Totalitarian envy

Totalitarian envy March 1, 2010

Steven Mufson and John Pomfret have an article in the Washington Post about how China seems to be doing everything right and leaving the USA behind:

With the American economy struggling and the political system in gridlock, there is one thing everyone in Washington seems to agree on: The Chinese do it better.

Cyberspace? China has an army of hackers ready to read your most intimate e-mails and spy on corporations and super-secret government agencies. (Just ask Google.) Education? China is churning out engineers almost as fast as it's making toys. Military prowess? China is catching up, so quickly that it is about to deploy an anti-ship ballistic missile that could make life on a U.S. aircraft carrier a perilous affair. The economy? China has gone from cheap-clothing-maker to America’s banker. Governance? At least they can build a high-speed train. And energy? Look out, Red China is going green!

This new Red Scare says a lot about America’s collective psyche at this moment. A nation with a per capita income of $6,546 — ensconced above Ukraine and below Namibia, according to the International Monetary Fund — is putting the fear of God, or Mao, into our hearts.

Here’s our commander in chief, President Obama, talking about clean energy this month: “Countries like China are moving even faster. . . . I’m not going to settle for a situation where the United States comes in second place or third place or fourth place in what will be the most important economic engine in the future.”

And the nation’s pundit in chief, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, even sees some virtue in the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly on political power: “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.”

via There’s a new Red Scare. But is China really so scary? –

The article goes on to point out China’s many problems, concluding that China is not the threat or the model that many Americans assume.  What haunts me, though, is Thomas Friedman’s belief that autocracy has advantages if the leaders are “enlightened.”  (Also his belief that the Chinese communists are “reasonably enlightened.”)  That mindset, along with the envy and admiration for the Chinese version of communism (market reforms and economic progress under state control of the society), will, if it spreads, mark the end of the American experiment. (This ties to the post below.)

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