Friday, January 02, 2015

A Reflection on Modern China by an American ex-Patriot

...The question about capitalism is... tough to answer. In my mind, white-bread-American capitalism is a combination of a company trying to make money in the confines of a society that's sure as hell gonna know if it dumps metric tons of company waste in the nearest river while being watched over by a government that is reasonably free from graft and will freak out if that dumping happens while also operating in a society where everyone has the freedom to take pictures with their cell phones and put them up on Twitter if the rivers turn purple/blue/green, etc.

China is... different.  On one hand, Chinese (and, of course, Japanese) people work a thousand circles around a typical American. Capitalists could find this attractive, of course. A capitalist might be really thrilled by the idea that in China there really aren't weekends and the average worker gets one day off PER MONTH. Also, in China the workers sometimes come from other parts of the country and leave their children behind. This is because in China children tend to be raised by the grandparents, and this is because there are mandatory retirement ages (in the 50s for both men and women though the men are usually allowed to work a bit longer than women), so that there is really no such thing as older workers.

The family relationship in China is one where the husband and wife and child also have the husband's parents living with them in a tiny little apartment. The husband and wife both work, the grandparents were mandatorily retired years ago, and take care of the grandchild. The husband and wife might work where they live or one or both might work in another city altogether tons of miles away. They all might see each other once or twice a year. This is why "golden week" or other such vacation weeks are so incredibly important... it's when families see each other.

Sons are more valued than daughters not because one gender is more prized than another but because sons are usually an aging parent's only hope for a semi-comfortable retirement. When you grow old, you move in with your SON, not your daughter, for your daughter already married some guy and his parents already live with them and there ain't no room for you and even if there were, it's not what's done. If you have no son, you're pretty much screwed, unless you've amassed money, but that doesn't happen for the typical worker in China.

Sure, there is unbelievable wealth in China, but the typical worker doesn't have any of it. Business and moneymaking in China is wrapped in graft, rolled up in intellectual property theft, and includes generous amounts of corporate espionage.  One could argue that it's actually far more capitalistic than what you see in America! Businesses, free from that pesky EPA, can (and will) dump what they wish in the rivers.  Free from labor laws, they can (and will) have workers working 16 hour days with only one day off a month.  Free from any kind of court system that functions, they can (and will) steal intellectual property from any and all without shame or even self-consciousness.  There was an "Apple" store (the fake kind) just down the street from my apartment the whole entire time I lived in Chengdu. It looked and functioned EXACTLY like a real "Apple" store. They had the logo out front, the same shirts worn by the workers inside, the same displays/posters/advertising, the same everything. Anyone would have thought that it was a real Apple store, but it was total fraud from start to finish. And no one cared at all or did anything about it, because in China it was totally normal. 

Read the rest here.

I think this may be one of the best short descriptions of modern China that I have read. The description of China's economy reminds me in many ways of our own during the so called "Gilded Age."


lannes said...

The Chinese economy may be somewhat similar to the 19th century American one, but the mentality of the two peoples is vastly different. Mao, for example, would have sacrificed millions
of Chinese to a US nuclear attack without batting an eye - and said so.

Gregory DeLassus said...

One could argue that it's actually far more capitalistic than what you see in America! Businesses, free from that pesky EPA, can (and will) dump what they wish in the rivers.

I think that it is a shame that the American right has convinced people that real capitalism means environmental pollution. This is not what Adam Smith or F.A. Hayek would have considered "capitalism." If I empty my septic tank into my neighbor's yard, he can sue me for trespass. If I do not dump it, but simply leave it open to evaporate, such that the stench bothers him, he can sue me for private nuisance. These sorts of common-law understandings of what is and is not acceptable behavior are the background against capitalism is even possible. In other words, norms and customs concerning pollution are not an obstacle to capitalism, they are a prerequisite.

Unfortunately, while this is clear enough at the individual level, somehow it becomes confusing to people if you multiply it 1000x to an industrial scale. Then FOX News decries it as an interference with capitalism to tell a corporation that they may not do with the civic water supply that which everyone agrees that one man may not due to his neighbor's well.

I know that this is hardly an original observation, but television is making us stupider.

lannes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John (Ad Orientem) said...

I am growing tired of your persistently rude drive by commentary. If you have nothing substantive to contribute to the discussion please refrain from posting.