Re: Return from China

From: Phil Osborn (
Date: Thu Jan 03 2002 - 21:49:31 MST

On Wed Jan 02 2002 - 22:41:40 MST, Mike Linksvayer wrote: "i.e., this differs from business practices the world over?"

Yes, although there are plenty of U.S. and other non-Chinese businesses that are fundamentally dishonest. To highlight the difference: when we discover that a U.S. business is cheating its customers or employees or stockholders, we are shocked. We know it goes on, but we don't expect it. When we read about the Chinese business that ran out of ethyl alcohol for its children's cough syrup and substituted methyl or some other highly toxic alcohol, with the result being that at least 80 children - on one of the poorest Caribbean islands - Haiti, I think - died, we are not surprised. It's what we expect.

The U.S. economy is still largely driven by real production. That has been diluted and corrupted to a larger and larger extent as the U.S. has become more of an effective empire on the world scene. When you can get special deals - on Arabian oil, for example - by means of having the most powerful military. And, before that, we had the enormous influx of foreign capital during the Cold War, which resulted in all kinds of bad investments and subsequent cover ups.

Still American products are known worldwide for delivering value, and more real innovation still comes out of America than anywhere else to date. That could change, but the U.S. still has a long ways to go before it becomes really morally bankrupt. We expect our leaders to do the right thing, and that simple expectation becomes a real driving force.

China, on the other hand, although individual Chinese are certainly hard and smart workers on average, and generally pretty decent folk one on one, has been down that road of empire and back many times. If you have power in China, you can get anything. If you lack power, everything will be taken from you. And if you speak up, then you have just tagged yourself as a prime organ doner.

The West, however corrupt inviduals and individual societies become, has the one real virtue that we believe that there is objective truth. Even those Westerners who loudly proclaim that everything is subjective (in order to evade unpleasant truthes about their personal responsibility in most cases, or to con others) invariably behave as though this wasn't the case in their daily lives.

The great successes of Western culture - the scientific method, trial by juries, the common law, and even democracy, with all its faults - flow from that underlying heritage. We believe that the truth is out there and we can find it. Moreover, we think that anyone else of sound mind following epistemologically valid procedures can replicate our finding. We expect laboratories worldwide to verify our science and juries in general to correctly judge us. If you really are a subjectivist, then none of those achievements would make any sense.

Yet Chinese culture has never had that underpinning, and there are major forces within it - powerful, ancient memes - that work to undercut any move in that direction. China is a culture of power, meaning physical force or the threat thereof, backing up wholesale theft, from their own people, by those in power at every level, and from whatever dupes they can reach externally. They have been doing this for a LONG time.

The Indonesian experience is just one of hundreds, occuring over several thousand years, I'm sure, where Chinese "businessmen" corrupted an entire government and bankrupted a nation. Then, when it hits the fan, the big crooks pull out with the cash safely stowed in foriegn banks, leaving their shopkeeper relatives - most of whom are no doubt as honest as the next man - to be looted, murdered, raped, etc., by their victims.

The U.S. is unfortunately right in line to be fleeced, and indications are that we may not have the national integrity any longer to turn this around. The wholesale sellout of our philosophical roots exemplified and accellerated by the War on Drugs may not have left enough in the kitty to deal with this.

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