Summary: An oddity of articles about China’s problems is that changing the names often makes them quite applicable to the US. It’s a weird parallelism between two such different nations. Even more interesting, China’s critics in America seem unaware of this parallelism (perhaps lost in American self-congratulatory fog), even as they obliviously write about weaknesses America shares with China (magnitudes differ, of course). Here we see some examples.
Let’s begin with a well-written if conventional critique of China: “The Myth of Chinese Meritocracy“, Minxin Pei (Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College), Project Syndicate, 14 May 2012 — Opening:
Political scandals sometimes perform a valuable function in cleansing governments. They destroy the political careers of individuals of dubious character. More importantly, they can debunk political myths central to the legitimacy of some regimes.
That appears to be the case with the Bo Xilai affair in China. One enduring political myth that went down with Bo, the former Communist Party boss of Chongqing municipality, is the notion that the Party’s rule is based on meritocracy.
In many ways, Bo personified the Chinese concept of “meritocracy” – well-educated, intelligent, sophisticated, and charming (mainly to Western executives). But, after his fall, a very different picture emerged. Aside from his alleged involvement in assorted crimes, Bo was said to be a ruthless apparatchik, endowed with an outsize ego but no real talent. His record as a local administrator was mediocre.
Bo’s rise to power owed much to his pedigree (his father was a vice premier), his political patrons, and his manipulation of the rules of the game. For example, visitors to Chongqing marvel at the soaring skyscrapers and modern infrastructure built during Bo’s tenure there. But do they know that Bo’s administration borrowed the equivalent of more than 50% of local GDP to finance the construction binge, and that a large portion of the debt will go unpaid?
Unfortunately, Bo’s case is not the exception in China, but the rule. Contrary to the prevailing perception in the West (especially among business leaders), the current Chinese government is riddled with clever apparatchiks like Bo who have acquired their positions through cheating, corruption, patronage, and manipulation. …
Compare Minxin Pei’s account with these three articles about America.
(1) “It’s time to embrace American royalty“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 30 August 2009 — “Jenna Bush as the new NBC reporter is a perfect expression of our political culture.” Excerpt:
We’re obviously hungry to live with royal and aristocratic families so we should really just go ahead and formally declare it: Bush daughter Jenna Hager becomes ‘Today’ reporter.
… They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment.
They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There’s a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.
(2) “A web of privilege supports this so-called meritocracy“, Gary Younge, op-ed in The Guardian, 6 May 2012 — “On both sides of the Atlantic, the social ties that bind our political, legal and corporate forces lie exposed.” Excerpt:
Shortly after Mitt Romney’s failed 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination his son Tagg set up a private equity fund with the campaign’s top fundraiser. One of the first donors was his mum, Anne. Next came several of his dad’s financial backers. Tagg had no experience in the world of finance, but after two years in the middle of a deep recession the company had netted $244m from just 64 investors.
Tagg insists that neither his name nor the fact that his father had made it clear he would run for the presidency again had anything to do with his success. “The reason people invested in us is that they liked our strategies,” he told the New York Times.
Class privilege, and the power it confers, is often conveniently misunderstood by its beneficiaries as the product of their own genius rather than generations of advantage, stoutly defended and faithfully bequeathed. Evidence of such advantages is not freely available. It is not in the powerful’s interest for the rest of us to know how their influence is attained or exercised. But every now and then a dam bursts and the facts come flooding forth.
… The first is the lie it gives to the insistence on meritocracy at a time of acute economic crisis when benefits are slashed, the poor hammered. Cameron and his cabinet insist others pull themselves up by their bootstraps even as they themselves swan around in their parents’ expensive pairs of loafers. … The issue here is not class envy but class entrenchment. The fact that they were born rich is irrelevant. They had no choice in the matter. But the fact that they appear to want to give even more to those who already have a great deal while denying much to those who have little is unforgiveable.
Rocked in the cradle of power from birth so that its rhythms become second nature, these people imbibe their sense of entitlement with their mother’s milk. But the personal tutors, private schools, the most expensive universities do not, somehow, suffice. As though the benefits of wealth were not enough, they apparently feel the need to game the very system they already control.
Which brings us to the manner in which these interactions mock the very notion of democracy on which the nation’s illusions are based. For the meetings, lunches and visits showcase a parallel, unaccountable universe where actual decisions are made and deals are done.
(3) “Failing Up With Citigroup’s Dick Parsons” Mark Amex, The Daily Banger, 11 May 2012 — This is too long to excerpt, but it’s very much worth reading, an amazing tale of a dark knight plundering America for his liege lord. Nice work if you can get it. Excerpt:
Last month, shareholders finally rebelled against Citigroup, the worst of the Too Big To Fail bailout disasters, by filing a lawsuit against outgoing chairman Dick Parsons and handful of executives for stuffing their pockets while running the bank into the ground.
Anyone familiar with Dick Parsons’ past could have told you his term as Citigroup’s chairman would end like this: Shareholder lawsuits, executive pay scandals, and corporate failure on a colossal scale. It’s the Dick Parsons Management Style. In each of the three companies Parsons was appointed to lead, they all failed spectacularly, and somehow Parsons and a handful of top executives always walked away from the yellow-tape crime scenes unscathed.
For more information see these posts about China
- Power shifts from West to East: the end of the post-WWII regime in the news, 20 December 2007
- A different perspective on the US and China, seen by an American living in Russia, 23 March 2009
- China – the mysterious other pole of the world economy, 22 July 2009
- Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power, 27 July 2009
- Will China collapse?, 5 August 2009
- A revolution is not a dinner party. Thoughts about the future of China, 19 August 2009
- Update about China: a new center of the world, 13 December 2009
- Fertilizer overuse destroying Chinese soil, 18 February 2010
- Rare earths – a hidden but strategic battleground between the US and China, 5 May 2010
- How China builds its commercial empire, 12 July 2010
- Why China will again rise to the top, and their most important advantage over America, 11 November 2010
- Will China become a superpower?, 9 September 2011
- Every day the new world emerges, yet we see it not. Like today, as Europe begs China for loans, 15 September 2011
- What China Wants Us to Understand about China’s Rise, 12 March 2012