A report from the newspaper yesterday detailed how relatives of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao have grown extraordinarily wealthy during his time in China’s ruling elite. The NYT reported that his family has “controlled assets” valued at $2.7 billion. His wealth stands in stark contrast to the poverty that afflicts large numbers of people in China, and was built in some cases, with financial backing from state-owned companies.
In response, China has blocked the newspaper’s site in both English and Chinese for mentioning his family’s wealth. Users that cited the Times article on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblogging service in China, have also seen their postings removed.
As I have noted elsewhere, from a human rights standpoint it’s not clear that China is all that different than the “red menace” that we grew up with. While Russia has embraced some semblance of democracy and free speech (albeit now dying a slow death), the same cannot be said of China.
So why isn’t China the “red menace” anymore? Moreover, given that it still subscribes to the practices that made us label it such, why are we continuing to prescribe to “free trade” with them (to the detriment of our workers may I add)?
The answers are I believe:
- Because it behooves our ruling class.
- Because it never was about human rights: it was about capitalism. Human rights was a ruse.
Alternatively the nouveux left ascribes to the belief that it will lift China out of poverty and with economic prosperity, political reforms will ensue.
The later point has some validity, albeit it’s not an open conversation that has been had with the vast majority of Americans on who’s backs such gained Chinese prosperity has been laid (that is, their gain, has been our loss). I’m fine with an informed decision on that grounds, but as a hidden subtext, not so.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think China is “evil” per se (this is particularly true of their “people” – leadership is perhaps another thing). Certainly they have some evil-ish policies and one can’t ignore their human rights record. That said in the spirit of the “Prime Directive“, who am I to question what works for a billion people with a completely different culture than mine? They are in fact feeding their people, something which wasn’t happening when the west was heavily interfering.
Still, we can’t disregard the inhumane treatment that dissidents and others receive. That should make us at least question this devil’s deal we’ve made. This is a conversation to be had on the front steps, not the back rooms that most of these trade deals have been effectively consummated in.
As the Guardian reports:
A comprehensive study by the American Academy of Pediatrics was published on Saturday. Widely seen as the best measure of the onset of puberty in American boys, it showed that they are showing signs of puberty six months to two years earlier than previously assumed [emphasis added].
The surprise finding builds on previous discoveries that appeared to show girls have also been developing faster. A study in 2010, which was published in the US Journal of Pediatrics, created headlines when it revealed girls were hitting puberty earlier, with some developing breasts at seven. Nor was it just in the US. Other studies have revealed the same trend in girls all over the world.
Why we as a society aren’t absolutely freaked out about this is beyond me.
No, I am not saying it is conclusive evidence of something going seriously awry, but it should give anyone significant pause – what might be happening in our environment that is causing this?
I’m not saying this relates to cancers, but cancers are typically associated with growth factors. One might think that would be another question we would be asking. Again maybe “much ado about nothing”, but it seems like we should have some “ado” until we’re sure about it (rather than just being a “curious” note).
But given our inaction on what is undoubtedly the most pressing concern of our generation, global warming (yet another 60 degree October day today), it’s not very surprising.
I don’t think it’s possible to put it more clearly why we we’re losing jobs and why “free trade” isn’t free:
“Let’s not kid ourselves about just how cheap offshore labor really is. We not only pay substantially less per hour, we also avoid the costs we would incur if these workers immigrated here. We don’t pay for their medical expenses when they show up in the emergency room without insurance. We don’t pay for their pension costs if they don’t save for retirement. We don’t pay for their children’s public education. Nor do we pay for their out-of-wedlock children, their unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation, their slip and fall torts, their wear and tear on our public infrastructure, and the cost of their drunk driving, drug use and other crimes. We outsource pollution, its adverse effects on our health, and its clean-up costs. Neither the employees nor their employers are here to vote and seek political handouts.”
- Edward Conard, in ““Unintended Consequences”
In response to a post about Obama’s chances to get reelected on Salon, BlackFedoraMan asks the following:
I have to admit the original Republican strategy seems like a stroke of genius now: prevent the president from fixing the economy, and upon reelection, blame the president for not fixing the economy.
I can’t imagine why it hasn’t been tried before. Perhaps because previous Republicans have never been so completely free of concern for the country’s wellbeing? Or perhaps because the electorate has never been so completely blind to such blatant foul play?
My response, which I stand by, is the following:
Because Jihadists believe the end justifies the means.
My point is that (many of not most) hard core Republicans honestly believe this is a sort of “holy war”, either literally or for the heart of the nation. When one becomes that invested, particularly with an actual religious overtone, one often finds a way to justify just about any means to ensure victory.
The problem is, holy war begets holy war. In response to an unscrupulous opponent, defenders tend to become unscrupulous. Nothing defines this more clearly than our response to terrorism and the use of things like torture, extrajudicial killings, and extraordinary rendition.
I should add that the fact that these people believe it is a “holy war” and are heartfelt in their position might lead us to have some sympathy (or rather, forgiveness) for their behavior. That is, they’re not simply doing this to be evil (though I do not believe all are honest actors).
That said, people like to make things a “holy war” because it allows them to follow the easy route and “take the gloves off”. It is certainly a convenient source of justification for all sorts of evil in the world.
The NYT has an article titled, “Official Warmth and Public Rage for German Leader in Athens“. It starts with the following:
With thousands of police reinforcements on duty to shield her from rowdy protesters who see her as the arch-villain of the euro crisis and their national pain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was greeted by the Greek prime minister as “a friend of Greece” and tried to reassure the Greek people that she was not here “as a teacher, to give grades” but rather “as a good friend and a real partner.”
Now I’m not sure if this is a prefect example of the point I’m going to try to make, as what else are the leaders of a desperate country going to do in this case, however it’s at least a good place to T-off of.
Here’s my thought:
As one pays attention over time one notices in the various Democracies that on the big things (eg: wars, massive economic bailouts, etc.) very, very, often “official” policy is at odds with “public” opinion.
For instance, in the run up the last Iraq war most western democracies had public opinion skewed either very much against or significantly against going to war. Yet, oddly enough a very large swath of those same countries ultimately participated in one way or another. Moreover the leadership generally paid little penalty. We’ve seen similar divergence with bank bailouts, austerity, and the like.
The point being is if you pay attention you start to see a regular pattern of deviation between “official policy” and “public consensus”. That in turn, on top of all the other ways the public is manipulated (ie: manufactured consent), might make you wonder if western democracy is turning out to be a bit of a sham. That perhaps democracy is window dressing for the little people.
Something to think about, even if I’m not suggesting anything other than democracy (god no), nor can I think of a better game in town.
“Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. We hope and believe; that [the Constitution] may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.”
- George Washington, on the 5th (“Transmittal”) page of the Constitution
Of course, that offers an argument for the wankers who would wish to turn this into a security state…
In my last piece I found myself stuck in a certain voice. I’m not ultimately sure if that voice worked, but I went with it. Hopefully some of the points I was trying to get across made it through the obtuseness.
I admit I’d rather in many ways just spell it out. So I will so here a bit:
The problem with the “aristocracy” wasn’t just the fact that they got their positions through lack of merit. Certainly it was part of the problem, but another huge part of the problem was there were those that had and those who did not and ultimately the difference was arbitrary. This is still true with a meritocracy – while it isn’t arbitrary by lineage or birth, it’s arbitrary by the luck of circumstance and god given talent (or rather, genetics).
In the end there are still suffering classes – those who through no fault of their own don’t belong to the “in” class. In the 1700′s this was because they didn’t get born in the right family, in the new millennium it’s because they aren’t born with the virtues we find meritorious (or those traits, as I tried to point out, that those ruling us, the meritorious by definition, define as being of merit). Again, in many ways it’s still just the arbitrary luck of the gods smiling on one versus another.
One might expect that I wouldn’t be writing this. Certainly I have benefited greatly from a merit system in my career and it would be likely that I have much to gain by the status quo (or conversely, lose by the end of it).
However, I’m keenly aware of what keeps me apart from where I am now and the unwashed masses is simply a bad downturn and an unforeseen layoff. The difference between myself and all of the so-called losers sucking off the dole is this increasingly tenuous thing we call a “job”. I cannot pretend that something special really divides me and them.
Moreover, even if by some chance I truly have more “merit” than those lazy oafs crowding the food stamp rolls, morally I can’t simply write them off like so many others are willing to. Sure it was easier (and I make this as a confession, not glibly as it might sound) when the targets of right wing angst were not WASPs such as myself. However we’re all “negroes” now – that is, it’s no longer just a war against the colored, but a war against the powerless and all who don’t “have”.
In short, now that the convenient trappings (and wedge issue) of color are falling away, it is becoming the more simple and time honored form of generic “class war”.
As implied in my prior post, a meritocracy is in many ways better than an aristocracy (that is, in theory – provided the right merits are rewarded and that the basic system isn’t a sham, the later point not being clear at all today). However even if the system is better run by more meritorious (and thus assumably, competent, intelligent, and wise individuals), if there are masses of “have nots” it would seem to miss the point.
In the end the game is to produce a society that most widely spreads prosperity, happiness, and general well being. It doesn’t matter if the leaders are the “best” if the outcome isn’t (and no I cannot use the twisted logic of “perfect markets” where “best” is whatever result the market provides)(you will note that “perfect market” logic is remarkably similar to the idea that whatever fate brings us must be best because it is “God’s plan”).
Of course if you’re paying at all attention it’s pretty clear that if the meritocracy is supposed to be working, well it isn’t. Have you looked at who’s running things (not to mention how things are running)? Aren’t there many “winners” today that are, well, losers? Or are we once again in “perfect market” territory – where if they’re on top well, they must be because they have merit. They wouldn’t be there, while you’re not, if they weren’t better than you (more meritorious).
But even so, if we are to take “meritocracy” at face value, where does that leave the little people, the ones who can’t buck up and be innovators and entrepreneurs?
Do we just discard them, let them suffer?
It would seem a definition of “meritorious” people would not include ones who could easily ignore the plight of even those who can’t fit our definition of merit. In fact I can think of a stream of societies before us who did such that and were considered evil.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to pay for a loafer as much as the next guy, but first I think the number of “loafers” have been greatly overestimated (for propaganda reasons if nothing else) and second, I have enough compassion to not even want the so-called losers to suffer.
But call me (and from what I read, Jesus) a sucker.
In the bad old days position in society was based on birth and wealth. For a short time there was a threat that it would be based on need (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”), however that was safely squashed with the falling of the Berlin Wall.
Since then the metric has evolved to more and more purist visions of a “meritocracy”.
Certainly on a basic level this seems very appealing – after all, doesn’t it seem fair that those who work hardest obtain the most reward? There is no “doubt compared to metric of birth and wealth, this is far superior, “The aristocracy is dead, long live the meritocracy!”
Or is the aristocracy dead?
First, it doesn’t take a lot of paying attention to see that wealthy (their wealth more often than not made the old fashioned way – inherited), seem to have an unexpectedly large hold on so-called “merit”. That is, for some curious reason everyone who is rich is a “hard worker” or “smarter” than the rest of us. In fact rich people seem to outperform the mean by extraordinary measure. Everywhere we turn we have the meritous rich.
Oddly the poor don’t seem to be so luckily endowed. They are, we are told, spending too much time, “drinking or smoking and socializing” (as we all know, the rich never ”drink” or “socialize”). The poor are a lazy lot, otherwise why would have god and/or fate frowned so upon them?
It certainly is a compelling narrative – the rich are rich because they deserve it and the poor are poor similarly because they deserve it. In fact it is so compelling based on the “evidence” we are given, that one might suspect that there is some sort of “genetic” difference, that somehow the rich, even those who obtained such from “rags to riches”, are somehow inherently better than us.
Of course when one pays attention, one notices the word “inherent” has common roots as “inherited” and “inherited traits” where exactly what was supposed to make the aristocracy so much better than us and deserving that their blood carry on ruling us for time immemorial.
In short, “meritocracy” seems to build another kind of “aristocracy”. It may not be by literal birth, but it certainly has an implication of the same blood derived source. Some of us are better than others by nature, those who are not, deserve that which they reap (even though, we should note, if we equate it to blood or nature, we have to admit their position would thus not be by choice).
One might almost think that the successful chose to be successful prior to being born, rather than being born with the luck of ambition, intelligence, and self-assurance (assuming, as noted, that such success isn’t outright inherited). And being born (or raised) with ambition, intelligence, and self-assurance is truly lucky – something that those who have it are at a loss to recognize (few born on third think they hit anything but a triple). In the words of Billy Bragg:
“Just because you’re better than me, doesn’t mean I’m lazy.”
Of course, what is “merit”? If we’re going to have a “meritocracy” we ought to understand what “merit” really means. Do we really know? It seems a hazily defined subject (perhaps because such haziness has its benefits to our meritorious rulers). Is it goodness? Intelligence? Competence? Ambition? Ruthlessness?
It seems as of late the later two are as equally synonymous in the public’s eye as the former three, even though most would be loath to believe such in practice (nor admit such if a practitioner). After all, isn’t it goodness, intelligence, and competence that we want to promote with the richness of reward? Yet isn’t it obvious that ambition and ruthlessness (not to mention “duplicity”) make worthy substitutes?
In fact, is hard not to see that a large percentage, perhaps the majority of those at the top are at least equal parts ambition and ruthlessness as the more worthy adjectives?
Is that our goal, that those who are “meaner” and have more “hubris” should succeed over not only those with (supposed) little merit, but even those with more?
It certainly seems to be the right wing “Social Darwinian” answer.
And does “merit” include being able to charm those around you? Clearly many a man (or woman) with charisma and the right connections has been promoted over those without. On that basis merit is a very fickle thing and without doubt within the eye of the beholder.
And that leads us to the end of our discussion – what of all those without merit?
After all, we cannot all be smart, strong, interesting, and, confident. Someone must slog through the work of building the innovators’ and entrepreneurs’ dreams (by “slog” I of course do not mean “work hard”, since clearly those without merit cannot have their efforts categorized as such lest we be caught in the conundrum that maybe there are more ways toward merit than what the currently meritorious classify).
It would seem as society currently states that those who aren’t the innovators, the entrepreneurs – the “owners” as it were, well their worth is of little value. Despite the fact that they do most of the work, they are chattel to be used up and thrown away as all property can be such disposed. Their work has no worth because it has no “merit” and it has no “merit” because it does not fall into the definition that the meritorious, who rule our society, define for us.
Curious that is, how those who rule us define “merit” to be something they are and something we are not?
Alas, but do not think about it. It might disturb the self-induced slumber of X-Factor or the myriad of other diversions intended to keep you from remarking the reality as it is flagrantly divergent from the reality it is supposed to be.
One might note that a society so clearly based on merit as ours should function in a highly efficient and perhaps flawless state. That our society, which has moved so far from the post war boom with its lack of proper understanding of the value of merit, to instead a society that correctly rewards and values “merit” as it should – well, one might expect it would be functioning so effectively now that all flaws should virtually be eradicated.
That it isn’t, to some, might encourage a rethink of our value system. To others, it simply means we need to “double down”, reigning more riches on the meritorious and more pain on the merit-less.
For all you Republican commenters to the execrable Niall Ferguson at Newsweek/Daily Beast piece:
When you say things like Obama supporters need to “Wake up” or otherwise get our heads out of the sand and vote for Romney, here’s the thing you miss:
A lot of us are wide awake with our heads out of the sand. A lot of us aren’t really thrilled with Obama, but it’s not a binary situation – just because we might not like Obama doesn’t mean the obvious solution is Romney. They’re not interchangeable (ok, at some level they are because both Democrats and Republicans are currently leading us down the same shitty path, but that’s another problem).
That we view candidates as interchangeable as baseball teams says a lot about the problem – clearly people aren’t assessing actual policy. It’s completely tribal.
So Niall – you’re right Obama does need to go, but for completely opposite reasons than you posit. Reasons that couldn’t possibly get me to vote for Romney. While Obama may suck it’s because he’s dragging the country toward Romney’s worldview, not away from it. And there in a nutshell is why I can’t just pull the lever for “the other guy”.
Here’s a simple question for conservatives:
During what period of time was economic prosperity most widely shared in America?
Was it before WWII? No, not even close. Was it after Reagan? No, I think it would be hard to argue that it hasn’t more or less been in constant decline since.
Even if you are to argue that it was in fact best during Reagan’s tenure (which I can neither dispute nor confirm), if nothing else one has to concede that it’s been downhill since.
So what marked the years from WWII to Reagan from the years before and after?
An economically interventionist government. Prior the government was highly laissez-faire, since the government (regardless of party in control, and conservative claims) has become increasingly laissez-faire.
So when conservatives claim a solution for America’s woes, they’re at best proposing a solution that has been untried and at worst (and more likely) proposing a solution that has been tried since time infinitum and failed.
That is, for 30+ years we had a solution that appeared to work. The counter-proposal that conservatives are offering and have been implementing is to go back to a system that existed before that 30+ years of success, a time where we clearly know the economy was broken for the vast majority of citizens. A time when we know prosperity was not widely shared
Their solution is ideological, not tactical. It’s about what they want it to be, not what it is, or rather, was. It may be true that there is something unappealing about an economic system that is not self-regulating, but the history has shown that partially, but not excessively, managed economies work. It has not shown that laissez-faire economies work – quite the opposite in fact: a millennia of world history shows otherwise.
It is as if a patient who suffered for his entire life finally found a drug that worked, and worked for decades. Then a new doctor insisted out of some puritanical belief that such intervention was wrong and that the patient reduce his use of the medicine.
Oddly enough, as the patient reduced his use, he got sicker, to which the doctor insisted the answer was to use still less medicine (and so on).
That’s where we are now. The patient is sick and the so-called “solution” is making us sicker. Yes, the government doesn’t always get the prescription right and it is possible to over-prescribe, but the answer is not to lay off the medicine altogether.
I should note there could be other explanations as to why the 30+ years after WWII were a success. Certainly some was the “stimulus” of war spending itself, but I don’t think that can explain anywhere near the entire span.
What can be argued at least is that heavy government intervention and heavy taxes did not derail the economy. So at a minimum the arguments that these somehow are an anathema to a successful economy is a fallacy.
I guess I’ll flip the question around for conservatives if that helps:
Point to a time when laissez-faire economic policies led to broad economic prosperity?
I don’t mean just in America, I mean anywhere.
I suspect the claim will be colonial America. To that I would say two things:
- We are no longer an agrarian society with and endless frontier. That is simply is not a tenable future given modern realities. We also, thankfully, do not have slavery as an option.
- I believe any realistic census of income data from that time would show prosperity was not widely shared. It is true that subsistence farming was potentially an option for many, but again that is not plausible now and even then the slums of NY were laden with the landless.
In short, what historic reference do conservatives want to point to where their economic theories are born out?
If there is no such time period, then please explain how you are so sure that these “theories” (and that’s just what they are then) will work better than ones that at least have shown some historic precedence in the post-war boom.
If the argument in response is to highlight the ultimate “unfairness” of government intervention, rather than the importance of broader prosperity, I would point you here.