November 10, 2011

Chinese mocking U.S.: right observation, wrong conclusion

In an interesting article in the Washington Times about the Chinese mocking the United States, there's some interesting validity in what they are saying about America, just as there are some incorrect conclusions in what they say.

Let's start with the stuff they got right;
Still wrong.
In extensive talks with a series of Chinese leaders, an oft-cited point of criticism is the gridlock and “dysfunction” they see in Washington. They say fawning by U.S. political leaders seeking re-election has created an “entitlement culture” where the public has grown dependent on government largesse. Now, with the United States facing monumental economic and debt problems, the political system has been unable to curb generous entitlement programs or counter the economic downturn.
It's really hard to argue with them on that.  Entitlement culture, gridlock, dependence on government largess, inability to curb generous entitlement programs? Check, check, check, check.  Yes, it's all there.  If the communist Chinese can see that, why can't Democrats?

But then the views of Chinese leaders gets off the rails;
Even in the Westernized enclave of Hong Kong, where leaders are trying to implement democratic reforms, some officials point to the serious difficulties facing the U.S. and unfolding crisis in Europe as evidence that Western democracy does not work or provide lasting well-being for the people.

“A small but influential group holds critical views of democracy” in Hong Kong, said Chris Yeung, news director at the Hong Kong Economic Journal. “The problems in the U.S. have given ammunition to these people.”

By contrast, critics say, the rapid economic progress that China’s authoritarian government engineered in the past two decades through a succession of five-year plans - sweeping aside potential obstacles and opposition through bureaucratic fiat and sometimes brute force along the way - has served most people well.
Because the system of democracy can lead to increasing socialism and government job welfare, it does not mean that socialism is better.  The slide towards the nanny state is not something a communist system, the proverbial nanny state has any right to criticize.  The problem lies in the people themselves allowing socialism to creep into a better system.

Further, it's is more than a stretch to say communist authoritarianism has served people better - starvation, brutal repression and five year plans do not empirically serve people better than liberty, period.  The conclusion many Chinese thinkers seem to draw strays from empirical evidence - problems in the U.S., and strong economic performance in China does not equate to a superior political system in China.  The leap in logic is quite surprising.

China's rise has been associated with it's ability to adapt to limited capitalism, combined with the ability to manipulate the system in it's favor by manipulating currency, having labor at ridiculously cheap rates, and by stealing/cloning intellectual property.  Those are economic considerations, not political.

That said, there are indeed problems in the United States that need to be addressed.  They are not foundational problems (i.e. the Constitution), they are operational.  Everything from Medicare to court decisions like Kelo equate to poor application or outright ignorance of the guiding principles that would have avoided the mess the country is now in.  Nevertheless, just because the criticism comes from a  bad source, does not make the criticism incorrect.

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