It is now technologically possible for a government to monitor and control its citizens as never before. Now China is going to take advantage of that capability.
The still-Communist country is in the process of implementing a “social credit system” that will give points for good behavior and deduct points for bad behavior. In one administrative district, everyone starts with 1000 points. If you get a traffic ticket, you lose 5 points. Other demerits will be issued for things like cheating on video games, smoking on a train, being late with your rent, failing to pay fines, causing trouble on plane flights, and spreading false information. You can also add points. Earn a city reward for heroism and you get 30. Other rewarded activity includes donating blood, doing volunteer work.
On the basis of the accumulated points, everyone is assigned a grade, from from A+++ to D. Some bad behavior will make you lose not only points but a letter grade. Drunk driving will drop your score to a C. If you are in the triple A range, you get perks such as being able to ride public bicycles for free, receiving a $50 discount in your heating bill, and getting more favorable bank loans if you want to buy a house or start a business. But if you have bad grades, you can’t get loans, face travel restrictions, can’t enroll in universities, and you may have your assets frozen.
Companies too will have social credit scores, which will affect the number of privileges and restrictions they will have in doing business.
All of this is made possible by our contemporary information technology, with its capacity for record keeping and for allowing different information-collectors to “talk” with each other, all monitored by an all-knowing government.
The plan is scheduled to be fully implemented by 2020. Already, though, elements of the plan are in force. It was announced that beginning on May 1, those with low social credit scores will not be allowed to board trains or airplanes for up to a year.
The social credit system is the brainchild of Communist party leader and head of state Xi Jinping, whose accession to absolute power was recently topped off by the elimination of term limits for the office he holds. His plan sets up the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted.” It is designed to reward the “trustworthy” and to punish the “disobedient.”
Think about this! Thanks to our information technology, a government can now control its citizens, using both carrots and sticks, in almost every area of their lives, completely extinguishing any kind of individual rights or civil liberties.
This has long been the totalitarian dream, and we should not be surprised that a country like China–which has seemed to have found a way to make Communism work economically–is eager to implement such a system.
But it goes further, into a new frontier of tyranny: The government can now punish its citizens, including its dissidents, without any kind of trial, investigation, or violation of a law. Who needs prison camps when you can prevent a critic of the regime from buying a house, educating his children, or leaving his town? Controlling your citizens by granting or withholding the everyday, ordinary requirements of life is much more complete.
I wonder how many social credits will be deducted for religious activity.
Photo by Candida Performa, “Big Brother Is Watching You” via Flickr, Creative Commons License