All posts by Gary Moreau

China v. the US: Privilege is Not Freedom


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

I’ve taken a bit of heat for my recent blog post in which I intimated that the real Orwellian oppressor might be the American political, economic, and Hollywood elite rather than the Communist Party of China. In this post, therefore, I will attempt to put just a little more meat on the bones of my figurative and conceptual dragon.

Freedom exists at a number of levels and I can’t address all of them in one post. First, however, we must establish what American freedom is not. It is not one person, one vote; majority takes all. Nor do we want it to be. That would be oppression of the worst kind.

That is why we have three branches of government, the Electoral College, and the requirement that three-fourths of the states must ratify a new amendment to the US Constitution. That is why, in fact, we have the Bill of Rights and a total of twenty-seven existing amendments to begin with. They put hard limits on our democracy and the power of the majority.

So what is freedom? Let’s look at a few examples of what might be considered freedom and see how China and the US compare:

Government Social Engineering:

This is the freedom to live free of government interference and China does have some well known social regulations but they are quite transparent and are seldom hard and fast. At the head of that list, of course, is the famous one child policy, although it has been relaxed significantly in recent years and there have always been exceptions for ethnic and rural populations. And while there may have been cases of forced compliance in the past the frequency has undoubtedly been overstated in the Western media. Today, I believe, it is virtually unheard of.

In the US our social engineering is significant but far less transparent. Most of it is accomplished surreptitiously, largely through the tax code and regulations positioned as being in the public interest. People who decide to remain single, or couples who do not or cannot have children, for example, subsidize the living expenses of those who do get married and have children through tax provisions that favor marriage and procreation. There are no such tax provisions in China. Everyone in China is an individual taxpayer and there are no deductions for anything.

Women, moreover, have complete control over their own bodies in China. Abortions are readily available and cheap. And since everyone is essentially guaranteed a job there is virtually no woman who can’t get an abortion if she so elects. Women who work, moreover, enjoy generous maternity leave at full pay, have full job protection, and are even guaranteed time to breast feed after they return to work.

The US, on the other hand, is the only industrialized nation on the planet that offers no paid maternity leave. If you can find a place to have an abortion, moreover, you will probably have to pay for it and will undoubtedly be forced to suffer the indignity of protesters when you go for the procedure. (This would never be allowed in China.)

China does have a residency registration system called the hukou. It is designed primarily as a structure for providing government services but it is also designed to limit urban migration so that the infrastructure of the wealthy urban areas is not overwhelmed. You can still move your family where you want to but it will cost you more in schooling, medical care, and the like. I met my wife in Beijing, for example, where she was living and working, but her son remained in her hometown for these reasons. It’s a fairly common arrangement in China.

In the US, of course, there are no restrictions on where you can live but the residents of those states with low or no income taxes (e.g., Florida) subsidize the residents of those states with high income tax rates (e.g., New York). Trump is trying to change that but it hasn’t happened yet.

Urbanization in the US is nonetheless discouraged in several other ways. The public schools in urban areas are generally of inferior quality. People living in urban areas often pay higher taxes, largely due to additional sales tax. Crime rates are often much higher. And since urban dwellers are likely to rent, they are essentially forced to subsidize, again through taxes, all of the middle and upper class homeowners living in the suburbs who get to claim their mortgage interest and real estate taxes as tax deductions. (And who get the benefits of living in proximity to a major US city.)

Freedom in Education:

Education in China, including college, is open to everyone and largely paid for by the government. There is intense competition for entry to the best schools via standardized testing, but the opportunity and the cost is the same for everyone. If you can get in to one of the top schools, you can afford to go. Everyone pays the same low rate.

In the US, of course, standardized testing plays a role, but is not defining. Ivy League schools still give preference to the children of their alumni and donors, and admissions officers consider the quality of the secondary school attended, and largely subjective demonstrations of leadership, etc., which are disproportionately available to wealthier families. Poor children living in the inner city don’t often have a chance to join the debate club and even when they do may be required for family childcare or to work in the family business. The cost, moreover, between colleges varies widely, which, of course, is less of a burden to wealthier families.

Religious Freedom:

The Chinese are more or less free to practice religion as they see fit. You will find Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, and practitioners of Chinese folk religion just about everywhere in China. There is, however, one simple restriction: The church must stay out of politics. There may be a lot of argument about that but even Jesus advised his followers to pay Caesar his due.

We have religious freedom in the US, of course, in that the church can be very actively involved in politics and can even organize political protests. All churches in the US, however, are essentially subsidized by the entire population, whether those citizens are religious or not. Even the building in which congregants worship is free of tax. In essence, we don’t have freedom of religion so much as we have government sponsored religion.

Freedom to Set Prices:

While China has moved decidedly toward a free market economy there are still some sectors that are government controlled. In the case of utilities, for example, the biggest providers are still government owned and the government sets prices. In China, however, the citizens generally pay less than the large corporations for things like natural gas and electricity. In the US, the opposite is true. That factory down the street is probably paying less for natural gas than you are. This is how the American “free” market works.

Freedom to Make a Living:

In China, if you want to make some extra money for your family by cutting hair on nights and weekends, you just do it. You have to pay taxes but it’s unlikely a barber would generate enough income to trigger a tax liability. Even if you do, the local tax collector is likely to ignore you unless you run afoul of the law in some other way.

In the US you cannot cut hair without a license. And in most cases, that requires a substantial investment of time and money. In California, for example, you must attend a government accredited barber school for 5,000 hours of certified instruction before you can cut anyone’s hair. The big winners, of course, are the for-profit barber schools, who undoubtedly pushed for the legislation to begin with, and the existing barbers, who can charge more due to the artificial limits on competition.

“Professional” regulation costs US residents far more than Bernie Madoff ever did, and it’s a scam that is both government sponsored and goes largely unnoticed. Tesla cannot sell its cars in the state of Michigan because the auto dealers, through their powerful lobbying group, have pushed through state legislation prohibiting the sale of cars directly to consumers. Ford can’t do it either. The consumers, in the end, subsidize the generally well-off car dealers. And, of course, the consumers have no practical choice in the matter.

Similar constraints exist in almost every industry. The current Republican tax overhaul is 429 pages in length. What could possibly take so much ink? Rest assured that corporate lobbyists wrote most of it and it’s surely laden with little tax goodies for powerful interest groups and political donors.

All of the professional regulation, of course, is, in theory, enacted in the name of consumer protection, although I’ve never known any consumer who needed protection from a bad haircut or manicure. If you do get an embarrassing haircut you can always switch barbers.

In the end, the US is probably the most regulated country on the planet, and most of that regulation exists not to protect the consumer, but to protect the established elite who lobbied for it. Why do you think we spend more than any other country in the world on health care and are nonetheless the only developed country that does not guarantee access to affordable health insurance? The drug companies and the for-profit hospitals love things the way they are. They largely designed them.

And how do they get away with it? It’s easy. It’s all done through the mechanics of American democracy—the basis of what we call our democratic freedom.

Buying Government Influence:

As every school child knows, the US government is made up of three largely equal branches – legislative, administrative, and judicial. Each provides an opportunity to shape the ways in which our lives are controlled by government interference. The legislature can pass laws and regulations, the President, as we now know, can determine how to administer those regulations through executive order, and the courts can step in at any time and change everything.

The net result is that vested interests, such as corporations and wealthy individuals, have three bites at the apple. They can effect change to their benefit in any of the three spheres of influence. Or all three, as is typically the case. And they are uniquely privileged to take such bites because each bite takes money. And the more you have the bigger the bite you are granted.

The politicians, of course, pander to money. But so do the courts. The latter wealth bias is not quite so transparent, but nonetheless real. You have to hire a lawyer to take advantage of judicial power. And a lawyer is not a lawyer. A talented lawyer with the right connections is going to cost you. And you, if you are an average citizen, probably don’t have it. The end result is that the wealthy, particularly large corporations, have more legal protection and influence than the average citizen, simply because they can afford better lawyers, and more of them.

In China, by contrast, government influence is available to everyone. There are cases of outright corruption, of course, but that’s true in every government, including our own, and the current government in China has taken very specific steps to reduce it, unlike our own, which frankly seems to be promoting it through pay to play and other similar schemes.

While living in Beijing I often saw older couples wearing hand-written sandwich boards in public venues protesting their treatment at the hands of the local government a thousand miles away. And I saw policemen without riot gear, tear gas, or military style weapons, often lead them away, but always with respect. I never once saw anyone dragged, threatened with a club, or even handcuffed.

The biggest difference, of course, is the relative power of the courts in China and the US. While there is reform underway, the courts don’t have much power in China to challenge the government. Which is why high-speed trains and new airports are still being built there and in an astonishing short period of time, and why three American college basketball players arrested for shoplifting could be released from detention without penalty or delay. That would never have happened, of course, if three Chinese basketball players had been arrested under similar circumstances in Los Angeles, because we are a “nation of laws.”

In theory a powerful judiciary would be nice if it were truly used to empower the powerless. But it’s not. It just further empowers the elite. Poor minority males end up in jail. Rich white male sex abusers go to luxury spas in Arizona for some quiet time.

Freedom to Roam:

The biggest impediment to American freedom, however—and this admittedly sounds strange coming from someone living in Michigan—is the simple fact that with very few exceptions you can not survive in America without a private car. Outside of a few urban areas, public transportation is virtually non-existent. Uber and Lyft are helping, but they, too, are largely limited to the larger urban areas. And they’re cheaper, but not cheap.

In China, by contrast, car ownership, and the expense that goes with it, are truly optional. There is cheap public transportation everywhere. And the country is laid out so that most people can pretty much walk or ride their bicycle to most places they need to go.


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Whatever mobility Americans believe they enjoy, in other words, depends entirely on their ability to buy and maintain a car. It’s an incredibly regressive tax scheme that the banks and car companies love. You might decide to move to New Mexico for the weather, and you enjoy the democratic freedom to do so, but you will need to buy a car first.

If you can’t afford a car, you are, as a practical matter, forced to live in an urban area, probably in the poorest neighborhoods. And those, of course, are the neighborhoods with the highest crime, the worst public schools, and the fewest government services. (Ask the poor if they feel free.)

I could go on, and I will in future posts, but your attention is waning. Suffice it to say that I stand by my observation. The US might be one of the least free countries in existence. That’s not to say that I don’t love it; I do. I choose to live here. What we call freedom, however, is really privilege, available primarily to the country’s elite and already privileged. The old saw that them that has, gets, has never been truer than it is in the US today.

I haven’t forgotten freedom of the press yet, I assure you. Suffice it to say for now that there is less freedom of the press in the US than in China. The only difference is who does the censoring.

This will become more obvious in the future as Google, Facebook, and Twitter increasingly act on their almost limitless power to shape the news. As is typical of the American illusion, of course, they will do it in the name of consumer protection and the noble effort to eliminate Russian interference and fake news. The effect, however, will be censorship, pure and simple.

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You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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What Might Orwell Say About Trump’s Trip to China


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

By sheer coincidence, while President Trump and First Lady Melania were being feted by Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan at the Forbidden City, I was re-reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. It was written, of course, in 1949, the very year in which Mao Zedong brought the People’s Republic of China into existence.

Orwell’s book was and is considered a fantastic fiction of foresight so eerily prescient of current events that it feels close to prophetic. And, in fact, every time I looked up from my reading I felt and saw 1984 all around me.

In the end I don’t believe that Orwell was looking forward in time so much as he was looking back. There are many powerful themes in the book, from the permanence of a three-tiered society of the powerful, the want-to-be-powerful, and the 85% of every population that struggles in drudgery to serve the first two segments, to the need for continuous war to consume the inevitable over-production inherent to the post-industrial era.

The primary theme of the book, however, is the power and potential treachery of language and its inherent propensity to be deceptively stripped of meaning in the interest of mass oppression. It was a power that both Stalin and Hitler, who had dominated the news during much of Orwell’s own life, understood and cleverly manipulated to extreme and horrific effect.

Language, of course, is a human convention. It is not natural to the world like sunshine or the animals of the Savannah. We made it up to help us communicate. In so doing, however, we created the world’s most powerful oppressive weapon, a tool that can be turned on us as creator and master. Words have meaning but are not, by themselves, inherently truthful.

The Chinese understand this quite instinctively. In part this mirrors the inductive worldview in which personal obligation trumps everything, including language, and because they converse in a language that is, by its very nature, conceptual and pictographic.

Orwell’s warning, however, is of paramount application to Americans today, both because of our deductive world view which has given us political correctness, but also because the paramount tenets of our culture are not tangibles like filial piety, but intangible concepts, like honor, freedom, and liberty, that can only be understood proximately through words.

Never before, in fact, although I can’t believe Orwell truly foresaw this given that he penned this book forty years before the Internet, has Orwell’s warning been so relevant and so urgent. American culture, politics, and the economy turn on the importance of words more than ever before. Face to face communication among family and friends has declined greatly, our social institutions have steadily lost membership, our politicians communicate in 140 character (now 280 character) Tweets, and our economy is controlled by digital platforms driven by the two-dimensional language of algorithms and analytics.

The backbone of Orwell’s dystopia is the Thought Police, the role of which is “not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects…” Variations of the Thought Police have been around since the beginning of social organization. The difference in Orwell’s 1984 was the existence of the “telescreen,” a variation of television that supported 24/7 bidirectional communication controlled by the government.

Today, of course, we have the Internet. On the surface it is not as organized as Orwell’s Thought Police but it is equally powerful. It draws its strength from the collective consciousness of shamers, critics, and newsfeeds and content farms intent to achieve eyeballs and to disseminate their often virulent propaganda. It harnesses the hysteria of the crowd and the spite of the anonymous.

It is ironic that most Americans would equate Orwell’s dystopia more with China than with America itself. Western media coverage of China is inevitably pre-occupied with the lack of American style elections and the alleged suppression of political dissent, despite the reality that American political correctness suppresses more dissent than the Chinese censors could ever hope to.


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United States Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, both Republicans, and the Chair and Co-chair, respectively, of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, issued a letter prior to Trump’s trip, which CNN entitled, US should hold China accountable on human rights. In it they complain that China “continues to strengthen the world’s most sophisticated system of internet control and press censorship and forges ahead with what it calls ‘internet sovereignty.'” (They seem particularly concerned about China’s decision to block the WhatsApp platform in anticipation of the Communist Party Congress in October.)

This criticism was leveled, of course, in the middle of a US news barrage concerning the mass murder of American citizens by other citizens armed with military assault weapons, the long-tolerated predatory and misogynist behavior of powerful US men, the opioid epidemic, widespread civil rights abuses, travel bans, the suppression of immigration, and a growing income and wealth divide that is both categorically immoral and threatens economic and social stability.

But Orwell, in his prescience, would not have been at all surprised that this was all happening in America were he still alive. One of the lingual weapons of the oppressors in Orwell’s dystopia is blackwhite, a powerful piece of jargon with two contradictory meanings. “Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts…But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

The blackwhite of America’s attitude toward China, of course, is that China is the oppressor and America is the guardian of liberty, justice, and the equality of all men and women. And, of course, the reality is the reverse. While the Chinese government is indeed sensitive to the negative collective impact of social disruption in a large, diverse, and heavily populated country, the Chinese have far greater freedom than Americans are allowed by the American Thought Police who control, through political groupthink, the dissemination of knowledge and truth.

As Orwell so darkly prophesized, the control of knowledge does not require censorship in an era where all thought and expression is transparent to all. Crimestop, another Orwellian addition to the oppressors’ lexicon, is simple enough to teach to children and can be used by the collective mob not to eradicate distasteful thought, but to preclude it from ever occurring in the first place. “It means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, or failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [the ruling doctrine of the Orwellian state], and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

We have gone so far to promote crimestop in America, in fact, that we have created safe spaces on our campuses of higher learning so that students don’t run any risk of being forced to hear something that somehow got by the censors. Lenin himself could not have imagined such a wonderful and empowering accommodation of his ideology.

And while trigger warnings may not carry the direct impact of censorship, they can be more broadly deployed since they do not require any degree of government authority. They represent, in fact, the Thought Police writ democratic, the American mainstream stomping about in Orwell’s symbolic iron-shod boots.

And what is Orwell’s prediction for our future?

“It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called “abolition of private property” which took place in the middle years of the century meant, in effect, the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before; but with this difference, that the new owners were a group instead of a mass of individuals.”

But is Orwell describing the future of China or the United States? The Communist Party of China or the American political, economic, and Hollywood elite?

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You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
click here

The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
click here

North Korea: A Sure Path to Peace


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Today, Wednesday, October 18, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress convened in Beijing. This quinquennial meeting of party leadership is a time to review the party’s activities over the last five years, set markers for the next five years, and appoint future leadership. I provided my predictions on all of these fronts two posts ago so I will not be redundant here. Suffice it to say that my opinions haven’t changed.

Like anyone who has been monitoring the news, however, I am increasingly concerned about the situation in North Korea. Not out of any genuine concern that Kim Jong Un has any immediate plans to attack either the US or South Korea, mind you. I am more concerned that the issue has been thrown into the US political spin cycle and that it is quickly taking on a life of its own.

Speaking at a forum in Seoul just yesterday, Hillary Clinton noted, “…it should go without saying that cavalier threats to start a war are dangerous and short-sighted.” Nonetheless, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, arrived in Korea on Tuesday, where it joins the USS Tucson, a Los-Angeles class attack sub already there. And, of course, there are the ever-constant tweets from President Trump promising to incinerate Pyongyang if the “little rocket man” tries to start anything. (Name-calling is always helpful in de-escalating tensions.)

I am always hesitant to tout history as the reason to do much of anything. The context is always different. There are certain historical truths, however, that have proven to hold true again and again. And one of those, I believe, is that whenever the rhetoric rises to this level with no reasonable plan in sight, nothing good comes of it.

There is obviously a lot at stake, in addition, obviously, to the 75+ million people who live on the peninsula. That’s not counting the 170,000 people of Guam, who are, by the way, US citizens; or the 127 million who live in nearby Japan, which North Korea is already capable of reaching with a missile strike.


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A military solution to the stand off seems, at every level, both impractical and, frankly, more than a bit ludicrous. I am not a military expert but North Korea is dug in and I have yet to hear one person who is a military expert suggest that we can pop in, knock out Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program, and go home without leaving mass casualties in our wake.

So, what does everyone want out of North Korea? The US wants peace for the US and our regional allies; China wants border security and trade and does not want US troops on its southern border; Japan wants regional peace and perhaps some trade down the road; and South Korea wants peace, trade, and, ultimately, reunification of the Korean people.

An undecidable problem, as they say in computational complexity theory? I don’t think so. Counter-intuitive, maybe. But there is a solution.

The obvious first step in that solution is to remove all US troops from South Korean soil. OMG, OMG, OMG!!!

Yes, I did say that we should unilaterally, and with great fanfare, remove the US military presence from South Korea, where the US currently has 35,000 troops, and a whole lot of military hardware, sitting along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the most heavily fortified border region in the world.

Here are the pros and cons:

Pros:
1. It ratchets down the rhetoric.
2. Opens the door to a regional diplomatic solution by South Korea, China, and Japan, where it belongs.
3. Gives face to China, in a political culture that turns on face.
4. Removes the most obvious justification for Kim Jong Un to take unilateral military action.
5. Gives the US the high moral and diplomatic ground at a time when it has largely lost it around the world.

Cons:
1. North Korea could be tempted to attack.

If they do, China will crush them. South Korea is a much more important trading partner for China than North Korea. China doesn’t really trust Kim Jong Un any more than the US does. And China does not want chaos on the peninsula, with which China shares an 880-mile border. (New Mexico and Arizona, combined, share only a 580-mile border with Mexico.) If the North Koreans pour across that border to get out of harms way, it will strain China’s social and physical infrastructure in the region to the breaking point.

If the North Koreans defy logic and mount a suicide mission anyway, moreover, the US still has 40,000 troops in Japan, a massive military presence in Guam, and the most mobile military in the world. (Including two nuclear submarines, B-1 bombers, and multiple warships already in the region. And that’s not counting the stationary missiles that are undoubtedly trained on the rogue country already.)

2. A potential loss of face for the US.

That’s not how face works. This will give the US face because we are acting from strength. It’s a unilateral withdrawal taken with the utmost confidence in our military and our regional allies. This is not appeasement. We’re simply giving China every chance possible—and every incentive—to take charge of the issue, something that Trump, Clinton, Tillerson, and just about everyone else have been asking for all along.

3. Panic in South Korea.

To be determined, of course, but I don’t think so. As long as the South Koreans accept our sincerity in standing by our defense commitment, I think the average South Korean understands the reality of the situation far better than anyone else. And they want to see a reunification just as much as the Germans wanted to see the reunification of Germany some twenty-seven years ago.

What is the upside for the US?

That’s easy. We’re worried about the growing influence of China. A unified Korea could potentially create a large, stable, economically powerful, and democratically friendly ally in the region. Remember that South Korea is already a staunch US ally, US corporations have a significant presence there, and 2/3 of the Korean population lives in the southern half of the peninsula today.

And what’s the alternative? In my opinion, the only alternative is for North Korea to become an autonomous territory of China similar to Tibet, Hong Kong, and eventually, Taiwan.

We can safely make two assumptions. The first is that the current regime in North Korea cannot survive. “Let them eat cake” is not a viable strategy, even in a nation whose citizens are effectively cut off from the world.

Perhaps more importantly, China will never allow a unified peninsula on which there is any chance that the US military presence moves north from the DMZ. It won’t happen. And China will never trust our political system enough to simply take our pledge not to interfere, even if President Trump were inclined to provide it, which seems decidedly unlikely for the negotiator-in-chief. The inductive Chinese are all about results. Words are cheaper than cheap. President Trump, no matter what relationship he may have with Xi Jinping personally, will never convince China to expose it’s geographic underbelly to South Korea as long as American troops reside on the peninsula.

And why would China go along and what incentive do they have to de-nuclearize North Korea? They obviously want peace on their southern border, and they want to conduct trade with a developing North Korea, not a starving one. Most importantly, however, it is exactly what a world leader would do.

As will become evident as the 19th China National Congress unfolds this week, China wants nothing more than to be seen as a world leader on a par with the US, Europe, and Russia. They don’t need Kim Jong Un’s nukes to secure the region. What they want is to achieve the Chinese Dream; to take their place on the world stage and once and for all overcome the Century of Humiliation.

I don’t generally believe in win-win scenarios. My own life experience has taught me otherwise. This strategy, however, comes about as close as you can get to a win-win-win-win-win between the US, China, South Korea, Japan, and the people of North Korea. And it should gain the swift support of Russia, which also shares a small border with North Korea and has obvious interests in the region.

This is not appeasement. This is simply resetting the board in recognition of the current economic and political realities and aspirations of the region and the world.

And, of course, it is the right thing to do from every humanitarian perspective. We tend to forget that there are twenty-five million men, women, and children living in North Korea. Liberation, which only China and South Korea can orchestrate, not mass destruction and death at the hands of American military technology, is the only humane option.

Perhaps that’s another lesson we can rightfully take from history and leave for our children.

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You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
click here

The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
click here

Sen. Rubio and Rep. Smith Chide China?


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), (not shown above), released a very predictable opinion piece to CNN over the weekend. It comes on the cusp of an upcoming triple news play on Sino-US relations. On Wednesday, October 18, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress will convene in Beijing. (See my previous post for the significance and my predictions.) On Thursday, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), of which Rubio and Smith are chair and co-chair, respectively, will issue its annual report delineating China’s alleged human rights violations and unfulfilled commitments to reform. And next month, of course, President Trump himself will travel to China for his first official visit to the Middle Kingdom. (I can’t fathom what a media circus that will be.)

Also predictably, China is sure to release its annual answer to the CECC report, detailing, in lengthy detail, America’s poor treatment of women, minorities, and children. Income inequality, climate change denial, and military aggression abroad are also likely to receive prominent treatment in the Chinese rebuttal.

Alas, you don’t have to be a Chinese apologist to accept that the Chinese do have a point in slinging right back at their American critics. The fact that American politicians still feel entitled, indeed obliged, to point out the faults, perceived or real, of the rest of the world, is perhaps the strongest evidence yet of just how out of touch America is with reality and itself at the moment.

After a week filled with salacious revelations about the exploits of Harvey Weinstein, who is most certainly not the exception to the rule in Hollywood, Trump’s threats to incinerate the people of North Korea, and Trump’s slap to the face of a country whose culture turns on face (i.e., Iran, if you have been away), Rubio and Smith apparently believe that China’s refusal to bend to US arrogance is worthy of America’s limited and painfully stretched supply of attention.


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Prominent in the Rubio/Smith piece is the accusation that “It [China] is increasingly dismissive of international norms and ‘Western’ ideas…” Say it ain’t so. How could China fail to yield to “principled American leadership,” as they call it? That we have to ask the question, once again, is ultimately both ruefully recursive and, quite frankly, beyond comprehension.

As is typical of the CECC report every year, this report will, if the Rubio/Smith letter is representative of the final product, focus on the alleged suppression of the freedom of expression in China. The Hong Kong “umbrella movement,” Tibet, religious expression, and, of course, the alleged repression of activists of all stripes, in areas from the environment, where it was the US which backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement and ceded environmental global leadership to China, to, of course, the Internet and the media, where our digital gatekeepers are being openly criticized for not censoring Russian propaganda during the 2016 election, but censoring at least one Twitter account and a domestic political ad.

Taken in total, these accusations against China calibrate just how far America’s media myopia has progressed. If hateful social media platforms, fake news, and infantile political name-calling are the standard of a free and noble media, then the Chinese should consider themselves lucky to be ruled by such alleged oppression.

Finding bogeymen in the same old places, the letter also accuses China of “Coercive enforcement of population control policies continued in violation of international standards.” It is an unfounded and logically inconceivable accusation given that China already accounts for 20% of the world’s population (China’s population has tripled in size since it’s founding in 1949.), but where the government not only guarantees, but funds, a woman’s right to control her own body. The US, on the other hand, is one of only two countries in the world (Papua New Guinea is the other) that does not provide for paid maternity leave and even now operates the most expensive, and selectively available, health care system on the planet.

This kind of moral grandstanding is what our politicians discern to be worthy of their time? This, despite the reality that our prisons, part of the largest institution of incarceration in the world, are disproportionately filled with young men of color, an entire race of Americans feels compelled to call out selective use of force by the police, a single man can buy enough military-style weaponry to mow down more people than there are US governors, all because we nonetheless guarantee multi-millionaire professional athletes the right to kneel on the job during the playing of the national anthem.

I have nothing against kneeling, mind you, but I am deeply offended by hypocrisy. And that is why, no doubt, I felt so welcome during the nine years I lived in China. I was a foreigner, for sure. But the Chinese I met never pretended to be anything that they weren’t and that courtesy to be who we are was universally extended to my family and me as well.

The closing line in the Rubio/Smith letter actually made some sense to me. “President Trump would do well to remember, even in the midst of heightened diplomacy on North Korea (author: I’m really not sure where that comment is coming from. What diplomacy?), that governments which trample on the basic rights of their own citizens are unreliable international partners.”

Well said, Senator Rubio and Representative Smith. But who, exactly, are you referring to there? Us or them? As you and your colleagues have repeatedly taught us, the choices are digital. If we’re not with them we must be against them.

I only hope that the Chairman Xi Jinping and the leaders in Beijing don’t share that perspective.

header photo credit: iStock.com/quavondo

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
click here

The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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The Science of Social Media is a False Dilemma


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

On the Internet, fake news and spurious intent are all the rage. The Russians are allegedly promoting it. Congress is investigating it. The alt-right is accused of it. Antifa, too. All of the evil “-ists” are polluting the world with it.

And we have science to blame. Or, more precisely, the scientific world view, which I, to be clear, fully embrace.

The scientific method is the progeny of deductive reasoning. It is the world of cause and effect. Data, and the patterns that reside within it, are its fuel and its purpose. Gather data; analyze it; discern the patterns; and apply them to larger and/or related questions and issues.

We call it intelligent reason. And while it is just what it claims to be, it will ultimately bring down the Internet and the culture and the economy we have built around it. The global economy will collapse. Geo-politics will be in turmoil. Culture itself will implode. And, yes, anarchy will prevail.

Why?

It’s simple, really. It is the duality—the paradox, if you will—of knowledge and its role in the acquisition of power. Knowledge liberates and oppresses. Knowledge is both the beginning and the end of the human tragedy of domination and enslavement.

The promise of the Internet is the promise of universal influence—the liberation of the influenced; the powerful and unstoppable rise of the everyperson. Everyone, in theory, gets a voice. Even Barney, sitting in his pajamas in Four Bears Village, North Dakota.


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It’s now obvious, however, that having a voice is not the same as being heard. Influence is peddled not by those with a voice, but those voices that hold sway over the crowd.

Knowledge is acquired. It does not emerge spontaneously. It is granted, passed along, and used to create an impression. It is the essence of influence. And it can be weaponized.

The idea of Russian propaganda operatives buying political ads on Facebook is easy to condemn, although it was obviously not so easy to detect and will be difficult to stamp out in the future. And this, in the end, will inevitably prove to be the tip of the iceberg of fake news and unsubstantiated influence.

Reasoned intelligence holds that knowledge is factual—it is both singular and all-inclusive. The reality of science, we believe, is one-dimensional; it can be discovered and shared through scientific discovery and affirmed through peer review.

What we call scientific truth, however, is often a false dilemma. Reality is seldom digital. It comes in many shades and can rarely be captured or expressed by either/or selections. And the fact that language itself is a mythical invention, not common to the universe like carbon and hydrogen, further compounds the problem and the risk.

Inevitably, the umbrella of fake news is expanded to include news that is misleading, unsubstantiated, or promotes a perspective that does not enjoy consensus. (Or it enjoys the consensus of the wrong people.)

Words become weaponized. And where there are weapons, there are armies. Information arms the conflict. And the world, via the Internet, becomes a battlefield without dimension or borders.

War ensues, and eventually the gatekeepers of information—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, etc.—are drawn into the battle. Divisions and defenses harden. The ante escalates. The apocalypse emerges.

It’s already happening. People are angry. They are disturbed. And it’s not some people, some of the time. It’s everyone, all of the time. Hate and frustration are 24/7. There are no holidays. There is no etiquette. Everyone and everything is fair game.

Facebook, for its alleged acceptance of Russian propaganda, is the current ground zero of the battle. But Google came under attack during the 2016 presidential election for allegedly helping Hillary Clinton through its all-powerful search algorithms, potentially influencing public opinion in a way the Russian propagandists can only dream of. (Google denies the accusations.)

Twitter has now joined the fray, recently blocking a video ad of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) because of its “inflammatory” reference to her opposition to the sale of fetal tissue for medical research. Amazon, for its part, allegedly removed customer reviews of Hilary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, that were unfavorable, driving the average customer rating for the book, which had hovered just above three stars in the early hours of public availability, up to the maximum five stars (4.8), where it remains.

To be clear, each of these companies states adamantly that they are politically neutral and, in the case of perceived censorship, are merely enforcing clear and established policy. And there is little doubt that they could, and likely will have to, mount an effective defense of their actions in a court of law.

But the court of law is not the court of public opinion. Will the sheep see the shepherd and his dog for what they are. And what will be the shepherd’s reaction? Will he give the sheep freedom or will he train another dog?

None of which has anything to do with evil intent. All intent is dichotomal. It is neither good nor bad; it is merely intent. The giant tech companies are NOT evil empires. They simply can’t help themselves and are likely unconscious of any corporate bias and influence. We have simply and voluntarily given them a degree of power that no person or institution in history has been able to wield without favor and bias. It is beyond our abilities. We are, by nature and nurture, creatures, both personal and institutional, drawn to influence—as both givers and takers.

At the heart of all things online is the algorithm, named after the ninth century mathematician, Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi. The magic of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Twitter is the magic of algorithms, digital computations that provide answers to questions like those asked of a search engine or used to determine a ranking. They are not calculations, however, in the same sense that 2+2=4 is. They can answer a question but they are not inherently truthful. They can approximate truth, but hold no dominion over it.

Franklin Foer, the author of the seminal book, World Without Mind, makes the astute and far-reaching observation that, “The problem is that when we outsource thinking to machines, we are really outsourcing thinking to the organizations that run the machines.” All people have a perspective; all coders are people; all algorithms are inherently biased in one direction or another.

In the case of the Internet, moreover, the algorithm and the potential bias it empowers is hidden away from public scrutiny under the guise of intellectual property. Google does not tell us how it conducts its searches. Facebook doesn’t tell us the whole story as to how it loads our news feed or populates our potential friends list.

The bias feeds on itself. The meaning of words becomes more and more rigid and more partisan. Opinions harden. We seek shelter not just from aggressive behaviors but from thought that makes us uncomfortable or we do not wish to hear. We run for the shelter of safe places and safe friends who see the world just as we do. We demand that content providers provide trigger warnings so we can easily avoid content that we may not find comfortable to even be aware of.

It is no surprise, really, that social media is no longer social. A Tweet is both a witty meme and a cudgel with which to shame and destroy. Facebook is a community both to enjoy and to manipulate.

Reality isn’t even real any more. Selfies are staged and digitally altered. Even the social celebrities themselves complain that reality has been lost. Kim Kardashian, photographed while on holiday and allegedly without the services of her digital stylists, complained on national television recently that the picture taken and posted online is not of the “real” her. It’s her face and body, but it is not the allegedly digital body that her notoriety is built upon. “Like, I literally don’t look like this!”

The problem is not fake news. The problem is that technology has unleashed artificial forces that will eventually spiral out of control. Reality will become less and less real. Divisions will be hardened. The tech giants will more and more be forced to take sides. Divisions will harden further. Language and visual media will be further weaponized. The government will not have the courage or the political capital to step in.

Social media will implode. The stock market will crash. The world economy will come tumbling down. The post-apocalyptic dystopia, once the stuff of Netflix and video games, will be very real indeed.

If you doubt that, I challenge you to this simple test: Identify one single person who has a workable way to keep unsubstantiated information off the Internet. It can’t be done. Truth is, more often than not, a false dilemma. You will have your truth; I will have mine; but at some level each will be half of a duality.

In an article dated October 7, 2017, Bloomberg quoted Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, saying “It’s very difficult to spot fake news and propaganda using just computer programs,” warning that the fake news problem is far more complicated and dangerous than the public thinks and Congress would have us believe. Adding people, of course, otherwise called censors, will only make the problem worse.

If we need more evidence we have only to look at the challenge facing China, which already has one of the most heavily regulated and censored social media spaces in the world. According to Bloomberg, “the country’s [China’s] social media employ technology and armies of vetters to scour its services for undesirable content, which in China’s case goes beyond rumors and unsubstantiated claims to include any and all information deemed harmful to social stability. Yet even the best-funded online operators have difficulty keeping up…”

“The problem persists despite China having some of the strictest rules aimed at preventing the spread of ‘false news,’ ” Bloomberg continues. The Chinese government, in reaction, has established regulations forcing forum-posters to register with their real identities and threatening jail time for posting defamatory false information, two fairly straight forward regulations that seem unfathomable in the US.

Fake news is a problem with no solution because the digital space, in the end, is not organic to the universe. The Internet is a human convention in the same way that language is. We made it up.

In the case of the online world, however, there is only one and it spans the globe, empowering friend and foe alike. And we have integrated it so far into our economy, our culture, and our institutions of learning and commerce, the inevitable exposure of its fallacy will bring everything crashing down.

As a human convention, the Internet is, by definition, a scientific fraud. It is built on a human consensus that has no basis in the natural universe. Within such a world, truth itself is ultimately a false dilemma that will eventually be exposed for what it is; a convention of human thought that exists in a context; and which context is defined by an unavoidably biased perspective.

The promise of the Internet was that it would overcome the manipulative power of influence. In the end, however, it has merely empowered it. And it will continue to empower it to the point where influence brings about its own destruction.

The Internet has nuclearized influence. The post-apocalyptic dystopia cannot be far behind.

header photo credit: iStock.com/mediaphotos

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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October 18, 2017


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Wednesday, October 18, 2017, will be an important day for the world. Its ultimate significance is likely to be even greater than the 2016 US presidential election.

On this day, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress will convene in Beijing to review the Party’s work over the past five years, discuss and set the future direction for the country, and to elect a new central leadership.

During this Congress, it is widely expected that Chairman Xi Jinping will both secure his legacy and tighten his grip on power. It appears an almost foregone conclusion that he will come away from the Congress with a grip on power not seen since the reign of Mao Zedong himself, although no leader will ever quite achieve the historical status that Chairman Mao has.


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Assuming that comes to pass, the world can expect Chairman Xi to double down on the major initiatives of the past five years for the next five, at least. All will be aligned with achieving the Chinese Dream at the heart of Xi’s political, social, and economic agendas. It is a redemptive legacy designed, first and foremost, to assign the Chinese Century of Humiliation (roughly 1850-1950) to the historical dustbin. This task will both influence and define everything else.

That said, here are my predictions for the next five years and beyond.

1. Energy – According to China Daily, more than 2.5 million people currently work in China’s solar power sector. That’s roughly ten times the number employed by the solar industry in the US. And in January of this year China vowed to invest 365 billion USD in renewable power generation by 2020.

Starting in 2019, China’s automotive companies will be required to begin the phase out of cars powered with internal-combustion engines. Some have predicted that by 2030 they will be outlawed completely.

China will continue to take the global lead in renewable energy and climate change. It has to and it wants to. China’s environmental degradation is not sustainable and it believes that the world will ultimately face the same challenges it does as population levels continue to rise. That spells economic opportunity for those companies at the forefront of renewable and alternative energy technology.

2. SOE Reform – Following China’s “opening up”, a process that began in 1989 and ushered in an era of unparalleled economic growth, many state-owned enterprises were privatized. Much of China’s economic growth, and a significant share of its burgeoning personal wealth, flowed from this transformation.

Some of China’s most powerful and influential industries, however, such as banking and financial services, remain under government ownership. By the end of this year, however, the Party has committed to turning all SOE’s into limited liability or joint-stock companies. This may well unleash an even more powerful surge in economic growth at a time when the Western economies continue to struggle for wage and inflation growth. China’s economy, as a result, now the second largest in the world, should equal the US in the next one or two decades.

3. South China Sea – There will be no backing down by China. China will risk World War III to protect its sovereignty. In its mind, it has no option. The West will ultimately be forced to accept this reality, with or without armed conflict.

4. North Korea – In one form or another, the rogue province will ultimately become a sovereign territory of China. China cannot and will not allow South Korea and its American ally to occupy the 880-mile (1,420 km) border it shares with North Korea.

For both environmental and competitive reasons, moreover, China needs to decompress the geographic concentration of its heavy industry (e.g. steel) and find new sources of low cost labor. North Korea will provide a convenient and geographically well-positioned opportunity to address both needs while providing a security buffer to China’s all-important southern region.

5. Regulation – Despite the ownership reforms cited above, government regulation will both federalize and increase in the future. The environment will be regulated with an iron fist. The Chinese Internet will be rigorously defended as both a Chinese asset and a tool for social and economic progress, not a medium for personal political expression. American technology companies will find limited opportunity there.

6. Hong Kong and Taiwan –  Neither will be granted the kind of political independence that Western political activists would like to see. This won’t even be considered. (On the contrary, North Korea will ultimately join them.) And any resulting social unrest, which should be quite limited, will be swiftly quelled.

7. Belt & Road –  Otherwise known as China’s Silk Road Initiative, China will continue to view this as a top foreign policy initiative. China views this as its best chance to economically develop its western provinces and release some of the cultural and political pressure it currently faces there. This will have a significant impact on all of Central and South Asia, including India, Pakistan, and many of the former members of the Soviet axis.

8. Politics –  China will exhibit no desire to export its political model except in matters of national security. Nor, however, will it move to adopt any form of the US political model. To most Chinese, the American model is not an attraction. If they are to borrow any foreign political ideals they will look to the socialism of Scandinavia, with “Chinese characteristics”, of course.

Is this good or bad news for the US and the West? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It will happen. The West, for a myriad of reasons, has lost the ability to shape world events. Phase III of Western imperialism (i.e. I. colonization, II. de-colonization, III. colonial dominance—the global dominance of the former colonies) will inevitably unfold.

As a pragmatist, I accept this reality. It is what it is. And if forced to choose, I believe, on balance, that this can be a period of positive replenishment for the US and its citizens. We will achieve far more by focusing our resources and our energy on renewing the American spirit, revitalizing American infrastructure, and revitalizing opportunity for all American citizens and immigrants, than we will on continuing to pursue inevitably ineffective attempts to reshape the world in our image.

It’s not a digital choice, however. We aren’t limited to putting America or the rest of the world first. Isolation isn’t a realistic option, as China itself has learned. By being a collaborative partner and embracing the diversity of the world, and accepting the inevitable ills of unfettered free markets and their corporate champions (e.g., polarized wealth distribution), we can help to usher in an era of unparalleled global prosperity, peace, and enlightenment.

And it could all start on October 18.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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Working for a Chinese Company

Author Gary Moreau

Sino-US trade continues to get a lot of attention in Washington, particularly in light of North Korea’s relentless missile testing. And trade between China and the US continues to be characterized as a unilateral issue—from Chinese factories to US consumers.

In reality, however, Chinese companies have now made direct investments in every US state and most congressional districts. From 2000 to Q2 of 2017 Chinese companies have invested $135 billion in the US, reaching $3.4 billion in 2012 alone. Most of these investments have been in US manufacturing assets and have resulted, by one estimate, in more than 140,000 US jobs on American soil.

While it has become increasingly common to hear of American friends and family who now work for Chinese companies in the US, moreover, American companies continue to reap the benefits of China’s economic miracle.

McDonald’s has 2,200 stores in China and sells 1,600 hamburgers every minute. Walmart has close to 450 stores there, employing roughly 100,000 people. (wal-martchina.com), and that’s not counting Walmart’s extensive sourcing operations there.

General Motors, which has, in many ways, been the poster child for the declining US middle class, has 60,000 employees in China (gmchina.com), roughly 1/3 of its total global workforce. It plans to open, moreover, five new manufacturing plants in China in 2018, and sell close to 5 million vehicles there, almost half of its vehicle sales worldwide. (https://www.gm.com/company/about-gm.html)

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It seems quite unlikely, therefore, that American industry will line up behind any attempt to start a trade war with China. And while there may appear to be some poetic justice in giving American companies that moved production out of the US their due, the trend has gone on for too long for a correction to do anything but further compromise the interests of American workers. Imagine what would happen to the GM jobs that remain in the US if the company were to find itself unwelcomed in China today?

The more likely scenario, once the heated rhetoric out of Washington dies down, is that there will be more and more direct Chinese investment on American soil. Wage rates are not as punitive as they once were, largely for the wrong reasons, energy is cheaper in the US than anyplace else on the planet, and local governments are lining up to shower new investments with taxpayer largesse in the form of infrastructure improvements, job training, and tax avoidance.

And what if you are one of those Americans that find you are working for a Chinese company in the future? Well, generalities are always risky, but here are a few pieces of advice:

1. Your Chinese employers will be laser-focused on one thing: results. They will care far less about programs, processes, and general initiatives that are often accompanied by acronyms, posters in the cafeteria, and tee shirts.

2. Your benefits may actually improve. Chinese companies, for example, provide far better maternity benefits than most US companies.

3. Words carry less weight to the inductively minded Chinese than they typically do in the West. Keep this in mind when you find yourself on either side of a communication.

4. The rules of socially acceptable personal questions are quite different. The Chinese will not hesitate to ask you how much you make or how much you paid for your home. They will not expect you to ask them personal questions about their marital status or family size, however. And they will certainly not expect you to invite them to your home.

5. Any questions you may have on issues of work/life balance will be accepted politely but are unlikely to register.

6. The investment horizon for those involved in capital projects will be measured in months, not years.

7. Cash is king. They are likely to have little tolerance for throwing good money after bad, no matter how confident you may be in the ultimate payback of your idea.

8. The inscrutable expressions you are likely to encounter among your Chinese colleagues can be very misleading. The Chinese are far less retentive than perceived and quite comfortable in being downright silly.

9. The Chinese consider Americans to be excessively polite. We’re always saying please and thank you. They are not so inclined and sometimes interpret our behavior in this regard to be a bit suspect.

10. Don’t expect a lot of “hi’s”/”hello’s” in the hallways. They are often baffled by our willingness to acknowledge total strangers. They generally divide people into two groups: Those they have a relationship with and are thus obligated to,and 2. Those they don’t. In essence these people don’t exist.

As luck would have it, I just got off the phone with a gentleman about to interview with a Chinese company. He is of European background and I summarized my experience as thus: I have worked with businesses around the world and the parallels I would draw are that in terms of personal culture, the Chinese are closest to the Latin cultures, particularly Mexico. In terms of business culture, however, I always found the Chinese to be closest to the Dutch. Both are very forthright and matter of fact.

On balance, I believe the Chinese and American economies will continue to mutually integrate. And that will be a good thing.

Keep an open mind. And remember what Confucius said: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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Waking Up at 3:45 in the Morning

 

Starting September 21, 2017, the Kindle version of my popular and highly praised book, Understanding China: There is Reason for the Difference, will be available for FREE. Go the Amazon Kindle Store for details. This promotion will only last for five days, so don’t forget. And it’s not too early to think about the holidays!

Journalists now write to the click count in real time. Like so many dichotomies in life and the world, it is both a result and a cause of the superficiality of much of the news these days. Sensationalism and banality are two sides of the same coin—the yin and yang of a world where the cost of knowledge has been driven to zero, and attention is the world’s scarcest commodity.

This has given rise to the “I did this for a week/month/year, and this is what happened” genre of investigative journalism. Just this morning my very popular and mainstream homepage linked to an article from Inc., entitled, “I Got Up at 3:45 A.M. Like Apple’s Tim Cook for a Year. Here is What Happened.

Really? Why would you do that? The writer explains that she was becoming overwhelmed with tasks and obligations and is not a quitter. She was looking for solutions. Having learned of her motives, I, nonetheless, was still left with the same question: Why would you do that? And why would you do it for a year?

I honestly don’t think a Chinese person would ever consider doing this for the reasons outlined. They would be more inclined to give the idea a collective, “Huh?” Their culture and perception is built on an inductive world view, where “why” carries far less weight than it does in the deductively-minded West.

That’s not to apologize for the Chinese world view or to take anything away from the Western perspective, as I have been accused of doing recently. That, however, doesn’t change my reaction.

The logical explanation, of course, is that the worlds of knowledge and journalism have been turned on their heads by technology. Anyone can now publish a book or contribute to the public dialogue. That doesn’t mean you will be heard, however.

The public consciousness is now controlled by algorithms written in Silicon Valley rather than autocratic gatekeepers sitting in New York, but the outcome is largely the same. Despite the appearance of objectivity, an algorithm is a computational process; it is not a computation, like 2+2=4. It provides an answer, not a solution.

Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic, has written a new book, World Without Mind : The Existential Threat of Big Tech. He has had more than a front row seat during the battle between the digital and the print world over knowledge. He has been in the fray and has the scars to prove it.

I didn’t give the book a 5-star review for reasons you will have to read my review to understand, but I do think this is a book that everyone should read. He adroitly explains why people write articles in the “Here is what happened” genre and the reasons why all sources of news increasingly mimic the tabloids. My favorite example is: “9 out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact,” as the headline to an article about income inequality.

The article about getting up so absurdly early was witty, well written, and fun to read. And, in the end, it was deductive. There was ultimately reference to the connection between sleep and the stress hormone cortisol, which a Chinese reader would probably not have seen coming.

The author concludes with the deduction that, “Working hard and suffering are not the same thing, and I, for one, plan never to confuse the two again.” It’s sound logic that I don’t need to read twice to take to heart.

The sensationalism of journalism, of course, isn’t a curse of deductive thinking per se. Deduction is the rational foundation of the scientific method. And the author’s deductive approach, in this case, did cause me to click and ultimately enjoy the article.

It is ironic, nonetheless, that deductive investigation can lead, in the extreme, to inductive silliness. Inductive thinkers, like the Chinese, can indeed be silly in the extreme. They are, however, blatantly silly. They are silly for the sake of silly; not for the sake of gaining insight.

An inductive world view is a quest for results. A deductive world view is a quest for explanations. Both have their place. As I advocate in all of the books in the Understanding Series, the key to a successful career and life of purpose is balance between the two.

And whichever world view dominates your thinking, a recognition that it ultimately makes sense to get enough sleep.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
click here

The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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The Tragic Death of Mother and Child

Author Gary Moreau

This past week, Ma Rongrong (surname: Ma), 26 years old, fell to her death from a 5th floor window at the Yulin No 1 Hospital in Shaanxi Province, China. She was 42 weeks pregnant and in labor at the time of her death, which has since been ruled a suicide.

It was originally reported that Ma was told by doctors that she should have a cesarean section delivery because of the baby’s head circumference and the risk it posed to both mother and baby. Her family, however, despite the advice of doctors, would not authorize it, as required by Chinese law. They insisted on a natural birth despite the mother’s repeated pleas and protests.

Ma’s husband, it should be noted, now disputes the hospital’s account and claims that the doctors told him that a C-section was not necessary. Police are now investigating.

What is clear is that Ma was in great pain from the labor and repeatedly begged the doctors and her family to allow the C-section. A haunting video has been posted on Chinese social media showing Ma outside of her hospital room clearly pleading for her family’s support. That was not forthcoming, however, and Ma shortly thereafter made the decision to end her life and the life of her unborn child.

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I have yet to see the story on any of the American news feeds. I learned of it only because my Chinese wife, who gets her news from Chinese websites, told me about it. And, for the first time since I started this blog, she asked me to write about it. She has never before made such a request. As a woman, and particularly as a Chinese woman, she is outraged.

It’s not hard to see why. At its heart, this is a simple question of a woman’s right to choose. Why did an apparently sane and otherwise healthy woman require her husband’s or family’s permission to undergo a simple C-section, although it appears to have been established that the hospital was following the law on the matter. To date, no extenuating circumstances have been suggested.

And why in the world, under the circumstances and given the emotional and physical state of the patient, was she left alone, by either her family or the hospital, long enough to get the window open and climb out?

Social media in China has been afire, largely with disgust, around the story. Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging version of Twitter, with comparable traffic numbers, had more than 56 million views in one day. The news itself has been carried by all of the major news outlets in China, including those that are state owned.

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My wife knows no one involved in the story and has no more information than the average reader. She, however, believes the hospital’s version of events must be accurate (i.e. that the family/husband refused consent) for the simple reason that the hospital would naturally want to perform a C-section given that it would be faster and bring in more revenue. To the non-Chinese that undoubtedly sounds incredibly cynical and judgmental. Trust me, it’s not. It’s a utilitarian view of reality that she passes no judgment on. It is what it is.

She is a mother herself who gave birth in a small Chinese city in the Dongbei region of China (China’s equivalent of our New England.) in the early 90s. She notes that the only time she ever saw a doctor or hospital was for the original confirmation of pregnancy and the actual birth, which, in her case, was natural and without complication. She does note, however, that hospitals in China were routinely criticized at the time for over-prescribing C-sections in the interest of time and efficiency.

Without taking anything away from the overriding issue of the woman’s right to choose and the tragic death of mother and child in this case, there is a larger issue here of China’s struggle to culturally and legally keep pace with its rapid modernization and economic advancement. There is an unparalleled length of cultural history and tradition involved. Superstition and the Confucian sense of obligation, particularly to family, moreover, continue to play a significant role.

Much of the resulting cultural tension turns on the issue of suffering. Within Eastern philosophy, particularly Buddhism, suffering is considered a natural element of life. And most Chinese, and all older Chinese, including my wife’s generation, have felt its impact first hand. That, coupled with the naturally inductive world view on which Chinese culture is based, promotes a “life is hard, get over it” mentality on many fronts.

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Throughout history and around the world, of course, this has always been a point of generational friction. The older generation inevitably believes that the younger generation faces less hardship than they did, although this historical pattern is being challenged in the US and elsewhere today. I myself would not suggest that my teenage daughters have things any easier than I did. They face many challenges I am grateful I did not.

I do believe that Americans of all generations, however, have embraced the right to exceptionalism and the sense of victimization that inevitably follows to an unhealthy degree. We are, as a result, in a state of chronic indignation that is ultimately counter-productive.

Let us hope that the tragic story of Ma Rongrong gives us all a reason to step back and take stock of our own lives, values, and priorities. And that China sees fit to update its regulations concerning a woman’s right to pain-free birth.

Contact: You may write the author at gary@gmoreau.com

photo credit: iStock.com/tupungato

The Bicycles are Back

Author Gary Moreau

In the late 1980s I was granted a special visa to travel to Guangzhou, then called Canton. I traveled by plane (a fairly antiquated one, at that) from Hong Kong.

We landed at an airport where the terminal seemed no larger than a modest house. Today’s Baiyun airport, by comparison, handles 60 million passengers per year, more than New York’s Kennedy airport.

Bureaucracy and security were in full view. My paper work was passed along a row of officials, none of whom apparently spoke English or asked a single question. They did, however, stamp with big, loud, mechanical stamps that just sounded very official. Today, China is one of the most automated and digital countries on the planet. Many cities are very close to a cashless economy and there isn’t much you can’t do with just a mobile phone.

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On the security side there were a lot of young men in military uniforms at the airport holding some fairly serious weaponry, and they had all apparently been trained to look menacing. We were supposed to put our hand luggage (in my case, a briefcase) on a conveyer for x-ray inspection, undoubtedly in search of contraband coming in from Hong Kong. I was so overwhelmed with the scene, however, that I didn’t see the sign directing everyone to do that until I was almost past. I continued to walk by at least three automatic weapons but no one said a word. (Probably because I was a foreigner, I know now.)

And then I walked out the door. There were bicycles and people everywhere. I still can’t put it in words. There were very few cars, although my official host, a representative of the Communist Party at some level, had a car, so I was a given a bird’s eye view of what a swarm of bicycles looks like.

What was most impressive, however, was the total lack of carnage. The cyclists were packed so close together that a single accident was sure to turn into a massive chain reaction. And there appeared to be no rules of the road. Cyclists ignored the cars, what few traffic signals there were, the pedestrians, and each other. And somehow it all worked.

Substitute cars for bicycles and you have the same scenario today. The traffic in places like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou makes the traffic in any major American city pale by comparison. Imagine New York or Chicago with 25 million residents. And, to this day, while there are well-defined rules of the road, no one obeys them. Or even pretends. And the police don’t care.

This is China. It’s crowded and noisy. And it’s chaotic. (The Chinese don’t normally honor queues either.) But it works.

It works because the Chinese have learned how to cope with chaos. They live it every day. And yet things get done, usually at a speed Americans can’t quite fathom.

Bikes are now returning to the streets of China in the form of ride sharing platforms that work much like Uber and Lyft. It’s not a new idea. Bike sharing has been offered in major US cities for some time now.

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The difference, however, is transformative—or disastrous—depending on your perspective. China’s popular bike ride sharing platforms, like Ofo and Mobike, don’t require pickup, drop off, and storage stations. You find the bike wherever the last patron left it, but the app on your smart phone will tell you where that is. And you drop it off wherever you like. And that’s where it sits until someone else wants to use it.

The obvious lack of structure is ideal in solving the last mile problem. It really doesn’t matter where your last mile is. You don’t have to live next door to the subway entrance or bike rental station.

That same lack of structure, however, Americans have already noted, can create visual and pedestrian anarchy. Bikes will just pile up at the entrance to other forms of mass transit, and since there are no racks, and the Chinese typically reject rules, that can create an inconvenience for people just trying to get into or out of the tube.

This, I suspect, will be a much bigger hurdle for the Chinese ride sharing companies trying to expand into the US than they probably realize. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these companies aren’t banned in otherwise “progressive” cities around the country. A recent article in The Washington Post claimed, in fact, “Opponents have branded Ofo and Mobike a menace, a plague and a public nuisance.”

It will start with the bureaucrats. In San Francisco the City Supervisor referred to China’s Bluegogo, which put 20,000 bikes on the street without permission in January, a “public nuisance,” and threatened legal action. (Of course. It’s the American solution.)

Even though these companies require no support from the cities themselves, since they don’t need racks or real estate, they will have to get a license to operate and they will, without a doubt, be excessively regulated. Local governments will try very hard to tell them where they can leave the bikes, offer the bikes, etc. And the police, of course, will be called upon to enforce the regulations, giving the men and women in blue yet another regulation to occupy their time and dilute their efforts to stop crime.

One of the reasons that the Chinese economy is so resilient is that the regulators don’t worry about the little stuff. If you want to start a small business, just start it. Sure, you technically need a license, but chances are that no one is going to bother you unless you give them a reason to. The police are more likely than not to patronize your business than shut it down.

And the reason that the police are able to keep a tight rein on violent crime is that they do little else. They don’t waste time writing out traffic tickets or fining some hapless predestination for jay walking. If you’re not threatening the Party or public security, the police are likely to leave you alone.

We Americans, on the other hand, are a nation of rule followers and enforcers. And rules are rules. There are no moral equivalents, if you will, when it comes to controlling what people do. Take a trip to your local DMV office and try to do something even remotely out of line with the rules if you doubt that.

The third, and perhaps most significant difference, however, is not that the Chinese won’t eventually see the need to do something about the problem. It is that the people impacted will do something about it. They will figure out some way to overcome the problem without throwing away the benefits.

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Americans, on the other hand, will, I suspect, look to the government to solve the problem. The government will inevitably over-reach, yet other people will get upset, and responsibility will just bounce around in that growing bin of social problems we just can’t seem to find a solution for.

The wealthy, of course, will get helicopter ride sharing apps or buy their own, if they can afford it. The mass middle will get prescriptions for higher doses of Xanax, and the poor will just shake their heads and get by.

Oh, one last thing. The regulators will tell you that they need to regulate these companies in the name of public safety and consumer protection. You will hear all kinds of dire concerns about the bikes being stolen, set afire in the middle of the street, or used in the commission of crime. These are all just red herrings. What is the price of climate change? What is the value of your time sitting in commuter traffic? What is the value of giving people just another simple way to get a little exercise without joining a fancy gym?

Ride on.

Opening photo credit: iStock.com/tupungato

Contact: You may write the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Author’s website & blog: www.gmoreau.com