely devoid of any real sense or nose for
business whatsoever and why businesses do what they do. Worst of all,
it reads like the typical lament about how capital investment is really crushing the little guy, only benefiting the well situated and connected, and devastating the environment.
But China’s success is, at least in part, a mirage. True, 200 million
of her subjects, fortunate to be working for an expanding global
market, increasingly enjoy a middle-class standard of living. The
remaining 1 billion, however, remain among the poorest and most
exploited people in the world, lacking even minimal rights and public
Now perhaps it’s completely incredulous to consider that ("true") 200
million Chinese "increasingly enjoy[ing] a middles-class standard of
living" a mere "mirage" of success, but I have to wonder what they were
doing prior to the mirage. I don’t suppose they were anything like
"among the poorest and most exploited people in the world, lacking even
minimal rights and public services."
I don’t know; I read Sorman’s article and far from seeing it as "the
most compelling item of the day," I just sense that what most irks
Frenchman Sorman is that in this economic revolution (it is; and it is to
be properly distinguished from moral and intellectual revolution) that
China is undergoing, some people are getting far ahead of others by
getting in there and figuring out what they need to do to produce and
benefit, and doing it. While it’s certainly true that some individual
"success" is more the result of who you know than what you know and how
you act on it, tell me where in history that has not been the case to
But all the foregoing isn’t really my major beef in this deal. I’ve no problem with being skeptical of China, condemning its evils, criticizing the snail’s pace of its liberalization and so on. This all needs to happen and keep happening. The pressure towards liberalization and transparency must continue — as it needs to continue in America and everywhere else.
My biggest beef is in the assessment of the facts. I’ve been to mainland China (see here; "The 1980s"). I’ve been to Taiwan, Hong Kong half a dozen times, Singapore, Korea a couple of dozen times, and lived in Japan for five years. I also visited the USSR before it’s collapse. I have some direct perspective on people vis-à-vis a communist totalitarian dictatorship and Asian culture.
I think that the starvation of 20 million people in the late 1950s could happen, in part, because the political leaders were evil; in part because communism is evil (because it’s unnatural and imposed by force); and in part because of the centuries old enculturation of submissiveness into the Asian meta-culture. 20 million people did starve because of bad, stupid, short-sighted, and delusional public policies.
Could evil on such scale happen here, or in other Western countries? Sure, for part of and/or some of the same reasons and/or others. We have the brutal legacy of slavery. Europe has the legacy of the uprising and red-carpet acceptance of Hitler and the ensuing appeasement and capitulation. But what did happen was ultimately the result of public policies on the ground.
What’s happening today in China is the result of public policies that are changing. Why are they changing? Well, perhaps in part because, evil as they are, they might just not want to starve another 20 million people — or worse. They pretend as though Tiananmen didn’t happen and they seek to cover it up by the brutality of force, which they ultimately cannot do and know it. Why? Whether embarrassed by it, don’t want another one, or some measure of both, it’s a pretty sure bet that international political pressure now exists where the "mere" murder of 3,000 is a world media event where before, the starvation of 20 million people could almost be overlooked (and almost was).
And now they’ve opened the floodgates of foreign capital investment and they’re getting it in spades. How? Well, they have largely kept their word in matters of business, such as their policies with respect to Hong Kong. I can recall when I was going there pre-1997 that rich Chinese everywhere busied themselves with obtaining passports to the U.K., the U.S., and elsewhere, and moved significant assets out of Hong Kong. Now the capital floods back. Why?
Contrary to a lot of the perma-bear and libertarian "financial analysis" that abounds, corporations and hedge funds now dumping capital into China are not making a serious (financial and business) mistake, as if any of these entities is staking everything on it. They’re not. They’re assessing things from a business perspective, determining adequate risk levels and investing accordingly. If it doesn’t work out, they’re hurt, but not dead. They’re doing the same thing in Dubai, right in the back yard of the religions nut cases.
China has worked hard to gain business trust and that work has been rewarded with commensurate levels of investment. Cause and effect. And according to the article, it has measurably improved the real day-to-day lives of 200 million people, and that’s just in China. The derivative benefit worldwide is incalculable.
But to me, the very worst thing of all is the clear implication that this is somehow bad: that China — this "monstrosity in the twenty-first century" — would do better to maintain the status quo; and if that’s not the clear implication then I would surely like to know why and to then know what is implied. No; what’s happening in China is a good thing. It’s not ideal, of course, but it’s on the one hand naive to think this could proceed in ideal fashion and on the other unfair to expect it to given what we know and observe about practical politics.
At the same time, though business proceeds swiftly ahead here in America in terms of material benefit and wealth, it’s only in spite of the American government’s propensity to increase taxation and innovation-choking regulation. This is bad. China is liberalizing and America is socializing. Yet we can’t even recognize any good that could come of China’s progress. It’s forbidden. Taboo.
Sorman’s piece actually contains more hope than it does anything else if the anacdotes are to be taken seriously. There are one billion Chinese who’ve now, finally, been educated as to what minimum standard of living they ought to be content with and they’re apparently not content. Welcome to the modern world, folks. That’s the real, most fundamental engine of change and I almost pity the Chinese government for letting themselves get our in front of it. I think they know the pressure’s on and that it’s a long shot for this thing to proceed largely peacefully.
I think it’s foolish to not at last consider how it changes the world if 1.2 billion people make it out to the other side. And it’s really sad — really sad — to not have some hope that they can, even if it means grudging hope that a commie can pull it off.
Correction: Billy emails that I never entered his mind when he wrote that post, which of course is good, but bad that I presumed he did. It goes without saying, but: I believe him. My presumption was not only bad, but it implied that he misrepresented me by claiming that I had written that China is turning capitalist. Really, that should have been my clue to check with him before assuming (he does not intentionally put words in mouths). Obviously I owe him my apology for drawing that false implication, so I offer it right here.
As far as the rest goes, the major aspect of the post is my take on the Soreman article which I stand behind (without the snark directed at Billy laced in here and there).