I have been thinking lately about what really makes a nation great. With the recent visit of the President of China, and the popular opinion that we should try to be more like them, my thinking tended to lean more toward the differences between China and the United States. It occurred to me that the things that have made the United States great and what has recently made China great, are the same thing. Their citizens.
However, the two nations have benefited from their citizens in completely different ways. This has much bigger implications when you consider the political environments involved.
For the United States, the value of American Citizens has been in their freedom to realize their highest potential. Now not everyone does this, but they are free to explore it in any way they see fit. You could even make the argument that even when individuals fail in this pursuit, the nation benefits in some ways. Those failed efforts may inspire someone else or inform others working in similar but unrelated fields.
With greater government interference, this freedom has been limited over the last 100 years or so. Thomas Edison would have a hard time getting all the permits, licenses and comply with all the regulations before he could start experimenting with different theories on lightbulbs if he had to do his work in our modern United States. However, even given the level of governmental interference that the United State suffers under today, the fact remains that the reason we as a nation are so unique and the reason we have been the center of creativity, innovation and invention has been the freedom and liberty we all enjoy. Is it just a coincidence that man made so many advancements in every field of endeavor during the first 200 years of American history? When you look at how long man remained relatively stagnant before the founding of the United States, the advances we made as Americans is stunning. It is as if over 5,000 years of advancement was crammed into just a century and a half.
China was a failure. The future was not looking rosey for one of the worlds few surviving communist countries. In the late 1980’s and very early 1990’s, there were plenty of China experts who were predicting the beginning of the end. The protests in Tiananmen square in 1989 displayed to the world how dissatisfied the Chinese people were with the Chinese government. The government responded to these calls for more freedoms with tanks, murder and mass arrests and the imprisonment of anyone who did not think along party lines. Once arrested, prisoners sometimes disappeared while others were killed and their body parts sold overseas to the highest bidder. Need a liver? China was the most ready source for transplant organs.
Then the Chinese government decided to sell their most plentiful resource to the rest of the world. Their labor. By artificially manipulating their own currency and creating special commerce zones in the country where they could woo western nations, they sold their people into slave labor. The west, in its short sightedness, looked only at the bottom line and realized there were huge profits to be made by having Chinese slave labor make their products. The influx of cash into the communist Chinese system was like nothing they had ever seen before. No western company seemed to want to pause for a moment and realize that if the Chinese government had its way, those western companies would not even exist. All those that have contributed to this horrible cycle of slave labor deserves some level of blame for perpetuating a system that treats its people like expendable resources.
While many will point to the new affluence in China, it is important to understand where all this cash goes. Those who truly benefit from this economic boom are only those either in the ruling party or those with relatives in positions of power. As the wall street journal reported:
A 2006 study by several Chinese research institutions showed that almost 90% of the country’s top leaders in sectors encompassing finance, foreign trade, property development, construction, and stock trading were princelings, or offspring of top government officials.
Further, if you go high enough in just about any Chinese corporation, you are going to find someone either in the ruling class or wearing a Peoples Republic of China Army uniform. So while some improvement for the average Chinese worker occurs with so much more cash flowing through the country, the line between the haves and have nots is clear and politically defined.
As all slaves tend to do, many resent the status quo. Western short sightedness and a complete ignorance of business ethics facilitated Chinas rebound 20 years ago. Now we find a China that cannot even hide its sins under a pile of foreign cash as satisfaction among the typical Chinese falls and the rulers and their favorite sons and daughters live lavish lifestyles.
Lets think carefully the next time someone suggests we emulate China. There is nothing there worth our time. When it comes to sustained, perpetual success we already know the answer. We have lived it as a nation. When each individual is empowered to rise and fall on their own tide and explore their own best interests, everyone benefits. So moving closer and closer to a model like China is the quickest path toward a national dead end.
China is not a source of innovation. They are the bootleg and piracy capital of the world. They do not create much of anything – they may make just about everything, but they do not create anything. They don’t create iPods, Televisions, radios, engines or anything else – but they do make it all. One other thing that China is good at is stealing innovations from other countries. Because they do not recognize the individual rights and ultimate power of its people, it gains only what can be done through their labor.
To innovate, people need to think outside the status quo. The Chinese political system is founded on the idea of its people thinking only within the confines of what the government wants them to believe. By definition, they have to keep people thinking within certain limited parameters.
It is as if someone is trying to teach us the lesson that when you liberate the Man(or Woman), you liberate the Mind.
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