Today, regarding China and America, we will have Thought Most Potent, adequate to lube a diesel, curdle milk, or seal a driveway. Whole departments of international studies will close their doors in despair. Ha.
Why, we ask, does it seem that the Middle Kingdom advances speedily on so many fronts, while the US doesn’t? The clear conclusion seems to be that China is superior, not across the board, but in enough ways to ensure its soon global primacy. Apparently the only way a Washington incapable of reform can stop this is with war.
To begin, China has a superior political system. Most importantly, it is not a democracy. An American conceit is that democracy is good and more democracy, better. Unfortunately, the truth is that more democracy means worse results. Placing governance in the hands of the empty-headed, dimwitted, and inattentive, these being the most numerous classes, inevitably leads to disaster.
Further, democracy is a self-deepening evil: That is, it tends to worsen with time. Those who profit by the votes of the appallingly ignorant majority urge the enfranchisement of the yet dimmer, as for example those too feckless to have identification, the barely literate, pubescents of sixteen years, and acknowledged felons (as distinct from those felons as yet undetected in government). This is said chirpily to be “Inclusive,” and is, which is what is wrong with it. The dumber welcome the yet dumber. Down and downer we go until, in all likelihood, fire hydrants and stray cats have the vote. Why is this good?
Those who laud patriotism without necessarily being able to spell it say, well, at least we are not a horrid authoritarian country like China. Americans are suckled from birth on the notion that authoritarianism is bad, and quickly conflate authoritarians with dictators, who are then said to be just like Hitler.
But China is not a dictatorship. It is an authoritarian oligarchy of technocrats. This has advantages. For example, an authoritarian government can put the intelligent and qualified in positions of responsibility.
This China does. Xi Jingping holds degrees in chemical engineering and law. Trump is a real-estate con man blankly ignorant of technology, history, geography, and government. China’s managers are heavy on engineers, scientists, and economists, America’s on provincial lawyers and petty demagogues.
Americans are also told that they have more freedoms than do the Chinese. They do, but the gap is less than we might like to think, and closing. Freedom of speech? In America you cannot say anything against backs, feminists, transgenders, Israel, Jews, Hispanics, black crime, affirmative action, or abortion, or in favor of the police, the Second Amendment, white rights, or the South. Politically disapproved sites, mostly conservative, are rapidly being shut down.
None of this is being done by the formal government. It is being done. Lincoln said that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The American principle is that you can fool enough of the people enough of the time.
In a democracy the rabble, sensing their numerical advantage, will always try to pull their superiors down. They will not make an effort, probably futile, to rise. A central strain in American culture is hostility to elitism, which means a preference for the better to the worse. The deep resentment of the superior leads to a celebration of inadequacy seen in affirmative action, the abolition of standardized tests and advanced placement courses for the bright, and the lowering of academic standards. We call this “inclusiveness.”
I suspect the Chinese call it “lunacy.” China finds its very brightest young and sends them to the best schools in China or the US. The notion that virtue requires that a country suffer mildly retarded brain surgeons or barely numerate physicists is peculiarly American.
Elections, inevitable in democracies, are a terrible idea. An election is a competitive shooing of fools in directions profitable to those doing the shooing. Democracy is thus a mechanism for the promotion of rogues and rascals. It works. America now has a most wonderfully ineffectual and embarrassing government.
The holding of elections–these being combinations of raffles, vaudeville, and popularity contests–every two, four, or six years ensures that the beneficiaries will concentrate their thoughts more on shooing than doing.
China, with a stable government able to focus on governing, can look to the future and plan for the long term. America cannot. Pols don’t think beyond the next election. They cannot do what would be good for the country but only what suits the passing fads of hoi polloi. Thus China has an industrial policy. America has a collection of predatory corporations clawing their way to the public trough. China can decide to do something, and actually do it. Congress can’t buy a box of paper clips without fourteen lawsuits, a floor fight, two environmental impact studies, and a Supreme Court decision on the disparate racial impact of paper clips.
If I may wade into the quicksand of cultural analysis, authoritarian government seems emotionally to suit the Chinese. We think of it as repressive, the Chinese as orderly. In Asia there are various sayings such as,”The nail that stands up is beaten down,” while the Johnny Paycheck song resonates more with Westerners “You can take this job and shove it.”
The choice I suppose is one of personal preference. However, consensus allows the Chinese to do rapidly things they think important. Note that following the outbreak of the Coronavirus, China had the genome sequenced and online for the world in a month. They also very quickly developed a mass-produced test kit in giving results in eight to fifteen minutes, a hospital built in ten days. Can you imagine the US federal government doing anything at all in ten days? Remember the response to Katrina?
Consensus does not mean oppression or servility. Go to a Chinese city such as Chongqing, which I recently visited. You will find it clean, well run, with virtually no crime or police presence, lively restaurant districts and nightclubs. People are proud of this and proud of China.
What do you suppose they think when pondering an America laboring under the crippling diversity, under racial, sexual, ethnic, linguistic, and religious hostility and, most recently, the assaults of the libidinally weird? Under governmental chaos? Uncontrolled crime? The tens of thousands of homeless defecating on the streets? The 2.2 million in prison, which would equate to 8.8 million in China? Dozens of cities with illiterate black minorities?
Another unearned but real advantage: China is pretty much a Han monoculture except for Uighers and Tibetans, who are geographically isolated. This makes for a degree of domestic tranquility that, while imperfect, is far calmer than the American chaos.
In foreign relations, China again seems to have the edge in wisdom. America’s approach to the world is military and coercive, controlled by a vast and profitable arms industry with a Cold War mentality. China’s outlooks (and that of most of the world) is commercial. This is an imperfect description but catches the centerline. China spends on China, America on the Pentagon. In Africa, America sends troops and builds drone bases. China constructs infrastructure and buys up resources. China and Russia prepare to commercialize the Northern Sea Route; the Pentagon to send warships to counter them. (How do you counter a trade route with an aircraft carrier? Bomb the water?)
Some of China’s advantages result from fertility rather than judgement, but they nonetheless are advantages. Economically, China has a huge domestic market, larger than those of the US and Europe combined. This provides a cushion against American sanctions. For example, while Europe dithers over whether to shun Chinese 5G equipment on orders from Washington, Huawei rapidly builds for at least a billion people, keeping the factories running and providing economies of scale.
China is also a vast market for Western firms. Population gives China clout. For instance, it is the planet’s largest buyer of semiconductors. How happy are American firms at being shut out of that market?
Americans often say that the Chinese cannot “innovate.” This may be true. Or may not be. They are, however, very good at engineering. Of this there is no doubt. . They did not invent high-speed rail but have a superb system, did not invent maglev but are working on trains that will travel at 480 mph, did not invent semiconductors but design world-class chips.
So, brothers and sisters, America’s choices seemingly are to start a world war (favored by Bannon, Pompeo, and Bolton), or gut the military budget to make America great again (not a chance), or have America become a resonably important middle-sized country that can, in peace and tranquility, focus its its attention on transgender bathrooms.
Write Fred at [email protected]. Put the letters “pdq” anywhere in the subject line to avoid autodeletion.