Noah Smith, at Bloomberg, thinks China will inevitably come to rule the economic roost, simply as the result of its four-times-larger population.
J.R. Dunn does not agree, arguing that China is fatally handicapped by its collectivism and authoritarianism.
Population imbalance â€“ China’s “single-child policy” is a world-class example of unintended consequences. Initiated by the Communist Party in September 1980 to control population, the policy forbade more than one child outside exceptional circumstances. It immediately ran up against cultural preconditions â€“ in China, as in most of Asia, male children are prized for both economic and religious reasons. Females marry out of the family, which means they are not available to care for elderly parents. It is also up to the male child to maintain religious observances regarding ancestors to assure a worthy and stable afterlife. (This is still taken quite seriously even with China’s policy of national atheism.) The result was a wholesale massacre of females by both abortion and infanticide measuring in the millions. Today China has a surplus of males, officially acknowledged as being around 4% but probably much higher. This means that millions of Chinese men will never marry and, in many cases, will never have a girlfriend. This will inevitably lead to frustration, anger, and acting out. The Chinese version of Fight Club will be no joking matter.
Another effect is legions of older people with not enough of a younger population to support them, a social security problem that dwarfs any such in the West.
The Chinese solution is likely to be simplicity itself: shoot the punks and let the geezers starve. Either way, it means social upheaval.
Social Credit â€“ The most recent Chinese communist brainstorm involves the “Social Credit” (shehui xinyong) system, which has no connection whatsoever to the utopian early 20th-century economic proposal of that name. Under the Chinese system, citizens are issued 1,000 “credits” and then monitored cybernetically, electronically, and socially. Any “anti-social” or anti-party activity results in credits being taken away. It’s impossible to add points. After points drop to a certain level (It’s unclear exactly what this actually is. It’s also unclear how many points each offense costs, along with other details.), penalties kick in. These range from being banned from airline travel and expelled from high-ranking schools to cutting down internet access and taking your dog away.
The China lobby excuses the policy by comparing it to Western customer loyalty programs and asserting that it’s not in place around the whole country yet. In truth, it’s a typical aspect of Chinese communism, which loosens the reins for a period before tightening them again. Mao instituted the “Thousand Flowers” campaign in the ’50s that encouraged criticism of the party, following up a few years later with the Great Cultural Revolution, in which those critics were shot or sent to the Gobi.
Like it or not, progress of any sort â€“ social, scientific, artistic â€“ is propelled by the mavericks. Beethoven, Tesla, Einstein, Patton, Kubrick, Trump…all individualists â€“ cantankerous, arrogant, belligerent â€“ who pushed against social inertia, no matter what the consequences. Their story, from Socrates on, is the story of the West. With the “Social Credit” program, China is returning to its immemorial preference for stasis, which has led to disaster time and again. The end result will be a society that is stratified, ossified, and petrified. There is evidence that this is occurring right now.
To these failings we can add an entrenched system of intellectual theft on a worldwide scale that curtails any tradition of serious research and scholarship. Pollution on an order as yet unwitnessed elsewhere, ravaging public health to a degree unknown but doubtlessly horrendous. Central Asian provinces constantly on the verge of revolt. Open hostility from virtually all of China’s neighbors, including such touch-me-not states as Japan, India, and Vietnam.
Some failings are more subtle. A popular restaurant near Peking consists of dining areas surrounding a large pit containing a number of lions, who are fed live goats, sheep, and other livestock for the viewing pleasure of diners. This is a level of decadence that leaves the West in the dust (itself a concept that boggles the mind) and suggests serious social and psychological issues that have yet to be acknowledged, much less grappled with.
And these problems, we’re told, are going to be overcome by a national leader who poses as Mao while having the gravitas and charisma of a junior accountant â€“ not to forget his national party stocked from bottom to top with virtual clones of himself.