Noblesse Obligee


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

I am an avid reader of books. Perhaps it was all of that time I spent on an airplane over the years (well over one million miles). Perhaps it was my preference for solitude and the stimulation of my own thoughts. It doesn’t matter. I read a lot and have begun to share my thoughts on the many books I read via Amazon and Goodreads. (I am currently an Amazon Top 500 reviewer.)

There have been a rash of books, of late, regarding the economic, political, and social malaise engulfing the western world. The best among them, in my opinion, is Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? by Robert Kuttner, cofounder and coeditor of The American Prospect magazine, and a professor at Brandeis University. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. I’ve posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads if you are interested.

Many contemporary books have resurrected the term “Fascism,” and drawn fearful parallels between the state of the world today and Europe in the period leading up to World War II. The most direct linkage is provided by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her book, Fascism: A Warning.

Kuttner has little to say about China directly but Albright and the others, too numerous to mention, do. And the core of their assessment appears to be that because the Chinese people do not go to the polls to elect their president in the way that Americans do, and because the government will figuratively silence political dissidents that it deems will disrupt social security and harmony, China must be “evil” in the same sense that Mussolini and Hitler were.

It is, I believe, a tragic and unfortunate misinterpretation of world events that is empowered by the western media’s own fascist pre-occupation with being able to say whatever it wants to say, true or not, and without regard for overall social harmony, which is the only time that productive change can actually take root.

I have long believed that one of the most important hallmarks of being an American is respect for authenticity. My father referred to it as “a man that is comfortable in his own skin.” To me it means a man or woman who speaks and behaves in a way that accurately reflects the person they are and the things that they believe in. And, of course, that he or she believes in the dignity of all people, regardless of wealth, class, race, gender, ethnicity, or ability.

The Chinese, I believe, are very authentic—once you understand their culture. If you evaluate Chinese behavior through American eyes you will, as many Americans do, conclude that the Chinese are a bit rude, don’t always tell the truth, and can be more than a bit pushy. These, however, are false impressions created by the American tendency to evaluate the world against our own standards. That is American culture and it is built on the Aristotelian belief in the linear logic of cause and effect.

What I like about Mr. Kuttner’s book, and believe me that he has not read or authorized this reference, is that he seems to appreciate that cause is less important than effect. Politically speaking, that means that a benevolent dictator that genuinely believes in the dignity of the common man is far superior than a man who is democratically elected (both Mussolini and Hitler were) but who, in his heart, believes himself superior to all others.

I grew up living only miles from a US nuclear air base that was the point of the spear of America’s “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) strategy in the Cold War with the USSR. As an elementary school student in the early 1960s I vividly remember practicing hiding under our desks at school, hands behind our heads, to prepare for possible nuclear annihilation by the Russians. (The kindergarten students, as I recall, were not disciplined enough to follow the protocol, so they all huddled beneath a large blanket.)

John F. Kennedy was the president of the US at the time and my parents trusted him. He was a lot of things that misaligned with their personal values, but they believed that he was a good man, so when he told them to sit tight during the Cuban Missile Crisis, they did just that. They talked about it; they asked questions; but they ultimately believed that Mr. Kennedy would do the right thing.


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First introduced in Homer’s Iliad, and later given prominence by the great French writer, Honoré de Balzac, the phrase noblesse obligee comes to mind. Essentially, whatever your personal pedigree, we all should have an innate commitment to our common humanity. And it is that commitment that ultimately matters in our assessment of our leaders. They may have gained power by the ballot box or the sword (and there is little difference, in the end), but it is what they do with that power that ultimately matters most.

In evaluating both China and the US, at the moment, I care not how wealthy President Trump is. I care not about his negotiating skills. I care not about what he says to the cheering crowds he assembles among the disenfranchised. I care only what he does or does not do.

In the case of Chairman Xi Jinping, I feel the same. I care not that he is a member of the Communist Party of China, the word communist itself bringing back terrible memories of the Soviet leaders who my teachers convinced me were anxious to take my life. I care not that his government does not allow full freedom of the press to say whatever it wishes. I care not that he employs whatever means necessary to maintain social harmony. I care, in the end, only about what he does and the degree to which he is authentic and committed to the common men and women of China.

And while we are in the early innings of a very long game on both sides of the Pacific, here is my tally to date:

USA: President Trump is authentic, but authentic in all of the wrong ways for a leader of the strongest nation on the planet. He is a corporatist in populist clothing. In the end he has only a romantic appreciation of the working men and women who made America what it is today. He is a New York elitist with an insatiable appetite for gold and limousines.

China: President Xi Jinping is not a Maoist but he is true to Mao’s original guiding light. Mr. Xi is not his father, but he is true to his authenticity. Mr. Xi, himself, is authentic. He truly believes in the Chinese Dream he talks so much about and has the personal and managerial skills to bring it to life.

If we evaluate a country and a culture not by the press’ ability to print anything it likes in the interest of selling its wares, but by the alignment of the government and the interests of the common person, China gets my nod.

I will share one specific example but there are many more:

While living in China my wife and I ventured down into one of the most popular walking streets in the heart of Beijing one Sunday afternoon to observe the throngs and to enjoy a taste of barbecue. In the middle of this very crowded street was an elderly couple from some far flung rural province that had ventured to Beijing to air some personal grievance with the local government where they lived. Both wore large sandwich boards and paper hats detailing these grievances.

Before long, the police, naturally, showed up. None of them, so far as I could tell, however, were armed. They wore no helmets and carried no shields or batons. The most senior among them, judging by his age, approached the couple and spoke to them in terms I did not understand, but his hands were clasped lightly behind his back the entire time. Nothing about the authorities was menacing in any way.

Eventually the police officer, a federal security officer to be precise, stood back and the couple was allowed to walk in a circle for several minutes. Everyone in China has a smart phone, of course, so the audience was large and many were filming the events. And after several minutes the couple walked toward the nearby police van and climbed in, with the policemen and policewomen’s deference and assistance.

My point here is not to fawn over President Xi Jinping, or to suggest that China does not have its challenges. It is, quite simply, to suggest that the ultimate democratic ideal is a commitment to truth and authenticity. And in that regard, the United States, in 2018, should stand in judgment of few others, and China is not among them.

He may ultimately prove me wrong. At the moment, however, Xi Jinping would have my vote, should China be so foolish, which it won’t, to give me one.

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

Corpocracy & the Trade War


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Lost in all of the furor over the trade war with China is a critical social and business distinction between the two countries. The US operates on a system that presumes the supremacy of the individual. China, on the other hand, operates on a system that presumes the supremacy of geography and ethnicity.

The best example of the difference is the way in which the two countries dole out citizenship to newborns. In the US, if you have a baby on US soil, whether or not the parents are US citizens, or even here legally, the baby has the rights to US citizenship. While that may seem to suggest geography trumps lineage, it reflects the supremacy of the individual’s rights; in this case the baby’s.

In China, on the other hand, it is the ethnicity of the mother that drives the baby’s rights. A baby born in Beijing to a foreign mother has no rights to Chinese citizenship. A baby born to a Chinese mother in Houston, on the other hand, does have rights to Chinese citizenship.

To understand the business implications you must appreciate that under US law, a corporation is a person. They hold all of the rights, save voting, of every US citizen. As a result, they have the right to free speech and they can own property, like intellectual property, in the same way an individual can.

There are many implications of this. The first is the fact that the US taxes the corporation, not its location. It’s far more complicated than I want to get into here, but suffice it to say that the US is one of only a handful of countries that has historically taxed the worldwide income of its corporations. Those corporations could defer that tax, however, which is why so many companies were holding large amounts of cash overseas. The 2017 Tax Reform Act provided for a one-time exclusion in order to encourage companies to bring that cash to the US, and it introduced a hybrid territorial tax system, but the basic idea of treating the corporation as a person remains intact. (They are distinguished from individuals in terms of the tax rates they pay, however.)

China, on the other hand, does not treat its corporations as individuals and regulates them, instead, based on their geography. To the extent that a corporation is doing business in China, be it a foreign company or a domestic one, it will fall under Chinese regulations.

The best example is the way China treats the Internet. Foreign technology companies, including the Silicon Valley tech giants, are not allowed to just reach into the market of Chinese Internet users without being subject to Chinese Internet regulations. And there are regulations in place to require that foreign companies operating in China keep their local data on local servers (in the interest of national security) rather than on servers at the company headquarters in Chicago or Palo Alto.

The basic perspective is that China belongs to the Chinese people. If you, as a foreign company, want to make money off of the Chinese people, that comes with certain obligations. And one of those obligations is to pay taxes that benefit the people you are making money from.

American multi-nationals often charge their foreign subsidiaries enormous fees for what is characterized as corporate support from the home office. This can take many forms—from accounting to engineering—but is generally based on the perspective of the US corporate parent that “I own you” and I can, therefore, do what I want with the money you make in China. “Not so fast,” say the Chinese, however. Before we will allow the Chinese company to pay those fees we want to make sure that those services are really provided and were, in fact, truly necessary. The reality is that many of those fees are for the provision of services that could easily be provided within China at much, much lower rates. (Which would mean more Chinese taxes to benefit the Chinese people.)

The bigger impact of this distinction has to do with all of the fuss you are hearing from President Trump and others about intellectual property. If an American company develops new technology at a research center in China, it believes that it owns that technology. And that’s a perfectly logical position for a corporation to take if you believe that corporations are people and that the US parent company “owns” the Chinese subsidiary.


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That’s not so logical, however, if you have a more collectivist perspective. If new ideas are created by Chinese nationals working in China, in the collectivist view, those ideas should benefit the Chinese people. After all, those inventors benefit from their rights as members of the Chinese community. They go to Chinese-funded schools, drive on Chinese roads, enjoy the fruits of Chinese farmers, and the benefits of community funded police and fire protection.

Which is why there is so much fuss over the sharing of technology between US multi-nationals and their Chinese joint venture partners. (In certain strategic industries that the Chinese consider critical to the interests of the Chinese people, foreign companies must have a minority Chinese partner for their Chinese business.) The word “forced”, however, which Trump is tweeting regularly, is, in my experience, a gross exaggeration. It is nonetheless true that China does not want foreign companies manufacturing there to install antiquated production technology for purposes of skimming profits off of the Chinese economy. And it is true that this technology will eventually leak out, much as it did here in the US back when we were a manufacturing country.

For GM, for example, China is now its single biggest market, and it makes a lot of money there. And it has a minority Chinese joint venture partner. And while I know nothing privileged about the inner workings of GM, I’m sure that they deploy their latest production technology there. Otherwise, they could not compete, the Chinese government would not have allowed China to become GM’s largest market, and after all, it is their largest market. And I’m equally sure GM is concerned about the rising Chinese automakers having access to their technology.

But that is the same concern they have here in Detroit. All of the Big Three automakers use essentially the same supplier base, frequently trade employees, and back engineer each other’s products extensively. Can you tell the difference between a Ford and a Chevrolet at first glance? Why should it be any different for a Chinese automaker? If anyone has a legitimate beef about design and technology leakage it’s probably the Germans—and the culprit is the US, not China.


Named to the List of Best Books of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A deeply thoughtful book about business management today and the nature of thought itself.”

As a related aside, the Chinese brand of collectivist thinking tends to infuriate US companies who are accustomed to assuming all of the rights of citizenship. They don’t like being told what to do or how to think. And that arrogance, in turn, has not ingratiated the US corporate community to Beijing. And it is that conceptual friction that is, in the end, contributing greatly to a lot of the US corporate angst toward China that Trump is currently tweeting on behalf of.

Make no mistake, however; the current perspective of US multi-national corporations is NOT “the American way.” This is a very recent development in the US, coinciding with the ongoing incorporation of America. At the time of the Founding Fathers, there were no multi-national corporations and corporations did not enjoy the rights of corporate personhood. Corporations were licensed for very specific purposes, such as building a canal, for a very specific and limited period of time.

As recently as 1900 the average factory in the US employed fewer than ten people, the economy was very localized, and the role of corporations in American life was largely limited to providing employment and supporting the local community. It is only in the latter half of the 20th Century that US corporations were able to achieve the scale and the power they have today. (And from a corporate insider let me assure you that US corporate power today is far greater than you fear.)

The US government, to be fair, resisted the incorporation of America until the rise of the conservative movement in the 1980s. They did it largely through antitrust regulation that promoted healthy competition and protected American consumers and citizens from the dangers of corporate monopolies and oligopolies.

The corporations, aided greatly by the banks and Wall Street, however,  ultimately won, and it wasn’t a fair fight. The politicians, after all, have no power if they can’t get elected, and in order to do that they need money. And since the courts ultimately eliminated any restriction on corporate involvement in politics, it’s no surprise that the deepest pockets ultimately took control of the American political process.

As a result, the US is no longer a democracy; it is a “corpocracy.” Conceptually, the American corporation now plays the same role that the church did in Medieval Europe. The kings may wear the crowns, but it is the corporate “popes” that are really calling the shots.

The incorporation accelerated greatly during the dot-com 90s when young entrepreneurs were preaching disruption and libertarianism. It is ironic, indeed, that this “common man” perspective has now produced among the biggest and most powerful corporations the world has ever known. And they pulled it off, quite impressively, while the anti-trust regulators stood by and watched. (Why would they complain, the politicians were benefiting as much as the entrepreneurs.)

Although Trump is a willing water carrier for American corporate interests, the American corpocracy is ultimately unsustainable. It will implode and the Trump revolution, ironically, is ample evidence that the implosion is already underway. (One of the many contradictions of the Trump era and the man himself.)

Perhaps the ultimate twist of history, however, is that Trump would never have been elected, and the trade war with China would never have been necessary, if the US had, just a few decades ago, adopted the collectivist perspective the Chinese are now applying. We sold our souls; we shouldn’t expect others to do the same.

photo credit above: iStock.com/400tmax

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

The Survival Paradox

The expanding trade war between China and the US has dominated the news and the markets for several days now. I’ve said, however, for quite a while now, to be honest, much of what I have to offer on the topic. I can summarize as follows:

  1. Trump’s trade war with China will hurt American companies and farmers far more than it will hurt China. The time for a trade war with China was at least three decades ago. That horse is long out of the barn.
  2.  If American companies can’t compete without further intellectual property (IP) protection, as they claim, they have a much more serious problem than their need for the “rule of law” (ROL). The ROL promotes oligopoly and hampers market efficiency, as we are now witnessing in our own Silicon Valley.
  3. China has no desire to be the world’s steel or aluminum maker. Its focus is on clean energy and services.
  4. Yes, China has an industrial policy that identifies key industries for investment, as many Western companies complain. So do Germany and Japan. The US is the only developed country without one. (At least one that is transparent to everyone and not authored by corporate lobbyists.)
  5. While government owned enterprises in China enjoy certain benefits, as their American competitors complain, they also carry a lot of social burdens that those same US companies don’t.
  6. For Xi Jinping, saving face in this trade war with the US does not mean preventing any negative impact on the Chinese economy. He will have to clearly defeat the US to claim victory among his own people and Trump is clumsily forcing his hand.
  7. In Understanding China I strongly recommended that Americans try not to negotiate with the Chinese unless they have to. The rules of the game are different. However good a negotiator Trump may be in New York, he will not win in Beijing. It’s a certainty.

What I’d rather write about today, however, is the survival paradox.

There have been numerous books published recently that argue that the discontent the Western world witnesses on its newsfeeds each day is ill founded. Often written by statistical psychologists of one stripe or another, these authors typically provide page upon page of illuminating statistics relating to all the things we should be thankful for. (e.g., better health care, plenty of food, the absence of global war, etc.)

The message is consistent and clear: We need to “get over it.” Life is good in the West and if you don’t think so the failure is in your assessment, not the reality. While it is a message of hope at one level, it is an admonishment against juvenile self-preoccupation at another.

Fair enough.

But beyond the inevitable risk of using statistical averages to prove much of anything, the statistics offered as evidence of the things we should be thankful for are all measures of our survival; perhaps our happiness; but not our personal fulfillment. That I am healthy, have enough to eat, and own an iPhone is all well and good. Survival, however, is not the purpose of life any more than breathing is.

Personal fulfillment, of course, is much more difficult to define, much less measure, than mere survival. Artists have been trying since the beginning of time with little obvious progress. Judging by what is going on in the world around us, much less the fact that publishers and authors alike believe there is a substantial market for books admonishing us to get over our discontent, there is pretty strong evidence that all is not well on the Western front and there is, in fact, a crisis of confidence, if not genuine despair.

And, I increasingly believe, it is that very success in survival that the get-over-it authors refer to that is at the heart of the problem. Not because survival, by itself, is a bad thing, but because it does not exist in isolation. It is just one half of the many dualities that define human life and the universe.

Said differently, survival and fulfillment, the latter of which can be thought of as a sense of personal purpose, are the yin and yang of human life. They are complementary forces that cannot exist in isolation. When they are out of balance with each other, it is the imbalance itself that causes our despair.

In fact, I’ve recently concluded, there is a natural ‘echo chamber’ between survival and fulfillment not unlike the echo chamber created by social media that is the basic ‘scientific’ phenomenon behind fake news and the alt-whatever. The echo arises from the reverberation of the bias inherent in all information and what we misleadingly refer to as “truth.” It is caused by the gap between the reality of our survival on the one side and our personal fulfillment, or lack thereof, on the other.

I think of it as the survival paradox. In surviving more comfortably and successfully we actually disturb the natural balance that has defined, if not human happiness or contentment, human acceptance, since the beginning of time. Such is the disruptive force of modern consumerism and Buddhist monks, of course, have understood it for millennia.

Not everyone, however, wants to live like a Buddhist monk. So what are we to do? And how is that relevant to a blog about China?

It’s relevant for two reasons. The first is that for the West in general, and the US in particular, we have found no way to successfully bridge the survival paradox. To date our only solution has been to double down on consumerism. And that’s why President Trump is now in a trade war with China that he cannot win.

The second reason is that as China has developed over the last thirty years the social divisions that the survival paradox naturally gives rise to have started to show. When outlining his plan to open China to free market forces and Western investment, Deng Xiaoping famously cautioned, “Some must get rich first.”

But, as we in the West know all too well, free market capitalism has a fundamental flaw: The rich don’t just get rich first. They just keep getting richer and richer. And some in China, as Trump’s rally attendees are here in the US, are demanding to know when their time will come.


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There is, however, a fundamental difference in circumstances. China has a collectivist culture and its leadership has shown beyond the shadow of any doubt its commitment to maintaining that orientation. (Ironically, the US has helped. The true individualists among the Chinese have largely emigrated over the last two decades—many to the US.)

American exceptionalism, on the other hand, has been built on a culture of uber-individualism. And our government, and the corporate forces it has merged with in the industrial and post-industrial eras, is in the process of doubling down on individualism in its response to the same survival paradigm.

The problem is that the information age in which we live is no longer compatible with fundamental individualism. Corporate consolidation, digital technology, and advances in personal mobility have made the world so small that it is virtually impossible to live as we did as recently as the Mid-20th Century. Life and the change inherent to it are unfolding at the speed of electrons and we can’t keep up if we insist on each piloting our own boat for our own benefit. (As would be the only reason to fight a trade war.)

This is, in part, why Western institutions of liberal democracy are crumbling. Donald Trump isn’t destroying them. Brexit isn’t destroying them. It is our refusal to acknowledge the survival paradox that is destroying them.

In all of history there have essentially been two types of government control—institutional and individual. And for much of the 20th Century the US was the paragon of the former and China, under Mao Zedong, was a visible example of the latter.

The roles have now reversed. China, while it has a strong personal leader, is governed by a collective institution ideally suited to address the survival paradox and the smaller, integrated world we have become. The US, on the other hand, has an individual leader who talks about collectivist ideals (e.g., Make America Great Again), but who operates outside of any institutional restraints.

One fights trade wars it has already lost. The other plans for a future in which trade wars will be unnecessary and counter-productive.

photo credit above: iStock.com/andriano_cz

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

US Investors are Relieved but Advantage: China


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

US investors went into this past weekend with severe anxiety, the major markets posting their worst week since January 2016. On Monday, however, the DJIA soared 669 points, the largest single day increase since 2008, while the tech-heavy NASDAQ jumped 3.3%

While there are plenty of experts offering an explanation for the wild turnaround, CNBC’s Jim Cramer suggests that China had a lot to do with it. And while that may seem like stating the obvious, Cramer does get China in a way few Americans currently seem to.

Having been a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in China for eight years, I can say with confidence that US corporations, as a group, have close to zero concern with China’s steel and aluminum exports to the US. Trump’s recently announced tariffs would hurt American allies, like Canada, far more than China.

And, of course, Trump knows this perfectly well. We often think of Trump as the first pure businessman to occupy the White House. But he’s not a businessman; he’s a real estate developer; and there’s a big difference. Perhaps more importantly, he is a man without any discernible economic or political ideology. He lives, in other words, for the deal alone.

In announcing the new steel and aluminum tariffs, Trump and his supporters suggest that he made a “successful” deal. He took on the Chinese when no administration in recent memory had the courage to. And he scored one, on the surface, for a core constituency that helped him to capture the White House in 2016.

But he has not fooled the Chinese. The Chinese know exactly what American business wants:
1. More protection for intellectual property (IP).
2. More access to the domestic Chinese markets for American companies in the tech, banking, and professional services sectors.

Everything else is just noise.

What happened over the weekend, according to Cramer and many others, is also pretty simple. China did not crush the American tech sector in response to Trump’s opening trade salvo on steel and aluminum. Investors breathed a sigh of relief and the markets soared.

The main thing to keep in mind, however, is that the Chinese did not pounce on the US tech sector for one very simple reason—they don’t need to. They have the upper hand.

Forget about President Trump’s relationship with President Xi Jinping. It is true that the Chinese put even more cultural, political, and business emphasis on relationships than their American counterparts do. But the emphasis is on the relationship, not the personalities involved. If China defers to the relationship it has with the US you can be assured it has little to do with the personal relationship between the two leaders. Chinese leaders do not have personal relationships.

The bigger issue is the amount of protection governments are willing to give to intellectual property. And here’s the really important news for US investors:

1. The US has the most individual-centric business culture on the planet. And Silicon Valley (SV) is the center of that universe. China, however, has a collectivist culture. The Chinese simply don’t view IP in the saw way that the SV libertarians do. (By the way, many Americans also believe that the government has gone too far in protecting IP rights for wealthy US tech companies. How can we say that Amazon ‘owns’ the one-click, which the US Patent Office says it does?)

The Chinese fully appreciate the role of IP in the West, and will ‘honor’ Western standards to the extent necessary to do business in the global arena. BUT, and it’s a big but, their heart will never be in it to an extent that will satisfy Wall Street or Silicon Valley. (Nor would most Americans want them to if they truly understood how far SV has pushed the concept for its own benefit.)

2. The IP debate is moot anyway. Now that Google and others have digitized the world, IP advantage has lost any sense of real long term value. Digital data is, by definition, discoverable. Security protocols like blockchains, while promising, are far from ready for prime time.

As a practical matter, therefore, digital technology, like water, will inevitably seek its own level globally. We can only slow it down. Which is why the US, China, Russia, and the EU should be focusing as much effort on how to deal with the military implications for global security as they are on grabbing headlines with revelations about teenage troll farmers.

3. The Chinese made a brilliant decision, but they made it decades ago. Unlike the US, which thought it could take over the digital world, the Chinese government decided from the beginning that the Chinese Internet belonged to the Chinese people for both economic and security reasons. At this point, as a result, neither China nor the Chinese people need Facebook. They don’t need Twitter or Instagram. They ‘like’ Apple because the Chinese like Apple’s products, the company employs a lot of Chinese, and Tim Cook has long agreed to play by their rules. (He was, coincidentally, in China over the weekend.) That’s not to say, however, that they are beholden.


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Over the past weekend the Chinese government did announce that it would reduce the forced technology transfers previously required of US companies wishing to do business in China. But that train left the station a long time ago. The train I’m talking about, however, is not the one you might be thinking of. In the end, this concession will be of almost no practical benefit to US tech companies.

Following World War II, both Japan and Germany built advanced industrial economies on the back of their automotive industries – the tech companies of that era. And how did they do it? Both had national industrial policies that both drove the growth of car ownership (e.g. the Japanese paid substantial fines to drive cars more than a few years old) and protected the domestic industry, largely through incentives and non-tariff barriers.

The US has no industrial policy. None. At least not a public one. (If the US markets were truly free, as we are constantly told by our politicians, there would be no need for corporate lobbyists.)

China, like Japan and Germany, has a very transparent national industrial policy that it actively manages. (Tech, not surprisingly, is at the top of the list of priorities.) And, more importantly, now that China boasts the second largest economy in the world, and is home to 1.4 billion potential consumers, it has the domestic scale to make that industrial policy work. It doesn’t need our technology or our products. While the US tech companies need to push beyond US borders to achieve scale, the Chinese tech companies have no similar need to push beyond China’s borders in the short term. Advantage: China.

The bottom line is that if US investors had reason to be concerned about China on Friday, nothing has changed. If they are betting their collective futures on the world domination of the American tech industry, they really should be quaking in their boots.

Trump will continue to make his string of relatively insignificant deals. He will not take on China. And they won’t take him on. They don’t need to—and they know it.

At some point, however, the US would be far better off politically just accepting the reality that China is not the new global bogeyman that the Soviet Union once was. China is behaving entirely rationally and in the best interests of its people.

The US, on the other hand, appears insistent on sacrificing the American people at the altar of American corporate capitalism and its false dogma of absolute individualism. We should stop blaming the Chinese government for protecting its own interests and start asking the US government when they are going to start protecting ours.

photo credit above: iStock.com/sdlgzps

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

Consequences


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

My wife and I watch a lot of Netflix, both because we find network commercials to be intrusive and annoying, and because Netflix offers many shows with Chinese subtitles. One such show is Land Girls, a 2009 BBC period drama series built around Britain’s Women’s Land Army (WLA) during World War II.

The drama starts with the arrival of the four ‘land girls’ at the remote Pasture Farm, on the Hoxley Estate, where the women are to serve the war effort by keeping the farm producing despite the general absence of men due to the war. There are, however, both British and American troops stationed in the quaint English village nearby.

And that, of course, ultimately leads to romance, or at least sex. It’s a common dramatic principle commonly referred to as Chekhov’s gun, a reference to the point made by Russian author and playwright, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), that if there is a gun on the wall in the opening scene, it is almost assured that someone will ultimately use it.

In this case, a dashing young American corporal temporarily stationed in the nearby village attends a party at the manor where he meets the youngest of the land girls, a seventeen year-old minor who had lied about her age to get into the WLA and escape an abusive father. The young corporal plies her with liquor and false romantic mutterings as a prelude to a sexual encounter in a nearby pile of hay (all very PG). The young woman realizes what has happened before the evening is out, and, of course, feels used and duped. In the coming weeks, however, she also discovers that, while statistically unlikely in the real world, she is pregnant with the corporal’s child.

There is no post-party romance, however, the corporal is shipped out and ultimately killed, and the young victim has the baby, falls in love with the farmer’s son, who knows the child is not his, and marries him.

And that was that. The show moved on to a new storyline. Not too unusual for a Western drama, but perplexing, if that’s the right word, nonetheless, to my Chinese wife.

She was incredulous that the US Army had done nothing to discipline the young American corporal for his behavior. While they may not have known, of course, the boy’s rich industrialist American father ultimately comes to claim the child on behalf of his “legacy” in a later episode, so somebody obviously knew something.

My wife was not offended by the morality, or lack thereof, of unmarried sex. It happens the world over, although seventeen makes the woman a minor and unable in many jurisdictions to actually have given consent, and the fact is that Chinese teenagers, while norms are changing, are statistically far less likely to be sexually active, or to have sex before marriage, than their Western counterparts.


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Chinese culture, nonetheless, turns on obligation, and parenting a child, consensually or not, is at the top of the list. While there may not have been a shotgun wedding in China (personal gun ownership is not allowed), there would have been a collective sense that the boy’s lack of any sense of obligation was fundamentally wrong.

My wife claims, with “100% certainty”, that the Chinese army, known as the People’s Liberation Army, would have dismissed the boy from service at a minimum. And while that may not be literally true today (I honestly don’t know), it was certainly my experience as an employer in China that the government, on behalf of the community, would take personal interest in making sure that the boy did the “right” thing, whatever that may be determined to be. (Some sort of financial support, in the least.)

It’s an important distinction in perspective. As staunch individualists, we, as Westerners, tend to view such matters in moral terms. And morality, an increasing number of Americans believe, is strictly personal.

As collectivists, on the other hand, the Chinese would look beyond the individual morality to examine the interests of the common good. Morality may or may not be violated in this case; it is simply irrelevant.

The larger problem we face in our current binary world and its MAGA/liberal split is that both sides are emphasizing individual rights above the common good. We’re just focusing on different individual rights. One side focuses on a woman’s right to choose and an immigrant’s right to inclusion; the other focuses on the rights of the unborn and the right to protect “fly-over country” jobs and rural culture.

But if individual rights are the cause, the collective good is the effect. We want to promote individual rights as we see them, but what we’re all complaining about is the collective result that we’ve actually achieved. It’s—the “it” being society in total—is not very pretty from anyone’s perspective. Minorities, women, immigrants, the rural, the poor, and even the urban intellectuals, all pretty much hate it.

These two radically different individualized perspectives, however, cannot be reconciled. And they never have been. They only appeared to be reconciled in the past. And the reality is that they only gave the illusion of reconciliation because of asymmetric class power—one class’ ability to subvert the interests of the others.

In aristocratic Europe, historically, the asymmetric power was assigned by birth and lineage. In America, on the other hand, the asymmetry tended to be slightly more dynamic, but almost always came back to economic power. (Wealth buys power both economically and politically.)

The volume of the political dissent today is due, in large part, to the fact that we have become more informed at the same time that our economic inequities have greatly increased. We’re living far closer together, both figuratively and literally, and the disparities in wealth and opportunity are more striking than they’ve ever been. It’s no wonder there is so much angst and displeasure.

The only way out of the predicament, however, is not to double down on individual rights, but to recognize the common good. And to accept, more importantly, that there are times when our individual rights must be subordinate to considerations of our common and integrated humanity.

Until the 20th Century, Americans largely lived in news-isolated, localized communities in which family, nature itself, and thriving but voluntary social institutions, provided some degree of financial security and emotional support. And while there were differences in education, personal commitment to acquiring one went a long way.

Today, by contrast, our families are scattered to the wind, our voluntary social institutions have disintegrated, it is virtually impossible to survive without some level of income, and education is dependent, to an increasing degree, on access to technology that the poor cannot afford. In short, we are, both literally and figuratively, all in this together more than ever before in history.

This, in the end, is the reality that our political processes have not yet come to grips with. Our natural inclination, on both sides of the political aisle, has been to merely double down on individualism, however we individually define that.

That is not to argue that we should all become wards of the state. The “state” is not the collective; “we” are. The “state,” as socialists and liberals have historically defined it, is just another individual, conceptually speaking. Socialists, conservatives, liberals, and libertarians alike have even all given the state a very personal face and persona (e.g, the proletariat, Horatio Alger, Steve Jobs, the benevolent liberal, etc).

It is we, not I, however, or even it, which is going to move society forward. And that progress, more than anything else, will require a change in perspective. Taxing the rich, unshackling the entrepreneurs, limiting or promoting immigration, endorsing or banning guns, and promoting or limiting women’s and minority rights, are all prescriptions for individualized notions of disease.

And if modern medicine has taught us anything, it is that health is not a function of organs and discrete ailments. The body is a vast ecosystem of inter-related processes that rely on, and eventually impact, each other. We can’t isolate the pieces; we must treat the whole.

So it is with society in the 21st Century. Think of it as “total individualism” (TI), if you can’t stomach “collectivism” because of its historical associations with socialism and communism. The point is not what you call it. The important thing is what we do. Behavior does have consequences, now more than ever, not just for ourselves, but for all of those we share our communities and our planet with.

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

Teaching Our Children Contempt


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

When my wife first arrived in the US in 2016, having never before traveled outside the northeast regions of China, she made two rather prompt observations.

The first was to note, “There are no people.” I was perplexed, to be honest, given that we were leaving the Detroit airport at the peak of rush-hour traffic, crawling bumper to bumper among the suburbanites leaving the city center at the end of the work day. “Are you kidding? Look around. The traffic is terrible. Just as I remember it.”

“Those are cars,” she noted, “not people. It’s different.”

Her second observation came some days later, after having experienced American television and what we call the news. “The poor people in America appear very sad. Or angry. That seems strange to me.”

She, in fact, had lived in poverty virtually all of her life. At less than one hundred pounds in total body weight, her shoulders had long since given out from the work she began at the age of eighteen at the state-owned flourmill where both of her parents worked, and on which her family relied for virtually everything, including their apartment. She lifted 25 kg (55 lbs) bags of flour off of a conveyor belt, stitched the top shut, and then piled them on a platform for removal and shipment. And she did it for 8 hours per day, six days per week, and was paid $5 per month.

She is not pious, naïve, or deprecatingly arrogant about her personal history. I have met few in my life who are as candid and matter of fact about the reality of her circumstances. She does ‘get it,’ to use the common American phrase.

But it was Confucius who said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And few people throughout history have embodied their culture or their heritage more completely than he did. Having lived in China for so long I easily imagine the 1.4 billion Chinese currently living there thinking the same thought with frequency throughout each day.

I offer here no ode to the poor and unfortunate. I don’t sing their praises as defined solely by their poverty. I do not mean to put them on an ethical pedestal. But I admit my bafflement that any of us, rich or poor, famous or ignored, imprisoned by bars or by circumstance, believe that our financial worth, or our social network, or even our Twitter following, is defined by things that should make us happy or sad, proud or bitter.

They are what they are, pure and simple. And while that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change them, we should change them for the right reasons and in the right ways.


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While Chinese culture is built on a collectivist foundation that turns on personal obligation, American culture is built on an individualistic foundation that turns, so we think, on performance. We inevitably measure, as a result, success and failure of any kind, in personal terms. The successful are gifted, hard-working, and well organized. Those who fail are lazy, unmotivated, and, most likely, deserving of their failure.

The inevitable result is not a contest of ideas, but a contest of competing virtues. ‘Because my ideas are better, I am better.’ It’s just a short hop to contempt. And that, of course, is where sadness and bitterness come from.

On March 14 students across the country took to the street to protest the fact that very angry young men are allowed to buy military assault rifles and kill large numbers of their fellow students. They should be angry. The fact that we are even debating what to do is a sure sign of just how far we’ve fallen from our true American heritage. (When the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791 the only guns in existence had a capacity of only three shots per minute in the most capable hands and were accurate at little more than 20-30 yards.)

And who are the media heroes of this fight? Judging from the coverage it is the students with the loudest voices and the most contempt. And, of course, no politician gets time in front of a television camera today unless he or she is virtually seething with contempt for somebody.

Contempt, of course, seldom solves much of anything. It destroys lives, in fact. It feeds addiction, shortens lives, and leads, inevitably, to sadness and despair.

The reason our politics and our social intercourse is so vile and acerbic at the moment is not the result of Trump’s election or Pelosi’s fund raising skills. It is the result of our unwavering commitment to individualism; to the belief that the individual, either competitively or inclusively (which is really the only difference between Republicans and Democrats, respectively), stands at the center or our economy, our ecology, and our culture.

It worked, with some obvious exceptions (e.g., slavery, the lack of women’s rights), when our world was far less crowded, much more localized, less industrially advanced, and less technologically integrated. It worked, in other words, on a relatively small scale.

The message we should be teaching our children is not that they should feel contempt for the death that surrounds them, but that they are literally all in this together. And in light of that reality there is no room for contempt. There are only solutions that promote the common good. It’s the difference between shouting for the cameras in a gesture that Washington will soon forget, and, say, organizing school watch programs, or student aid programs that help the most alienated children find their social footing before they resort to violence.

In my latest book, We, Ourselves, and Us, I note that early in my career corporate executives felt a strong sense of personal obligation to the employees and the community. My first CEO wanted nothing more than to raise wages and would never have even entertained the idea of closing the factory on which the community relied and moving production to Mexico or China.

Corporate executives today often lament the change, but blame it on globalization or activist shareholders, both of which are beyond their control. It’s bunk. No law has been passed that in any way restricts corporate executives from exercising the kind of obligation they did just a few decades ago. It is merely their sense of individualism that precludes them from accepting their collective obligation.

Individualism without obligation is fatalism. Individualism with obligation is collectivism, what I call we-ism.

When I lived in China I witnessed poverty on a daily basis. It was no-running-water poverty. My friend referred to his own upbringing as a three-bath life (once when you are born, once when you get married, and once when you die). But that never once influenced how he felt about his life or the people around him.

In his latest book, Radical Inclusion, retired general Martin Dempsey notes that when he had to console troops who had lost a comrade, he always said, “Make it matter.” It’s great advice. But it won’t matter if we don’t accept we’re all in it together.

That, I believe, is the message we should share with our children and each other. Once we do, the violence will dissipate. And the newsmakers won’t be quite so full of contempt.

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

To the People of China:


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

On the occasion of the “two sessions” legislative conferences recently convened in Beijing, China, government officials reviewed the accomplishments of the past and the challenges and the opportunities that lay ahead for the people of China. As an American businessman who lived and worked in China for nine years (2007-2016), I would like to offer my humble advice for consideration by the people of China observing this discussion. Specifically, my thoughts relate to the American experience and what China can and should not learn from it. I will limit my comments to five critical areas.

Democracy versus Socialism

Americans refer to their political system as a democracy and insist that this is the only form of governance that leads to long-term economic development and the protection of human rights. History does not bear this out.

If, by democracy, we mean one person, one vote, America is a democracy. But voting is only a process. If, by democracy, we mean that the interests of all people are represented, America is not a democracy. It is an oligopoly controlled by, and operated for the benefit of, the commercial class of corporations and banks and the people who manage them and/or benefit from their wealth.

America has two political parties—the Republican and the Democratic parties—but both are built on an ideological foundation of individualism. The Republicans emphasize competition among individuals while the Democrats emphasize inclusion among individuals. Both, however, are defined by individualism and both, as a result, require a hierarchy that is ultimately controlled by individuals of wealth.

Socialism, by contrast, is a form of collectivism, built around the ideal of the common good. As a single party, the Communist Party of China (CPC) must assume responsibility for all Chinese; rich and poor, old and young, man and woman, Han or minority.

Capitalism versus Socialism

Americans believe we live and work in a free market economy. This, too, is a false conviction. The American economy is heavily regulated. The government sets the minimum wage and applies rules for overtime pay, child employment, and other labor issues. It also sets standards for worker health, safety, and environmental protection and strictly controls who can practice what profession.

The supreme economic regulator in the US, however, is Wall Street. It is the large private banks and the other owners of capital who ultimately regulate the US economy for their benefit. Washington, as a practical matter, provides little more than office space for the capital class to perpetuate the charade that the economy is regulated in the interests of all Americans.

The Chinese economy, of course, is also regulated. All hierarchies are. In China, however, the state is both the regulator of record and fact. Beyond the obvious benefit of transparency, the Chinese approach to economic regulation has two distinct advantages. The first is the fact that the government maintains a national industrial policy that guides economic development in a direction that maximizes the benefit for all Chinese. And the government provides specific regulatory representation for workers in an effort to protect their individual rights and adjudicate when any worker believes he or she has been mistreated or harmed.

The biggest difference is not in the amount of regulation, but its purpose. In China, companies are regulated for the benefit of the common good. In the US, while there are some minimal regulations to protect the environment and the workers, most regulations, including those that make it extremely difficult for workers to organize into collective unions for their personal protection, exist for the benefit of management and investors.

The First Amendment

Public information flows are famously unregulated in the US. In China, by contrast, they are openly regulated and censored by the government.

Information is power. Of that there is little doubt. But is all power good? And, if not, who gets to decide which is good and which is not? Is political disinformation good? Are fake news or alternative facts good? Is cyber-bullying good? Is revenge porn good? Does digital anonymity ultimately serve progress or destruction?

In China, at least, everyone knows who is censoring information and why (i.e. a perceived threat to political or social stability). In the US, by contrast, we have no idea what goes into the algorithms that Big Tech uses to determine what information actually enters the echo chamber and gets seen, and what information gets buried behind the mask of informational democracy.

Ultimately, information flows in the US follow personal fame, the human face of information. But fame is neither inherently good nor bad. It is, however, arbitrary. Are the famous gatekeepers of American social media any more responsible or informed than government officials? Both can obviously be compromised. But is fame or wealth a defensible source of political legitimacy? History would say not.


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The Rule of Law

This is a double-edged sword. The US boasts the largest population of incarcerated men and women in the world. And African-American and Latino men make up a disproportionate share of that population when, in fact, studies have shown that their involvement in the most common illegal activities, like drug use, are not fundamentally different than that of other ethnic groups.

The rule of law is more appropriately thought of as the rule of the courts and the judges that preside over them. There is little question that the judicial class in the US wields far greater power than its Chinese counter-part, which was only recently granted independence from the political hierarchy.

But the rule of law is only accessible to all classes of society in theory. In practice, it serves the interests of the commercial and political elite that largely control access to the courts. While the ‘jury of peers’ is often cited as a fundamental building block of the US judicial system, only 10% of all criminal cases and virtually no civil cases ever go before a jury.

The Fear of Authoritarianism

Americans have been trained to fear authoritarianism. The word itself immediately conjures up images of 20th Century Fascists and the Soviet gulags, images that the Western media is now using to criticize China’s decision to remove term limits for its top political office.

It is a false association. In its most important sense, authoritarianism is an adjective, not a noun. The length of a politician’s term is meaningless; only his or her impact really matters in the end.

The theoretical argument against extended terms of political rule, of course, are the temptations that such certainty creates for the abuse of power. It’s a legitimate point, but nowhere is it more impactful than in the US Congress, whose leaders inevitably rise out of the permanent political class, and the US judiciary, whose most powerful members serve for life.

As demonstrated by the 2016 Democratic primary process, moreover, it is the political establishment, whose power is not subject to the theoretical cleansing of democracy, that ultimately determines which candidates the citizens are given the option to choose between in elections.

Takeaway

My point is not to denigrate or glorify either China or the US. Both systems of governance and economy have their strong points and both have their weaknesses. The potential abuse of power is a universal weakness of all political and economic hierarchies that has plagued humankind since we walked out of the savannas of Africa. And that is unlikely to ever change. It is the nature of the hierarchies that all political and economic systems covering more than a handful of people must adopt.

Those hierarchies, of course, ultimately reside in the asymmetric assignment of power. That was, of course, the power behind the Third Reich and the Soviet gulags. It is, however, the same asymmetric power behind all racism, misogyny, and the oppression of the poor and powerless. And because the problem is not digital or binary, neither is the solution. Each resolves some of the problem some of the time.

But which is better? The simple answer is both and neither.

My advice, therefore, is really quite simple: Don’t listen to your detractors who have ulterior motives to sell newspapers, generate clicks, or sow fear. Pursue your own path.

What China has accomplished over the last three decades is nothing short of miraculous and is unmatched by any country or system of governance in the history of the world. You have every reason to be proud of yourself and your leadership.

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

Good for Everyone


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

This past week the Western media seized on the news out of China that the Communist Party of China has lifted the 10-year term limit placed on the office of the president following the death Mao Zedong. The Western coverage was, as would be expected, alarmist in tone, even though Xi Jinping has just begun his second five-year term and the amendment is largely meaningless for the time being.

That’s not entirely true, of course, as it will preclude Xi having to govern with ‘lame duck’ status as his second term winds down. And that is a good thing, to be sure. President Obama’s lame duck status in 2016 certainly didn’t serve Americans all that well. If nothing else, it changed the profile of the US Supreme Court rather profoundly, and, in the eyes of many, rather illegitimately.

Western journalists, of course, couldn’t resist the comparison to Mao, and whenever they speak of Mao they can’t resist talking about the Cultural Revolution. The word “authoritarian” was bandied about with great consistency. Virtually no Western account of the change, and I looked pretty hard, applauded the move. Virtually every report implied a doomsday scenario and, without exception, tough sledding for the US and our ‘interests,’ without ever specifying, of course, what those interests are, other than the ability to have our way in the world.

I was initially rather neutral on the announcement but with time I have concluded that this is a very good thing for China and the US both. Transitions of power seldom go smoothly and as we’ve seen over the last year a lot of mistakes are typically made when a rookie takes control of the big red button. There’s a lot to learn, experience does count for something, after all, and as much as we dislike political alliances when they stand in the way of what we want to accomplish, they are a necessity of political life in every nation on the planet, and they do take time to take shape.

Americans forget, perhaps, that the Founding Fathers didn’t stipulate term limits for the presidency. Hamilton and Madison, in fact, argued for a lifetime appointment, although, in fairness, most of the Founding Fathers didn’t want the president to be elected, either. They preferred a congressional appointment, although it would appear they ultimately concluded that would make congressional collusion too tempting to resist. (It appears Congress’ trust ratings were low even before there was a congress.)


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President Franklin Roosevelt, of course, was elected for four terms during the course of the Second World War. And while the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951, limiting any subsequent president to two four-year terms, I’ve never seen any historical analysis of Roosevelt’s presidency depicting his reign with quite the same sense of authoritarian doom and gloom they are depicting President Xi’s.

I often fear that I speak too frequently of the inevitable dualities of life and the universe so I won’t go there now. I will note, however, that while most Western journalists now depict Xi’s battle against corruption as they would depict a Soviet purge, that is not an accurate depiction at all. Shortly after his election in 2012 Xi issued what came to be known as the ‘eight rules.’ These applied to all members of the government, not just his political foes, and had as much to do with efficiency, wasteful spending, and decorum, as corruption. One of the rules, for example, was, “All government meetings shall be short, clear in focus, and all empty and courteous comments should be eliminated.” A good rule for any government, in my book.

As I was living and working in China at the time, and one of my important markets were the upscale hotels and restaurants that catered to government officials and the citizens lobbying them, I can say from experience that Xi was serious. While Chinese culture still turns on a shared meal, the alcohol is gone and the menus are modest. And there are no exceptions, foe or ally.

The title of president, truth be known, is probably Xi Jinping’s least authoritative title. It has long been a nominal role in China and in fact has not always been filled. That’s not to say that Xi Jinping isn’t powerful. He is. But we shouldn’t apply our American norms to others without getting the facts first.

In my own book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, I actually argue that we in the US should extend our own presidential term limits, although I do likewise argue for limiting any one president to one ten-year term.

There are three reasons for my recommendation. The first is that we have to take the money out of our politics or special interests are going to drive us over the cliff. Human nature being what it is, however, neither the politicians nor the wealthy interests that support them are ever going to do that voluntarily. The only way to get the money out of politics is to take the politics away from the money. One 10-year term for the US presidency would essentially provide less than half the chances for money to buy an election. And, if nothing else, I think the parties—and the voters—would think twice about which candidate they nominate if they knew going in it was a 10-year choice. (It might also lead to younger candidates, which isn’t all bad.)

The second reason is the accelerating pace of change in the world today. If the world is changing faster, of course, that would seem, intuitively, to argue for shorter terms of office. I think this is one of those cases, however, where counter-intuitive is the sounder choice. It’s like standing on the gunnels of a canoe. When you first step up the canoe is going to rock like heck. Once you get it stabilized you’ll want to just hold it there for a while. Do we really want to go through the lame duck/first year transition every four years? I don’t think so. The world is moving too fast to waste that much time and effort today.

And thirdly, I argue for a 10-year presidential term limit because nobody else in our government has a term limit, and given that we are a three-branched republic the net result is that nothing gets done when the president’s term in office is so limited. Senators Hatch and McConnell, and House Speaker Ryan, have served in the US Congress for 41, 33, and 19 years, respectively. Their Democratic counter-parts, Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi have served for 37 and 31 years, respectively. And the members of the Supreme Court, of course, serve for life. Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Ginsburg have served for 30, 27, and 25 years, respectively, a period during which they have very much interpreted and made law.

Critics, of course, will point out that the members of Congress are re-elected every two (House) and six years (Senate), but that’s not true in any practical sense. Between gerrymandering and the powers of the purse that an incumbent enjoys, Americans, as a practical matter, exercise their right to kick their politicians out with an infrequency that borders on nil.

But getting back to China, the country has just completed a period of extended development and global ascension unlike the world has ever seen. Xi Jinping himself, however, would be the first to admit that a lot of work remains. And much of that work, such as the building out of the One Belt, One Road initiative, domestic legal reform, and the establishment of stability in the region are all going to take time. Having a steady hand at the helm is going to be in everyone’s best interests, including those of the average Chinese and American.

I admit that I might not feel that way if the president in question was not Xi Jinping specifically, but it is, and I think he is the right person to lead the country forward. As Henry Kissinger once observed, the Chinese have a knack of picking the right leader at the right time, and I think that Xi Jinping is no exception.

I’ll let you decide for yourself if we Americans share the same skill.

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

Wrong Question

This past week, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the US Senate Intelligence Committee during its annual open hearing on the security threats facing the US. And during his testimony Director Wray was asked by US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida whether or not Chinese students in the US could be gathering intelligence for the Chinese government. ‘Yes,’ was essentially the answer, with Wray noting that the problem requires “a whole-of-society response by us.”

For those white male Americans who have felt bewildered by all of the angst currently being expressed by African-Americans, women, and numerous other victimized groups in the US, this is exactly what they’re talking about. While this specific question related to the Chinese, the issue and the problem are the same.

And that problem is that there is no conceivable way for Director Wray to be able to answer that question with any degree of accuracy. If there was a known linkage it would have already been in the news and Senator Rubio would already be well aware of it. Otherwise, Director Wray is limited to conjecture. And while the FBI Director might be considered to be a subject matter expert, and thus a sound choice to ask to conjecture, it is still conjecture.

Why, therefore, ask the question, particularly knowing that the session is open to the public? There can, of course, be only one answer. Senator Rubio was not asking a question. He was making a statement. He was being provocative. He was grandstanding.

While there can be no upside to posing such a question, there can be a lot of downside. And that was evidenced by the fact that many public figures immediately came to the rescue of the reputation of the Chinese students being impugned.

As Ijeoma Oluo, the author of the very good book, So you want to talk about race (Hachette Book Group, January 16 2018), would likely note, it doesn’t really matter what Senator Rubio or Director Wray individually think about the Chinese. It’s not about the Senator or the Director. The issue is one of structural injustice against the Chinese, African-Americans, women, etc.

Could it be true?

I have no idea. I can say with confidence, however, that it is no more likely to be true than it is likely to be true that the American government solicits American students studying in China and American businessmen working in China to provide it with information that the Chinese government would prefer to keep confidential.

The more relevant questions are why does it matter, and, even if true, what can be done about it?

The answer to the first question, as I noted in my own recent book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is that it doesn’t really matter. The reality of modern technology and our shrinking world is that we should assume there are no secrets anymore. There is no digital security that can stop determined hackers with time on their hands. We can slow them down, but, by definition, there can be no digital technology that can’t be compromised. Only human creativity cannot be reprised or definitively explained and replicated. Digital technology, including AI, is built on mathematics. Some problems can be difficult to solve, but there is no structural reason they won’t be.

The only effective way to prevent the harm of information theft is voluntary self-restraint. And since what is “secret”, and what is “fake”, or intended to harm, we now know, can be very difficult to police ahead of time, the only self-restraint that ultimately matters is not the self-restraint of willful ignorance, but the self-restraint to use the knowledge responsibly (i.e., Not to exploit or harm others with it.).

In another worthy new book, The Common Good (Knopf, February 20, 2018), former Secretary of Labor, Robert B. Reich, notes, “Not only does the common good exist, but it is essential for a society to function. Without voluntary adherence [emphasis added] to a set of common notions about right and wrong, daily life would be insufferable. We would be living in a jungle where only the strongest, cleverest, and most wary could hope to survive. This would not be a society. It wouldn’t even be a civilization, because there would be no civility at its core.”

He is absolutely right. And as I further argue in We, Ourselves, and Us, the “rugged individualism” that has been popularly idealized as both uniquely American and the key to American leadership is not a viable cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the 21st Century. That is not to say we should give up on the individual or do any less to protect individual rights and freedoms. It is to say, however, that technology has both complicated and integrated our world to an extent that we can no longer avoid measuring progress and success in terms of the collective good.

If science has revealed anything about the universe it is that we are all in this together in the most literal sense. We can no longer afford to think of the global ecosystem, for example, in local terms of a prairie here and a rain forest over there. Each is an integrated part of a global climate, the health of which is defined by the balance achieved among all local environments.

And so it is with global social justice and our shared global security. We need to stop thinking in terms of ‘who is doing what to me’ and start thinking in terms of how we can together promote our common good.

One place to start is for politicians to stop asking provocative questions that ultimately serve no useful purpose except to reinforce structural injustice. We should stop worrying so much about what the Chinese government is doing and put more effort into giving it every reason to want to see our collective global success.

photo credit: iStock.com/pkujiahe

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

Year of the Dog

illustration credit: iStock.com/difinbeker

The Chinese New Year, often called the Lunar New Year, begins on Friday, February 16, 2018. Last year it began on Saturday, January 28, 2017.

The Chinese refer to it as the Spring Festival and it is, above all else, a time for celebrating the family. That, in turn, leads to the biggest human migration on the planet. Over the official 40-day travel period, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, the Chinese will take 3 billion distinct trips utilizing every form of transportation known to humanity. More than 390 million Chinese will travel by train alone, the equivalent of putting every man, woman, and child in America—and then some—on a train in a period of six weeks.

The US and most countries in the West follow the Gregorian calendar, created in 1582 by a slight modification to the Julian calendar in order to bring the date of Christian Easter in line with the date chosen by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. China adopted the Gregorian calendar as its official calendar in 1912, but Chinese culture and its holidays continue to be based on the Chinese calendar, sometimes called the Han calendar.

The Chinese calendar is neither a lunar calendar nor a solar calendar. It is a lunisolar calendar, defined by both the lunar phases and the solar seasons. The Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon following the winter solstice. Which means, if you do the math, the New Year can fall no later than February 19 and no sooner than January 21.

Most Westerners recognize that the Chinese years are each associated with one of the twelve animals of the zodiac. We’re leaving the Year of the Rooster and entering the Year of the Dog.

But it’s actually a little more complicated than that. The Chinese calendar, in fact, works on a 60-year sexagenary cycle. Each year is assigned two component designations. The first is the Celestial or Heavenly Stem, which are consecutive yin and yang versions of the 5 elements – wood, fire, earth, metal, water – and the second is the Terrestial or Earthly Branch corresponding to the 12 animals of the zodiac. Taken together these provide 10-year and 12-year cycles that run concurrently, resulting in a net 60-year cycle. (Sixty is the first number to be evenly divisible by both 10 and 12.)

Technically, therefore, this will be the Year of the Yang Earth Dog, which last occurred in 1958. Anyone born in that year will celebrate living for one life cycle, making the 60th birthday one of the most important in Chinese culture.

So, what can we expect in the year of the dog? Due to its yang component, the dog will have masculine energy this year, but feminine and masculine, as they relate to yin and yang, are not sexual. Masculine energy is more like what you’d expect from your typical house dog—barking at the window one second and sound asleep on the couch the next.
Given the inherent erraticism of the dog, it’s best not to chase the extremes but to connect to the center by studying hard, spending time with family, taking care on the job, and connecting to your inner self.

Good advice, but not likely to be followed by our friends in Washington. We can probably expect them to bounce from one crisis to the next for most of the year. The only saving grace is that the dog is not known for emotional stamina. Emotions will flare, die quickly away, and flare again. It may seem like a siege in the end, but rest assured that better days are coming.

This year, in fact, is really a setup for next year, the Year of the Yin Earth Pig. If we steady ourselves this year, it should be a year of light festivity and relaxation. While pigs are not considered intelligent by the Chinese, they are considered lucky. And it will all begin on February 5, 2019.

And what about all the red? Well, the legend has it that the Nian, the mythical monster that lived in the mountains, would come down into the village every New Year’s Eve to feast on the children. One year, however, one little boy was wearing red and the Nian left him alone. Voila, red it is!

Enjoy.

And while you’re enjoying, please consider reading my latest book: We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America. It’s now available on Amazon.

I guarantee my book will be worth your time. And if you agree, I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. (It’s a binary world, after all. Authors, like everyone else, live by their clicks – whether they’re dogs or horses, like me.)

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