Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Asides: on Pax Americana, Libertarians and where the #$#! are our Roosevelts?

Mid-week, let's pause to get a few points out of the way. Below I will have some things to say about current American politics -- about "Galt's Gulch in Chile" and about... "The Roosevelts."

But first... clearly my most provocative stance is to defend the period -- post WWII -- called  "PA"… or Pax Americana.  It's a topic wherein I think we can distill what is loony about both sides in the current, re-ignited US civil war... as well as simplistic and comfortable cliches that are clutched by many of our friends, overseas.
War21Century-PaxPA has lasted all our lifetimes, since WWII saw the passing of Pax Brittanica… the “British Peace.”  "Pax" referred originally to Pax Romana or the Roman Peace that kept the Mediterranean placid and open to commerce for 600 years. Pax Sinica refers to similar epochs across China and east Asia. Pax Hispania was the greatest empire the world has ever known, in which Columbus's discoveries -- then Magellan's -- led to a "peace" that preached its own absolute goodness while it spread deliberate genocide for 400 bloody years. But at least there was no hypocrisy.  
Here is the crux. With the likely exception of Pax Hispania, almost every pax era has been better for average people on planet Earth than almost every era without a pax empire, when competing kingdoms would send armies slashing and burning and looting across each others’ territories. The Chinese, for example, admit that the First Emperor Chi'in, who unified the five warring states, was something of a murderous madman. But he also made it safe to travel and trade and paved the way for the Han Dynasty renaissance. He was hell on scholars and dissenters, but made things better for average folk who just wanted to live out their lives, pay taxes, practice a trade and be left alone.
Are there costs, whenever there is a ruling imperium? You bet! When the First Emperor crushed the Five Kingdoms, peace then reigned… along with brutal tyranny and a collapse of the vibrant, cultural competitiveness that had prevailed, before. Minorities had plenty to complain about, under Pax Parthia, Pax Alexandrine, Pax Romana, Pax Mughal etc, and homogenization under a single oligarchy is often harsh on progress. (So harsh that it might help to explain why few or no alien species made it to the stars.)  Indeed, it was when the nations of a divided Europe -- circa 1400 to 1900 -- vigorously competed that humanity made some of its greatest, if morally mixed, strides -- including strides toward both liberal enlightenment and industrial grade genocide.  

This is not a matter for taking sides, but for being open-minded about many pros and cons, so that understanding might help us to navigate a future course, between the Scylla of violent chaos and the Charybdis of stifling empire. Those of you out there who leap to just one, simplistic stance on all of this, making grand and righteous declarations, may thereby feel good, but you understand little about the complex morass that is human history.  And thus you are no help at all, in steering us toward better days.

== The current pax ==
china-us
Where Pax Americana is different is in having operated under a mythic system that -- even when it was only hypocritically paid lip service -- at least spoke repeatedly that there should be no empires. Indeed, while American commercial interests may have been predatory, during the weak end-days of the Chi-ing Dynasty, U.S. policy was always on China's side, at least officially, demanding that European and Japanese powers give back the colonial "concessions" they had wrested from the weakened central kingdom. Not one other nation in all of China's long history ever stood up for her that way.

Does imperfection disqualify everything? de Rochefoucauld said "Hypocricy is the homage that vice pays to virtue." Indeed, though betrayed often, the moral stance against empire has been relentlessly conveyed in American propaganda -- e.g. Hollywood films, which portray "empires" as bad things and tolerance of diversity as the greatest positive virtue.  Indeed, those of you who are now seething in anger at me, for daring to say good things about PA... um, have you thought of where you got the value system by which you judge these things?  Can you name another major culture that preached "by all means criticize the center of power!"

Ironies abound. The best that PA can preen about is that it reduced most of the bad outcomes of a pax era. Rigid domination, imperial mercantiism and repression of diversity. A priesthood with a lock on "truth." Outright and barefaced conquest.

We are talking human nature here... what groups of people do when they find themselves in a position to dominate. Go on now and name for me one people, across all of time, who behaved well when tempted by such power. One. We can wait here if you like, all day.  The real enemy is that temptation, which seems rooted in our natures.

But it can be controlled.

My assertion has been that: 

(1) The ratio of good deeds to bad - by Pax Americana - is stunningly better than any other pax power across time…

(2) Should we expose and dissect and atone for wretched events like Vietnam and Allende -- all the way down to negligent crimes of poor supervision, like those exposed in Iraq by WikiLeaks? Absolutely! I am Mr. Transparency.  And criticism is the only known antidote to error (CITOKATE.)

But these crimes, while calling for fierce retrospection and learning, do not alter the fundamental fact, that outcomes have been vastly better, under the PA system designed by the greatest human of the 20th Century, George Marshall.  

Average humans today live in more peace than at any time in the history of our species, as shown in Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, with only a few percent ever experiencing personal and direct contact with war in their lifetimes. One top benefit: Pax-protected world trade has uplifted 2/3 of the world’s children out of poverty.
(3) That propaganda campaign about tolerance and suspicion of authority and individualism may have been hypocritical! Nevertheless, it engendered people like you who are generous in your citokate-criticism and who push for exactly those values! Memes that you express, even as you fume at me for praising the pax that taught you all those values. While never once pausing to realize "Hey I am part of an organic process!  And any other empire would have killed me for this, by now."

(4) Combine all this and there may be a unique opportunity -- that we might actually tip into an era when pax law is no longer needed. An era portrayed in Star Trek, when the very idea of one dominant power is viewed by all as repugnantly retro and archaic.  No other culture ever preached that eutopian notion, though you illustrate it right now, as you seethe at these words. 
Here is more about Pax Americana: Pondering Pax Americana and the Government Shutdown.
== Basics ==

It merits reiterating. Was PA awful at times? Sure... except compared to every single other nation that was ever tempted by such power. If you make that comparison, PA is day to their night. Moreover, you know it.

Was PA drooling-insane-stupid under both Bushes? Sure. So much so that you have to wonder if that Saudi-owned family did it on purpose. (The wretched irony? That the phrase "Pax Americana" is only uttered nowadays by right wingers, who eviscerate its promise at every turn, with almost every immoral and incompetent act of foreign and domestic policy. Meanwhile the liberals who are PA's true spokesmen, glower at the one thing that made their dreams possible. Oh, we are weird, all right.)
Should Pax Americana be replaced with something grownup, at last, bringing an end to all empires? Sure! That's the idea!

Would Star Trek be better? Yep! 

Do you have a better idea? We'd all love to see your plan. But please, one that is only half impractical preaching but also looks at what progress has been made, so far, and how that progress happened.)
Will the end of all empires come, if PA simply goes away? Or prematurely stops enforcing peace? Baloney. Before you prescribe nothing as a replacement to the current pax power, please find for us, across 6000 years, a lasting era when that prescription worked well.
PA is the only empire that ever had as its (hypocritically uneven) policy "there should be no empires." And that hypocrisy has one saving grace...
...it will make itself come true.  
== Too-big means get-smaller ==
And now a couple of politically redolent items: The Federal Reserve is pushing the biggest U.S. banks to shrink so that they're less of a risk to the financial system. Fed proposals include imposing additional capital requirements for the eight largest banks — including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America — that exceed the levels mandated by international regulators. “Capital surcharges" would increase in proportion to how risky the regulators deem a bank to be.
Which leads one to ponder...
ken-burns-roosevelts
Ken Burns documentaries are always a great buy, for your viewing time. His most recent — “The Roosevelts” -- focuses on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. Terrific. Fascinating stories. 

Only… I find my own thoughts drifting  -- and as I watch this series I can only contemplate our parents in the Greatest Generation... who overcame the Depression, crushed Hitler, prevented a mad Soviet Empire from world conquest, built a vibrant/free/open/flat/fair capitalism that created so much wealth that we could then afford to take on ancient, bad habits like racism, sexism and environmental neglect.

That generation... so admired by folks on the American Right... try asking your Fox-Watcher... "which human being did the Greatest Generation of Americans -- and indeed, nearly everyone on Earth -- adore, above all others?"

Watch them go goggle-eyed and choke. But make them say the name. Aloud.

== And finally? ==
Galt’s Gulch Chile? One common theme that spans from leftist-hippies to followers of Ayn Rand is the notion of anarchic utopianism — that those who have free spirits and the right ideology can create an ideal community, free of the ills they perceive in our complex, compromise-ridden civilization. On rare occasions, these communities have thrived… ironically those that have been run patriarchally by brilliant administrators, replicating feudalism-of-old, with a patina of egalitarian catechism. But most such experiments swiftly collapse. As in the case of the AnyRandian ideal community described here.
This is not the only libertarian dream community in the works. Perhaps more sturdy, but still problematic, are seasteading efforts propelled by Patri Friedman and Peter Thiel.
LIBERTARIANS-PROPERTY
In the end, however, this is tragic for us all. Libertarianism might have served as a rational and pragmatic counter-balance to the other utopian tendency, to try solving all problems with statist approaches. It might also have held true to the sane vision of Adam Smith - to do what is needed in order to maximize the number of skilled and capable young competitors in a flat-fair-open society. 

Instead, it has been hijacked by solipsists who never, ever mention the word “competition” anymore, in their obsessive defense of towering accumulations of PROPERTY, never noticing how this serves the proto-feudal wishes of the oligarchs who were denounced by Adam Smith, and have always been the greatest enemies of markets and freedom.



Monday, October 27, 2014

An Unstable World: Part III: Tyranny's Logic and the Dilemma of "Reasonable Men"

Continuing our discussion of recent global crises from Parts I and II, I want to say a few words about the current ISIS-Crisis.  But -- typically -- I will get to the "new caliphate" only after taking an intellectual detour!  

Starting with a look at a couple of brilliantly dark explorations of the human potential for tyranny. Then distinguishing among many types of "reasonable" and "unreasonable" men.

== Food for thought ==
Let's start with a fascinating quotation from George Orwell's classic "Nineteen Eighty-Four" -- 
1984"...it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction — indeed, in some sense was the destruction — of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. 

"It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance..."
diamond-social-structureI've always found Orwell fascinating. In this case, yes, he's right... sort-of. Any degree of broad empowerment is, indeed, what would-be lords fear most. The trend after World War II to create a diamond-shaped society, with an empowered and educated middle and working class so large that it outnumbers the poor and politically dominates the rich... this was key to every piece of good news since civilization's nadir in 1943. It led to all fine things, from science and moon landings to the plummets in world poverty and (per capita average) violence that Steven Pinker documents in his book that I cite below.
It would lead, eventually, to Star Trek and to a society in which a person might get rich... through smithian competition over new goods or services... but there would be no way for such creative capitalists to pass on to their children the kind of obligate-unearned lordship that was the fiercely obsessive goal of every generation of brutal men, during all of the millennia leading to our Enlightenment Experiment
It cannot be allowed to happen again! The pyramid is not only a proven attractor state but most-likely the "natural" (99% of the time) human condition.It will also lead, inevitably, to the logic that Orwell described (above) and to the calamity that Robert Oppenheimer predicted (that we'll get to, below.) Orwell gave us a graphic warning, one that might indeed become a "self-preventing prophecy"... if we gird ourselves to protect the experiment that is humanity's only hope.

== An argument over tyrannical method ==
And yet, let's pause and note that Orwell was crude in his interpretation of method. War, as a means of keeping society pyramidal, instead of diamond-shaped? Well, sure... but over time war is a chaotic, unreliable, destructive method, especially when an educated populace - if even 5% of it truly understands - will have the technological means to shatter everything. In other words, Orwell's villainous oligarchies are brutal and predictably fit the standard human pattern. But they are also deeply stupid men.
No... here is the fellow who got it right. The one who will win their old argument over tyrannical methodology. Aldous Huxley. As illustrated chillingly in Brave New World, future despots who want to last, will use a velvet glove and not an iron boot. If such rulers truly are smart, they will fool the majority into thinking they are still in charge. Distracting them not with pain, but with pleasure. 
Was Orwell right about war being used as a distraction to keep the masses stupid? It happens. And without any doubt we should all have skeptical hackles, whenever a president or politician raises a clamor for combat. Indeed, elsewhere I have carefully parsed the differences between democrats and republicans in HOW they wage war, a stunningly opposite matter of style and effectiveness.

In other words (as I portray in Existenceeven callously pragmatic oligarchs will fashion their dominance very differently, depending upon whether they are short-sighted lunatics, crudely rational, or at least bent on genuine, long term self-interest.

In fact, I'd like to now dive deeper. For Orwell's thoughts about the inevitability of oligarchy-driven war mirrored another debate that was going on, about the same time that he wrote his epic.  And this one, also, revolved around the whole notion of "reasonable" leadership.

== The saint vs the madman ==

If you do not know about it, immerse yourself in the debates that swirled in and around the scientific community, at the end of WWII, over what to do about the atom bomb.  (There have been several excellent movies and books.) 

On one side was a spectrum of sad-cynics and idealists, ranging from those wanting a total, worldwide ban on nuclear weapons to those -- like Robert Oppenheimer -- who urged putting them under some kind of international control. Steeped in knowledge about history (most scientists are vastly better-read than anyone would expect), they had just witnessed humanity plunge into its deepest nadir of horror. Their cynical view was deeply rooted in reality. 

atom-bomb-makingOppenheimer -- deeply respected by all who met him -- felt guilt-wracked over having been forced (by Hitler) to hand such instruments of potential devastation over to men who seemed much more reasonable (than Hitler). Oh, indeed, reasonable men (e.g. Marshall, Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower) were vastly better than monsters! But they were still men. And men had never been known to show restraint, at any point in our gruesomely impulsive past. There were no examples of men not using a new weapon, once it was offered to them.

On the other side of the debate was a staggeringly smart but zany "mad Hungarian" with spectacular eyebrows, Edward Teller. The George Soros of his day, Teller was fanatically anti-communist, which may have propelled his eagerness to invent the hydrogen bomb. But completely aside from all that, he also had an interesting hypothesis... that "this time is different."  That the Bomb would shake up reasonable men... and even moderately unreasonable ones... forcing them to ratchet up their powers of prefrontal contemplation, especially realization of the obvious, that it was time to make a change. To get past history's pre-adolescent reflexes and start doing things better. If for no other reason, because they were looking death in the eyes.

Put less colorfully, Teller maintained that reciprocal fear would accomplish this miracle.  That Mutual-Assured Destruction (MAD) might cause the Soviet and American empires to tamp their rivalry below the normal level of ignition into full-scale holocaust. That deterrence would suffice to bring into being an era of (relative) peace.

Where would you have put your money, way back in 1948? On such a blatantly mad fanatic? Or the blatantly brilliant and saintly Oppenheimer, and nearly all of his equally brilliant and history-wise associates? Would you have bet on the endlessly repeated pattern of human behavior, across all of our annals? Or upon a new notion, that "this time is different?" (A phrase that nearly always gets the speaker into terrible trouble.)

Consider your almost-daily habit of expressing cynical contempt for humanity and its institutions.  Yes, I mean you. It is so common a reflex that I am pretty safe in assuming you - dear reader - engage in it almost relentlessly. I examine this elsewhere, in many places, and how unproductive, but personally satisfying the reflex can be! No doubt you deem my tentative and surprised optimism to be just as mad as Edward Teller.

I do know this, however -- that the image of the mushroom cloud has to have been the most effective work of art ever, across all of the last 40,000 years. For it persuaded hundreds of millions, visually and almost without argument, that something had to change! 

Supporting artworks like Dr. Strangelove and On The Beach helped with this transformation, by providing explicit self-preventing prophecies that stirred great efforts to prevent some Accident from triggering the Unthinkable.

But the main effect of the mushroom cloud lay in redefining what terms "reasonable" and "unreasonable" were to mean, in the second half of the 20th Century.

(Note, as I've said often, the second great visual artwork to come out of physics was the image of Earth, as a lonely oasis in the desert of space, provided by Apollo 8 at the very end of that awful year, 1968... a picture that also transformed our hearts and our behaviors, perhaps even just enough to save us.)

== Was Teller right? ==

For the West it meant continuing to spend, as if we were in a real war. Because it would have gone hot the instant we let up. We are now told, explicitly, by ex-Soviet generals that they were always poised to strike, and intended to, if the West ever let down its technological and military advantages. 

And hence (as I've said many times and will reiterate next time), there must be a limit to the complaints of any living human against Pax Americana. Yes, like all Pax imperiums, it committed crimes (though less deliberately and persistently and with a higher ratio of compensating good deeds than any other people who were tempted by such power; name one counter-example.) We must learn from those crimes, though!  

Moreover, our agenda must be to create a new world that does NOT depend on any "pax" power to keep the peace, a peace we should maintain ourselves, as planetary citizens!  Nevertheless, if you are currently alive, and know anything at all about our species history, then you'd be a hypocrite to deny any need for gratitude.

But I'll go farther in swimming contrary to modern habit. Shall we all pay homage to Saint Bomb? The greatest invention for peace ever made? Oh, sure, we might see those long-delayed mushroom clouds tomorrow. But my generation of males would have all died on World War III battlefields, if not for the unprecedented peace that Steven Pinker so well documents in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Even if it turns out to have been a temporary reprieve, it lasted an entire human lifetime. So Teller was right. Things were different. At least... it had become so for reasonable humans, confronting others who -- while unreasonable -- at least lived in a logic of cause and effect.

And so, you can see the segue coming, to discussing world problems that are currently being caused not by reasonable folks, or even logical-unreasonable ones like our old Soviet adversaries. Rather, recent news forces us to pay heed to the far more common types that Robert Oppenheimer saw in the pages of history books. Those who would never refuse a weapon or pause for a moment before using it. Those who -- like all of our insatiably unreasonable ancestors -- will concoct any excuse to prevent their own citizens from offering up criticism...

...as so many of you are leaping to your keyboards right now, in order to criticize me for calling our own civilization "reasonable"! Pounding keys, as free women and men, exercising a right of upward and lateral criticism that you take for granted, but that none of our ancestors... nor the poor folks living in Russia or under ISIS... could ever do. A habit -- the habit -- that has kept us at least a little bit "reasonable."

Sorry boys and girls. If you are doing that, without once pausing to consider the irony, then yes, alas, we have fallen since the days of giants like Teller and Oppie, or Marshall and Ike, or Gandhi and King.

But I've gone on too long.  So we'll hang fire a bit, on ISIS and Ebola and such. Don't worry.  These things aren't about to go away. Not yet. So much for an "end of history."

== Continue to Part IV: Pax Americana

or Return to Part I: An Unstable World: Russia

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Voter ID Laws: Scam or Accountability?

During this (or any) electoral season, it pays to get off the left-right political axis – and examine particular political issues on their own merits. So let’s take a closer look at one of them… Voter ID laws. (Feel free to watch this essay given orally, on YouTube!)
Voter-ID-laws-blogTo some, these laws deal with a problem -- electoral fraud, when cheaters pretend to be someone else to cast illicit vote. Statistics show such voter fraud is extremely rare. (See “Voter Fraud is Rare, but Myth is Widespread.”) Still, when it happens it is a bad thing. 
 Opponents to this spate of laws – which have nearly all erupted in “red states” – denounce them as infringing on the rights of, not just poor people, but the ill-educated, or recent citizens, and the young, who often lack clear ID. In particular, this presents hardships for women, who may have failed to re-document after marriage or divorce. Some on the left call this another front in the “War on Women.”
Fundamentally, Voter ID laws are supported by red state white-older voters because – and let’s be frank – there is an element of truth in what they say. Voting is important. It is reasonable, over an extended period of time, to ratchet up accountability – and to ask that people prove who they are. That reasonableness lets these politicians propose these laws as a necessity – and implicitly, those who oppose them must have some agenda:
SHOW-ID“If you don’t want voters to show ID, it’s because you want to cheat.” This is how you get a reversal of those who are blatantly cheating accusing others of cheating. It’s important to parse this issue.
To reiterate this point: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with gradually ratcheting up the degree to which we apply accountability to potential failure modes in society. This is what my book, The Transparent Society, is all about. We apply reciprocal accountability to each other. For example, we have poll watchers to make sure there is no cheating during elections.
 (Is it also reasonable to demand accountability from the manufacturers of voting machines? Nearly all such companies are now controlled by men who have been high level Republican partisans, at one time or another. Should this be deemed… suspicious? Especially in those states (mostly red) where no paper audit trail is required?) 
RespectandProtectVoteButtonIs there a test that would nail down whether Voter ID laws are, as their proponents say, merely ratcheting up accountability – or, whether they are, as the opponents of these laws say, blatant fragrant attempts to cheat and steal votes away from poor people, minorities, young folks, and women.
 Is there a way such a simple and clear test?
 There is.

== The crucial metric of hypocrisy: compliance assistance ==
According to the conservative thinkers and agendas going back to Buckley and Goldwater, regulations that are onerously placed on business should be accompanied by assistance so those businesses can meet and comply with these new regulations. This is standard conservative dogma.
compliance-assistanceIndeed, Democrats agree! Almost always, whenever new and onerous regulations are applied to business, there are allocations of money to set up offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods with the aim of helping corporations – and the rich – comply with the new regulations. It’s called compliance assistance.
You can see how this applies to the topic at-hand. The fundamental test here is this: In any of the red states that have passed new Voter ID laws, or other laws that restrict the ability of poor people young people, women and so on to exercise their franchise, were any significant funds appropriated or allocated for compliance assistance?
Were any new offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods set up to help them comply? “Here is an onerous new burden upon the poor, women and so on -- but we are going to show our commitment to assist voters with these new regulations, by allocating money.” A serious effort to go out into the communities and help the poor, minorities, recent immigrants, women, young people – to obtain the identification they need to exercise their sovereign right to vote.
voter-id-laws-videoNote! This type of outreach would not just help them with voting, but would likely help them to STOP being poor! By helping them get on the path to helping themselves. This should be what conservatives are for.
 Instead these efforts are sabotaged, deliberately and relentlessly. Not one red cent has been allocated for compliance assistance in any of the red states that have passed these new voter ID laws. 

Not one red cent.

== Dealing with vampires: always seek the silver bullet ==
There you have it, you liberals out there. Don’t make this a matter of goody-goody, or of denying a long term need to ratchet up accountability. It makes it look like you’re in favor of cheating. Or it gives fools that excuse.
 Make it a matter of hypocrisy. Of lying. The blatant lack of sincere compliance assistance provides clear-cut and decisive proof that these are attempts to steal elections – just like gerrymandering.
NEUTRALIZE-GERRYMANDERING(Indeed, gerrymandering is being erased in one blue state after another, as those citizens rebel against unfair districting, often even overcoming the objections of Democratic politicians. These rebellions have taken place in California, Washington, Oregon, and – we can hope in a few weeks -- in New York. Meanwhile not one red state has seen a rebellion of its citizens against the blatant theft and cheating called gerrymandering. Just as you’ll see no rebellions against the blatant theft and cheating called Voter ID laws. This is a cultural matter. In some parts of the country – it seems – cheating is just fine, “so long as it is my side doing it.”) 
Your silver bullet. This is what you use. The fact of zero Compliance Assistance exposes the hypocrisy here.
voter-repression-lawsThat is what makes the difference between people who say, “We need to have more accountability in the voter rolls” and blatant, lying, hypocritical thieves, for whom no excuse or shelter can excuse the title of traitor.
 Make this clear to your uncles and cousins. If, when they hear about this, they are still supporters of these horrid hypocritical robber, then the tar sticks to them as well.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Unstable World: Part II China

Continuing from last time... let's move on to our next source of tension or "history that refuses to end."

== China: a humble historical correction ==
China and the West are clearly heading toward an inevitable -- and we hope very peaceful -- reconfiguring and renegotiation over trade and other relations. 

great-vault-forwardWhy? Because the trade imbalances... tsunami flows of money, capital investment, knowledge and intellectual property from west to east ... have achieved their main historical purpose, lifting China in history's Great Vault Forward, transforming that ancient land into a modern marvel. 

For which all say mazel tov! Let us get used to - and welcome - the idea that a billion talented and creative people are joining the world ranks of prosperous problem-solvers. It will be a better planet... after they adapt and finish their own, self-guided transformations to a fully mature-modern society.
(Indeed, they have started contributing to humanity's highest art form -- science fiction! You have heard me praise Liu Cixin's terrific Three Body Problem trilogy. Coming this fall from Tor Books.)
We are obliged to be welcoming and glad about this Great Vault. Indeed, let us recall that Americans were themselves net intellectual property thieves, once upon a time. (Though we never stole so much that it killed the goose.) While acting with deliberate care to protect our crown jewels, we should not be too sanctimonious.

east-westWhat we are not obligated to do, however, is swallow a narrative that is circulating over there. A smug and self-flattering tale that all of this happened because China invented just the right mix of state capitalism and clever, predatory, mercantilist ruthlessness. Or that any and all tactics - such as the rampant appropriation of intellectual property - can and should go on forever. 

The self-serving narrative boils down to two moral justifications:
(1) Westerners are decadent fools whose uncontrollable material appetites feed into Chinese predatory mercantilism. Morerover, Americans' proper role is to serve as figurative-commercial prey or cattle (that exact metaphor is used).
(2) That all tactics are justified as recompense and pay-back for centuries of oppression and colonialism by the West.
Number one we have spoken of before. This was all part of a grand plan that did not originate in China, but with the greatest person of the 20th Century... George Marshall, as we'll reiterate, below...

...as for justification #2, well, sure, there is some moral justification there, though Chinese leaders played a huge role in their nation's slide from world pre-eminence, centuries ago. Still, the victim narrative only goes so far, for one simple reason.  And you all should be ready to deploy it, over the years ahead.
Let me reiterate that I say this in a spirit of friendship and respect, without a scintilla of hostility. But the basic fact is... that in all of its 4000 year history, China never had a real friend.
Except one.
Indeed, one reason for that lack of friends was Chinese policy spanning every dynasty -- proclaiming to all that they were Chung Kuo... the center of the world, an attitude that we are seeing glimmers of, again, across Southeast Asian seas.
china-usAnd then, yes, came genuine abuse by many foreign powers, when China was no longer able to enforce that centrality. Yes, colonialism and nasty treatment by western powers did happen.
Only, across all that time there was one nation that generally treated China well, or at least better than anyone else did. Just one nation that stood up for China (sometimes tepidly but at other times with ferocious loyalty) when China was down. Just one nation who (admittedly) did make some mistakes with China, and did a few wrong things, but generally could be seen trying, far more often than not, to be generous and fair. 
That friendly outsider was the United States of America. And if your reflex is to deny this, then in fact you know no history. No one else stepped up to tell the European powers and Japan to stop their expanding "concessions" and refused to seize any of our own.
No one else stepped up to help China resist brutal invaders - in the 1930s - and went into a savage war for which we were unready, and paid dearly, directly due to standing up for China, in its hour of existential need.
Even the long enmity of the Cold War was all about the U.S. choosing one "China" over another. All right, perhaps more subtlety was called for, then, and for a couple of years Chinese and American soldiers killed each other, each considering the other pawns to distant masters. But just as soon as Mao put his hand out, there was Nixon ready to shake it.
Again, there were mistakes! On both sides. But there is no way that China's attitude toward the U.S. can be informed or ever justified by "getting even for colonialism." If, across 4000 years, you can point to any substantial nation that was ever as good a friend... or that at least sometimes tried to be... then maybe we'll listen to the "colonialism" guilt trip. But you cannot. And we should not.

Again, I say that with respect and as a friend.

== The Mercantilism Gambit ==

And we are still at it. Because the narrative about 40 years of trade imbalances could be viewed in another way.

Walmart-EconomyWe have raised up the billion people of the Central Kingdom, by the magnificent method called "foreign aid via WalMart." The greatest uplifting in all the history of our species.  Moreover it was not the act of bleating, helpless sheep, but deliberate policy, established by Marshall, Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower and so on, to establish counter-mercantilist trade flows. The only "pax" imperium ever to do such a generous thing. (China did nothing of the sort, when it was on top of the world.)


I go into this policy elsewhere.  How - possibly - it may be the greatest accomplishment for which America will be remembered, a thousand years from now -- far greater than mere moon landings.  The Marshallian counter-mercantilist trade policy -- arguable -- saved the world.
So let's be plain, dear friends in Chung Kuo.  Your rapid upward progres merits real respect!  Your industrious self-rise, from the dust, to standing next to us,as brothers and sisters and equals. Well done! Feel good about yourselves for one of humanity's greatest accomplishments!

But it also merits some gratitude. Because you had a friend.

You're welcome.

== Continue to Part III