Tag Archives: democracy

The Case for Collectivism


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

In a recent survey reported by USA Today, one out of two American millennials preferred communism to capitalism, and 22% said they have a favorable impression of Karl Marx. For almost any American older than a millennial, this came as a complete shock, and, with few exceptions, has been characterized as a failure of the American education system to accurately portray history.

But is that a fair assessment?

I have a degree in Economics from Middlebury College, where I graduated with honors. I have spent an entire career in Corporate America, more than half of that in executive management. And I lived and worked for nine years in China, a collectivist state, where I managed a factory and a company, referred to as a Wholly-Owned Foreign Enterprise (WOFE), for a public American corporation. I believe, as a result, that I bring some experience and credibility to the topic.

Let’s start the assessment by dropping the labels. All of the relevant terms—democracy, capitalism, communism, socialism, and fascism—raise a lot of dust but have lost all of their original meaning. China is not a communist state. It is a collectivist state run by the Communist Party of China. The Chinese themselves refer to it as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” I will refer to it simply as Chinese collectivism.

The United States, on the other hand, is not a pluralist democracy. The Founding Fathers went to great lengths to avoid the potential tyranny of the democratic majority. The three separate but equal branches of government (legislative, administrative, and judicial), the Electoral College, the unique structure of the US Senate, with two senators from each state regardless of population or economic strength, and the very specific and largely irreversible allocation of certain powers to state and local governments, all are designed to limit the power of the plurality.

Both China and the US allow free market forces to “manage” large parts of the economy. There are, however, two big differences. The first is that almost all property in the US, including intellectual property, is privately owned. In China, on the other hand, the government retains ownership of much of the common property, including all land and the natural resources it holds.

The Chinese collective also retains ownership and control of key strategic industries that have a broad social impact, including most of the banks and much of the energy sector. The Chinese government, moreover, maintains a well-defined national industrial and economic plan that guides public and private investment, in part through taxes, and provides strategic direction to the regulatory branches of government.

There are no government owned companies in the US, although the US Post Office and NASA are independent agencies of the US government. The General Services Administration (GSA), moreover, another independent agency of the federal government, oversees the expenditure of approximately $66 billion in government spending each year and manages about $500 billion of US property.

In total, government spending by the Chinese and US governments is about the same, at roughly $2.8 trillion per year; although the US economy is larger in total.

The US, however, has no national industrial policy, despite the amount of money spent by the government each year. While China targets key industries for development and protection in the interest of national security and social and economic development, the US, in theory, leaves such decisions up to the private sector.

That’s only in theory, however. In practice the US has a well-defined national industrial and economic policy. There has to be given the amount of money the government spends each year and the regulatory influence the government has over the economy. The real difference is that in the US government policy is left largely up to private individuals and corporations to define. Corporate lobbyists and corporate government relations staffers play an active role in actually writing government legislation and regulation, always, of course, in an attempt to promote the self-interests of their employers.

One of the primary vehicles for economic policy in the US is the US Tax Code. The Code itself, along with the supporting documentation and legal interpretation, runs to 70,000 pages in total, most of which is devoted to defining tax breaks and other financial considerations designed to favor one sector of the economy, or one segment of any given sector, over another. The 2017 Tax Reform recently approved by the US Senate itself required more than 400 pages to articulate what was supposed to be a simple reduction in tax rates. It wasn’t, of course.

That is why despite a top corporate tax rate of 35%, most large corporations pay considerably less. Google, in its last reported year, paid only 19%. Apple, one of the most profitable companies on the planet, and which holds $230 billion in cash in overseas accounts, paid only 25%. Asset rich ExxonMobil and GE both enjoyed tax credits, effectively sheltering all of their income from taxation, all based on provisions buried somewhere in those 70,000 pages.

Another way in which national policy is established in through government regulation and, once again, much of that has been turned over to the private sector, allowing business people and corporations to use regulation to benefit themselves and tilt the playing field in their favor. Many of these regulations are fraudulently sold to the public in the name of consumer protection, but the protection of certain businesses and their profits is the real objective.

In the state of California, for example, you cannot cut hair for a living unless you receive 5,000 hours of training at a state-accredited for-profit barber school. It’s doubtful that enough Californians complained about bad haircuts to push the state legislature into action. It’s far more likely, and almost certain, that the barber schools, in partnership with the existing barbers looking to sustain higher prices, lobbied for the legislation and were readily obliged.

In my own state of Michigan Tesla cannot sell its cars directly to consumers utilizing the business model it has built its business on. And the reason is not Ford, GM, or Chrysler. The reason is the independent automobile dealers association that has used its political muscle in Lansing to push for such protection. Michigan is not alone. Independent dealers in many states have successfully lobbied their state legislators for protective legislation that goes well beyond any legitimate consumer interest.

The list is endless. It was recently announced that a common medication for erectile dysfunction may soon be available over the counter in the UK, thus reducing its price and freeing up doctors to spend their time on more pressing health matters and thus reducing health care costs. In China, many common medicines, except narcotics, are available directly from pharmacists without a doctor’s prescription.

The US, on the other hand, has one of the most restrictive set of pharmaceutical regulations on the planet. It’s one of the reasons the US spends more on healthcare than any other nation despite the lack of universal insurance coverage. It’s all justified on the basis of consumer protection, of course, but it coincidentally maximizes the profit of the big pharmaceutical companies and, by the way, we have a huge opioid epidemic anyway. (Why don’t we treat prescription drugs like guns? Opioids don’t cause addiction. The people who abuse them do.)

In the end, as I’ve noted, the biggest difference between Chinese collectivism and what I will call Americanism is in who defines government policy and who owns the country’s collective assets.

No individual or corporation owns land in China. It’s owned collectively by all of the people of China and managed on their behalf by the Communist Party. As a practical matter, the distinction doesn’t have much impact on daily life. The feel is the same. Both my home in China and the factory I managed sat on land owned by the people of China but managing either one felt pretty much the same as it does here. As they say, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

If the day to day difference between collective ownership and private ownership of property is immaterial, it has a huge impact on who decides how to use that property. In the US, that right resides with the individual and the private corporation. In a collectivist state, that right resides with society at large.

Over time, of course, the US has discovered the inherent weakness in private ownership of property and has sought to restrict usage through zoning laws. The local zoning board, however, is entirely local and fairly easily swayed in favor of development by their aligned interests and political pressure, so the practical effect has been very limited. Wealthy developers still have the power to do what they want in the pursuit of profit.

What we can’t do as a country, however, is build new airports, new train systems, or more efficient highways. And that’s because the rights of the individual, the cornerstone of Americanism, are protected by a strong judicial system. Large infrastructure projects can be tied up in the courts for years, if not decades, effectively prohibiting the kind of large infrastructure projects that the Chinese excel at. (Many experts believe that this deficiency alone, will ultimately compromise America’s global leadership.)

America can’t, in other words, adapt to technological innovation. We didn’t have airplanes, automobiles, or high-speed trains, all of which require land-intensive infrastructure, at the time of the nation’s birth when the principle of private ownership of land was established. We had canals and roads and harbors, but these were easily accommodated through the legal concept of eminent domain. Even that collective protection, however, has been severely eroded by the courts and the politicians, both of which are easily exploited by wealthy developers and other corporate interests.

In theory, of course, the American government is accountable to the people. That theory, however, has been severely tested by the passage of time and the steep cost of running a successful modern political campaign. Money, not ideology, now controls the American political process. If there is anything to be learned by the recent rash of political resignations and decisions not to seek re-election it is that political power does not accrue to the men and women of the highest integrity and civic mindedness. It accrues to those who can harness the most money and power.

So, in the US, in theory, we have a paragon of free market capitalism and democratic freedoms. And in China we have the last remaining socialist superpower, where the press is censored, there are no free elections except at the local level, the government retains ownership of key industries and the country’s largest companies, and there is no private ownership of land.

In practice, however, the US, by its own admission, suffers from ongoing sexism, racism, and religious prejudice. Mass murder is almost a daily event. Drug addiction is rampant, wages are stagnant and have been for decades, inequity in wealth and income is expanding, and social unrest and general disillusionment is now the standard.

China, on the other hand, in practice, has raised 300 million people out of poverty in one generation, violent crime and mass murders are rare, the best schools are equally accessible to everyone, virtually everyone is employed, wages have been rising at rates far above the GDP, and the President’s approval rating is among the highest in the world, many times that of our own American president.

Why the disconnect? In a word, context.

Personal freedom and economic well-being do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in the context of a complex web of political, social, technological, and economic conditions that, in the case of the US, have changed dramatically since the country’s founding.

Consider this small sampling of facts:

  • There were 2.5 million people living in the US in 1776. There are 315 million people here today.
  • The entire landmass of the original thirteen colonies was 339,000 sq miles. The US today covers 3,678,000 sq. miles.
  • The only guns available when the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791 were the single fire musket and the flintlock pistol. In the hands of the most skilled operators they had a capacity of about three rounds per minute and were accurate only at very short distances. The Las Vegas shooter, who killed 58 and left 546 injured, by comparison, was able to fire 1,100 rounds in under ten minutes, massacring innocent civilians at a range of almost 500 yards.
  • The first train locomotive to run on US rails did not go into operation until 1829. The first American car was not built until 1893. The first commercial flight did not take place until 1914.
  • The pharmaceutical industry, as we know it today, did not come into existence until the mid-20th Century.
  • The Internet has been in widespread existence for less than thirty years.
  • The 16th Amendment, legalizing the income tax and creating a powerful tool for social and economic engineering, was not ratified until 1913. The tax system we know today did not come into existence until 1954.

In short, our world, and the context in which our political and economic systems operate, has changed dramatically. Yet we still attempt to manage it all with political and economic systems that are built on the ideological premise of the supremacy of the individual over the collective.

Advances in technology drove much of this change. Technology has entirely transformed how we work, how we live, how we travel, and how we communicate.

At the time of our founding, our news was limited to the local newspaper and the men and women motivated enough to grab a soapbox and stand on a street corner. Politics was a part-time profession carried on by people moved by a sense of civic duty. The world of the average American, in short, was a decidedly local world and he or she lived and worked with relative autonomy.

Technology, both directly and indirectly, has made the world both bigger and smaller, connecting us all in real-time. It has also, however, driven the commercialization of every aspect of our lives. It is no longer possible to live a dignified life of poverty, even if you so choose. There is virtually no alternative to money. Even the original social safety net—nature—has been taken away. Living as a self-sufficient farmer or hunter-gatherer in the wilderness is no longer an option. The socio-economic complex in which we live forces everyone into the economic game. Compete or perish, with perhaps a short and undignified stay in government entitlement along the way.

As America grew and prospered, however, an unintended consequence began to emerge. Most of the wealth creation went to a relatively small segment of the population. As time went by, moreover, the system was incapable of correcting itself. The rich, now called the 1%, continue to get richer while the other 99% struggles to get by. Many, in fact, have failed in their quest and are either homeless, addicted, or both. And, most importantly, their hope is lost.

There are more than 540 billionaires in the US today, who share a collective net worth of $2.4 trillion, more than the total GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people. Half of Americans, however, make less than $30,000 per year and have virtually no personal savings and sizable amounts of debt. (Student debt is a national crisis.)

Another unintended consequence of this massive wealth creation and its concentration is the creation of a permanent political class. An economy this big and a society this large require full time management.

The two developments—the enrichment of the economy and the creation of a professional political class—were fundamentally inter-related. Modern politics takes a lot of money and the Founding Fathers made no provision to provide it. The need for private funding, in turn, further embedded private citizens of wealth into the political process. And when, in 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the 14th Amendment to give corporations the same legal rights, other than voting, of the individual citizen, the modern era of politics was born.

And it’s not working. And it’s not working because the context has changed. We live in a very different world than we did in 1776 and yet we are attempting to manage it with the same individual-centric political and economic systems developed more than two centuries ago.

The People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, has been in existence for a little over 60 years. And while the Communist Party of China is still in charge, the economic and social management systems have been entirely transformed. Chairman Mao himself would surely not recognize the modern China.

By adapting to change, however, China has emerged as a global superpower and many are predicting that the American Century will soon give way to the Chinese Century.


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Many in America, of course, will argue that China transformed itself by following the example of the US and adopting many of the provisions of free market capitalism. It is these same people, moreover, who believe that the path forward should be to double down on what has worked in the past. We don’t need to adapt, in other words, so much as we need to go back to the perceived purity of the political and economic systems we employed two centuries ago.

It is pure folly, of course. Even if we could turn back the clock, which we can’t, those systems and ideals would no longer work. The result, in fact, would be disastrous; on a par with asking corporations to live without computers or teenagers to live without smart phones.

Technology has so empowered the individual that no single individual can be given the kind of power historically granted to the individual American. It is simply unworkable. What worked when we were few and largely isolated and spent our days farming and hunting, will simply not work today. It would be like giving every colonial soldier a nuclear bomb and telling them to go win the war. They would ultimately win the war, but like the 1%, would dramatically transform the country itself.

In the end, the millennials are right. They may have the details wrong. (The referenced study’s sponsor noted that most of the millennials who voted for communism were unable to define it correctly.) They are, however, right in their instinctive belief that in the modern world in which we live and work, the collective society, not the individual, must reign supreme.

Let’s not call it communism, or fascism, or any of the traditional –isms, because their critics are right; they didn’t work either. And libertarianism, the system of choice for both the alt-right and Silicon Valley, won’t work any better. That would be just doubling down on what we already have and would simply accelerate our decline.

And I am not suggesting we simply imitate the Chinese or try Marxism yet again. The former, for a lot of social and cultural reasons I don’t have space for here, won’t work in America. And Marxism, while ideologically attractive at some level, simply isn’t tenable.

What we need instead is a new form of collective governance that puts the interests of the collective society above the liberties of the individual and manages our collective interests and assets in a way that allows some level of individualism without allowing it to suppress or circumvent the collective good.

header photo credit: iStock.com/mattjeacock

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

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.

header photo credit: iStock.com/rarrarorro

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

Context

The author’s latest book, Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance, is now available on Amazon. Click here to go directly there.

Description: Building and managing a large corporation on values such as honor, integrity, obligation, and trust may seem antithetical to achieving and sustaining business success. But if you want to engage your most critical stakeholders—your employees—at the highest level, those are exactly the values you must leverage and prioritize.

It’s not that companies ignore what seasoned business leader Gary Moreau calls the “soft tools” of business management. However, in placing more emphasis on the measurable tools of development and growth, such as quantitative marketing and financial modeling, executives tend to make the soft tools secondary when it comes to achieving their business goals. And without the real trust of those who do the work, companies won’t grow in a sustaining way.

In his latest book in the Understanding series, Moreau shows business leaders—especially those just starting out—how to establish real trust with those they lead and create an environment that is inclusive and appreciative of diversity, from culture and gender issues to leadership styles.

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance shows you how to balance soft tools with popular, measurable tools to improve company culture and achieve overall success.

____________________________________________________________________

A tree exists in context.

Context is everything. That’s nothing new. It has been this way since humankind first invented language as a means to communicate.

Because language is a human invention, unlike sunshine and rain, it is imprecise. Context provides clarity of meaning. This is particularly true in a language like Mandarin where words can take on very different meanings depending on how they are being used—their context.

I am fluent in almost every language in the right context. If I am on an airplane anywhere in the world and the flight attendant rolls the beverage cart down the aisle, hands me a bag of peanuts and asks me a question, it doesn’t matter what language he or she uses. I know with certainty that he or she is asking me what I would like to drink.

Context is particularly important given the reality of what Buddhists call emptiness. It is not a state of nothingness, but recognition of the fact that everything in the universe is interconnected. No action or behavior exists in isolation.

There is a dichotomy to the interconnection of everything. It can be used as both a tool of understanding and a tool of disinformation.

I was reminded of this reality recently when I read two news accounts on a single day regarding Chinese intentions. One article related to the one belt, one road initiative, a cornerstone of President Xi Jinping’s economic and political agendas. The other had to do with China’s willingness to help satisfy US objectives in North Korea.

Both articles painted a rather negative context around a single word—self-interest. The one belt, one road article essentially argued that the investment of trillions of dollars in the infrastructure of Southeast Asia was a Chinese ruse to build hegemony in the region and to isolate implied rival, India.

The second article challenged China’s willingness to de-nuclearize North Korea both because China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and because if a war between South Korea/US and the hermit kingdom were to come to pass, China did not want to invite North Korean aggression, their common border extending 880-miles (1,420 km).

Language itself is a dichotomy that derives much of its meaning from context. Meaning is seldom obvious without it. A single word can be laudatory or pejorative.

The unbridled pursuit of self-interest is the very foundation of the free market capitalism that the US economy is built upon. It is the “invisible hand” that Adam Smith used to describe the market forces of self-interest that generate free market competition—the golden nectar of capitalism itself.

When used to describe those that we wish to characterize in an unflattering light, however, self-interest becomes an adjective laden with implications of selfishness, arrogance, and immorality. It suggests one is not interested in what is fair or right—or compassionate.

But isn’t self-interest at the very core of democracy? If not, what then is identity politics? Why do political candidates spend so much time and effort articulating specific policy issues? Why do political debate moderators focus almost exclusively on questions of how and what? And why does experience matter, as virtually every political incumbent would have us believe?

Freud argued that all of life is personal. We are the lead character in all of our dreams and the monster in all of our nightmares. This is the context in which we live our lives, not the barrier to living a good life.

Of course the Chinese act out of self-interest. So do the Americans, the Russians, and virtually every member of the European Union. Even Switzerland’s famous neutrality flows from self-interest. The citizens of all of these countries also breathe and require food and water to survive. What’s the point?

Since self-interest is universal, it can only acquire a negative connotation in a certain context. And that context, more often than not, is hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is the context of delusion or worse. It is a blight on human integrity and the search for truth. It is the weapon of prejudice and conceit.

Researcher Albert Mehrabian performed several studies in the late 1960’s that established that the words themselves play a minor role in the effectiveness of communication. Tone and body language, he concluded, were far more important.

Both tone and body language are components of context. As is intent and, most importantly, so are the other words used in the communication. A tree is a tangible and singular thing. But it exists in the context of the weather, the soil conditions, altitude, and the landscape in which it resides. A tree, in other words, is just a tree in the narrowest sense.

So, too, is every news story ever written or reported. The words employed are secondary to the context in which they are used. Every news reporter, every commentator, and every editor, works within a context. It’s a given.

And that’s okay so long as we, the readers and listeners, don’t ever forget that universal truth.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@glassmakerinchina.com

Democrat, Republican, Communist?

I realize now that I made a mistake moving back to the US during the 2016 US presidential election. In so many ways I am reminded daily of just how broken our political system has become.

Let me state upfront that I support neither candidate, albeit for different reasons. Suffice it to say that I don’t believe either is the leader America needs today. In such a great nation I believe we can do better – much better.

What has struck me most about this election, however, is how little difference there is between how China chooses its leaders and how the US does. The US can no longer claim any kind of superiority – moral or ideological – for the political system now in place. It is not the legacy of the Founding Fathers by any stretch. (Or my own father, for that matter.)

The Chinese political system gets frequently criticized on several fronts:

  1. Non-Democratic
  2. Lack of Transparency
  3. Corruption
  4. Censorship of Media
  5. Concentration of Power

Now let’s look at presidential politics in the US through this same lens.

  1. If you define democracy as one man, one vote, the Electoral College alone disqualifies the current American system. Add in the arcane rules of the US primary system, including the power wielded by super-delegates responsible to no one, and it’s hard to argue that we have true democracy. Trump is right on this one: The system is rigged. Just ask the Bern’s supporters.
  2. Back-room politics has been around in the US for a long time. After thousands of internal DNC e-mails were recently released, however, it appears it has been taken to new heights. The DNC claimed impartiality when it clearly wasn’t. How is that not a lack of transparency?
  3. Corruption is all about buying influence. Why would Goldman Sachs pay a candidate $400,000 for two short speeches to an industry she has absolutely no experience in? (Besides, whatever knowledge she had the taxpayers already paid her for.) Campaign finance reform has clearly failed. Money is obviously critical to getting elected and the electorate, in the end, has no idea where it’s all coming from or what the motivation is. Big donors don’t have to stand for election.
  4. Whenever a Western media outlet covers a story in the Chinese media supportive of the current Chinese administration the Western media always starts with the derogatory observation that such and such news outlet is “state-owned”, “government-run”, or “a mouthpiece for the Communist Party.” The implication, of course, is that this makes the report biased and untrustworthy. Any objective analysis of the media coverage of this election, however, would make it clear that if the electorate were motivated solely by the media, Bozo the Clown could beat Donald Trump. The media ownership structure may be different but the result is the same. (I personally don’t think this bias has anything to do with ideology.)
  5. If nothing else, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders accomplished one thing. They have unveiled the longtime truth that politics is not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s all about the insiders and the outsiders – the incumbents (the establishment) and the change agents. What does it mean to be a member of a political party that got you elected if you turn around and support the other side when a disruptor threatens the status quo?

I have no idea who will win the 2016 presidential election. It all comes down to how tired the American people are of eating cake.

Whichever candidate wins, however, the US has lost any right to tout its political system as the best of the best or to claim any kind of moral or populist superiority over China or any other country.

The system is rigged; ‘corruption’ is rampant; power is concentrated in the hands of the few, many of whom never leave the back room and show their faces; and the average citizen is governed by nothing close to a representative government.

How else could we be limited to a choice between two candidates, neither of whom the majority of Americans really wants to vote for?

By the way, in the last poll I saw President Xi Jinping enjoyed a 95% approval rating, the highest among all of the countries surveyed, including the US and many European powers.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com