What is the fascination that the liberal intelligentsia has with China? For some time there’s been an undercurrent of it but recently there’s been a virtual tsunami.
I’ve complained here before about columnist Thomas Friedman’s admiration of China’s new roads, airports, and civil infrastructure. Of course China has new roads, airports, and civil infrastructure. They didn’t have them before and didn’t have the money to produce them or, due to the official policy of autarky which kept most of China’s population among the world’s very poorest people, the need. Now they do. It will be interesting to see what they look like in forty or fifty years since the heroic age of American infrastructure building is now roughly forty or fifty years ago. Should we slavishly imitate the Chinese? My minority view is that we need fewer highways and airports and much better traffic and air traffic management. Essentially, we should need fewer airports and roads rather than build more.
A few days ago Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, a major union representing public employees, had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in praise of China’s economic system:
While we debate, Team China rolls on. Our delegation witnessed China’s people-oriented development in Chongqing, a city of 32 million in Western China, which is led by an aggressive and popular Communist Party leader—Bo Xilai. A skyline of cranes are building roughly 1.5 million square feet of usable floor space daily—including, our delegation was told, 700,000 units of public housing annually.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government can boast that it has established in Western China an economic zone for cloud computing and automotive and aerospace production resulting in 12.5% annual growth and 49% growth in annual tax revenue, with wages rising more than 10% a year.
This admiration is not merely misplaced, it is unhinged. Not only does a third of China’s population live below the the international povery line of $2 per day, in China there is no right to organize labor, no right of representation, no right to form a union. Were Mr. Stern to have engaged in the practices by which he earned his living until recently in China he would either have been imprisoned or placed in a mental institution.
My friend, Rick Moran, has commented on Mr. Stern’s op-ed at substantially greater length.
Now comes Steve Rattner, President Obama’s “auto czar”, with yet another gushing piece on China in the New York Times:
But after a recent visit to China, I remain staunchly optimistic that it will continue to be the world’s greatest machine for economic expansion. While developed countries bump along with little growth, China’s gross domestic product is expected to increase by 9.2 percent in 2011 and an equally astonishing 8.5 percent next year.
The country pulses with energy and success, a caldron of economic ambition larded with understandable self-confidence. Visit the General Motors plant on the outskirts of Shanghai and watch Buicks churned out by steadily moving assembly lines almost indistinguishable from those in plants in Michigan.
My own view of China is that we should have affection and admiration for the Chinese people and their country while despising its system and the authoritarian thugs who created it and control the country, keep too large a fraction of its people in poverty, and ensure that they and their families garner an outsized share of the country’s wealth.
As to the meat of Mr. Rattner’s op-ed, neither he nor I have any idea of what will happen in China. Its authorities have been unable to restrain inflation. Food inflation over the last year was around 14%. In a country in which people pay 50% or more of their wages for food that is serious, indeed. Housing prices are crashing. Nobody, probably including the Chinese authorities, really knows what’s going on in China’s famously opaque state-owned banks. Anything could happen.
Is there something about “system” that these people don’t understand? You can’t pick and choose among the features of a system; the system works as a whole. Would they prefer to live in a country that started from a very low base, has millions of people who are desperately poor, is still largely a command economy, controls the number of children you can have, and lacks nearly all freedoms we consider basic?
Shouldn’t we use the same analysis that the White House economists when talking about the effects of the president’s stimulus package on employment? How much more would China have grown if the country had abandoned its command economy entirely and engaged in complete political and economic reform?
I don’t recall whose wisecrack it was but somebody remarked that no American wants to live under a Stalinist regime but any number of Americans would like to run a Stalinist regime. Maybe that explains it.