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What China Can Teach Us About Liberal Politics

Bret Stephens had a fascinating editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal discussing the corruption and instability in the widely revered nation of China. China’s problems should come as no surprise to anyone who understands the inherent corruptibility and instability of liberal political systems, and it serves as a lesson for today’s America.

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Under Mao the nation became the quintessential example of liberal Marxist philosophy put into place. Everyone—even the deposed Emperor—performed whatever tasks the government directed, and all received the same pay.

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It soon became apparent that the model didn’t work, as China, like the Soviet Union, fell behind economically. So in the 1980s, Chinese officials began liberalizing China’s economy in an effort to improve the nation’s fortunes, essentially a utilitarian approach. But, China could still be proud that it had eradicated the inherent unfairness and corruption of capitalism.

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Or had they?

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Stephens reports the recent scandal of Chongqing Communist Party Chief Bo Xilai, which has created quite a stir in China and has shaken the political leadership. He observes that the reaction has been far greater than one would expect, and surmises it is due to a culture of corruption that has beset the Communist Party:

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Mr. Bo ran Chongqing like a fiefdom for his personal gain. So do most other city bosses in China. Mr. Bo is a “princeling” son of Maoist royalty. So is incoming supremo Xi Jingping. Mr. Bo’s son drives a Ferrari. So do many other children of top party officials, who presumably cannot afford $200,000 cars on their modest government allowances.

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Stephens points out another example:

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“My father is Li Gang!” has gained the status of a proverb in today’s China. It refers to what one young, fast-driving princeling supposedly yelled at police after he was detained for running over and killing a farm girl while driving drunk. The elder Mr. Li is deputy police chief in Baoding.

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Stephens posits that the rush for damage control in the wake of the Bo Xilai affair is due to the fact that the natives are getting restless. The citizenry, long considered passive and compliant, are becoming increasingly disgusted with the corruption that plagues the Chinese government.

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But the observation I want to make—and the one that has bearing on American politics—is that this corruption is inevitable in a socialist state. It happened in the Soviet Union. It exists in North Korea, Myanmar, and anywhere else where the government has amassed a great amount of power.

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So the system that is intended to rectify the “unfairness” of capitalism through the redistribution of wealth and the “flattening of the playing field results in the least fair system and the least level playing field. It’s hard to say that a system in which a party chief’s kid zips through slums in a Ferrari bought with extortion money is a “fair” result.

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Sure the problem is getting worse now that China has loosened its markets some, but that’s just because the growing Chinese economy has brought in more wealth to extort, not because capitalism is corrupting Chinese officials.

Here in the U.S. we are seeing the same effect. It is widely reported that seven of the ten wealthiest counties are in the D.C. metro area, which has been escalating since Republican socialists expanded the government under George W. Bush. Members of Congress usually leave Washington far wealthier than when they arrive. So American liberals who complain about “Wall Street greed” and unjust profits, and propose a more top-down system, are simply promoting Washington greed and an unlevel playing field. They are proposing to redistribute the wealth to themselves, and nothing more. That may not be the intent, and it certainly isn’t for rank-and-file liberals. It is, however, the inevitable result.

I’m far from the first one to make that observation, but in recent years China has become a darling among folks in America’s political left. Now that the corruption is being exposed, they’ll have to think twice before holding China up as a role model we should emulate.

This article is also published at The Country Thinker.

About Ted Lacksonen

Ted Lacksonen has written 97 posts in this blog.

I am a proud mem­ber of the Coun­try Class — the roughly 75% of Amer­i­cans who have been effec­tively dis­en­fran­chised by the minor­ity Rul­ing Class. As a law stu­dent and lawyer, I trav­eled (uncom­fort­ably) in Rul­ing Class cir­cles. As an HVAC installer, sheet metal fab­ri­ca­tor, and ship designer, I trav­eled (com­fort­ably) in Coun­try Class cir­cles. My expe­ri­ences in these two widely diver­gent uni­verses have given me a dual per­spec­tive that is uncom­mon among writ­ers and thinkers.