Tuesday, February 27, 2007

China is Near

The New Yorker may have Seymour Hersh's outstanding analyses of the messes the United States keeps getting into, but for a consistent diet of extended analyses across a wide variety of issues, my eyeballs keep returning to SPIEGEL ONLINE. Today's case in point is a massive (five-part) examination of the economic "success story" of the People's Republic of China, written by Andreas Lorenz and Wieland Wagner under the provocative title, "Does Communism Work After All?" It is hard to discuss an essay of this scope and depth after only a single reading, but it takes only an initial taste of their (translated) text to realize that these authors are not going for the best-seller market with either the usual gold-rush cheerleading or the neoconservative fear-mongering. By the time one reaches the end of this article, one is willing to concede that something is working; but it remains to be seen whether Communism is the deciding factor because, unlike other nations, China finally figured out how to "get it right."

Perhaps a more important issue in the Lorenz-Wagner analysis is that one must examine not only China's "performance," as it were, but also the underlying concept of "success," which, in this postmodern world, like it or not, is a social construct. As I read through the different phases of the study, an impish side of me kept thinking back to the slogan that was invoked to sell the most recent (and American) attempt to remake Godzilla: SIZE MATTERS! Is it just a matter that China has now grown into an economic force that can dictate the rules of the game, rules that had previously been under the undisputed control of economic elites such as the Trilateral Commission? Has this all just been a matter of finding the right place to put the lever to convert China's mass population into economic power? For that matter, could it have been that Mao's particularly take on Communist ideology really did not know how to deal with positioning that lever and thus impeded the conversion and that the conversion could not take place until the "Long March Veterans," who brought about the Revolution in the first place, were no longer around to interfere?

Having lived in Singapore, I have a great appreciation for the value of "social engineering done right," even when success may depend on governance practices that are as authoritarian as those of most corporate organizations. This is why "Red China, Inc." is such an appropriate epithet. Whatever the governmental ideals of institutions such as the United Nations may be, China seems to have recognized that it needs to run itself like a major corporate conglomerate, where questions of such matters as social welfare can only be addressed in the context of their value to the greater corporate interest. If corporate success depends heavily on resource management, then China can position itself with both an abundance of resources and an ideological framework under which they can be managed. This is not "the American way of life," nor will it ever be; but it is a set of rules by which China knows how to play and can play with great skill.

Ultimately, the most important thing about the Lorenz-Wagner analysis is the way in which it obliges us to recognize that the Western tradition under which most of us were educated in no longer defining and overseeing the rules on the economic playing field. Is this another one of those "messes" that we have blundered into through the mismanagement of our own leadership? I prefer to think (as my wife keeps trying to remind me) that, in the "long view of history," things change. Neither Arthur's Camelot nor Hitler's Third Reich could endure. China has now decided to come onto our playing field, and they are there with their best players and their own ball. Whether we like it or not, they are in a good position to control the rules; and there may be little to gain in fussing over whether or not that control constitutes a "triumph of Communism."

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