The China Problem. Money is Free Speech.
China has become a challenge to the essence of your system. A challenge far more subtle than the one that Fascism and later the Soviet Union presented to us during the last century.
Before us now stands a nation which has risen faster than any other. A nation that has used their market power (at 1.4 billion people, more than three times our own) and unquestionable ability and made itself the most desirable destination for businesses the world over.
The prospect of being in China is so enormously attractive to business, that most will look the other way when the matters of suppressing the Chinese people’s free speech and the repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang are raised.
Money talks, reason the Chinese autocrats. And for business that is what is most important.
The Chinese autocrats are careful observers of our system and have learned that it is money that wins elections in America. If you don’t have it in abundance, then you can’t win an election in this country.
In America, the Chinese autocrats are convinced, money is the true free speech. (they are trying to convince their own citizens of the same)
China needs only to look at the electoral contest for the US Senate in the state of Georgia earlier this year. If money had not poured in from the Democratic Party coffers, the Republican party would have won at least one of the two seats at stake and then held a majority in the Senate. President Biden’s hands would have been tied, with no other recourse than to try and convince Mitch McConnell to let the administration pass a bill or two.
China knows that our system is riddled with malfunction.
It has taken forever to address racism in our land and violence tied to it is widespread.
Legislators (in both parties) will do whatever possible to rearrange the boundaries in their districts to ensure their supporters are in the majority and thus retain their seats.
There is a vast number of highly paid lobbyists in congress doing whatever they must to win favor for their business interests.
The Chinese autocrats know that the injustices in our system will not go easily away and may take decades to fix.
They can see it in their own Hong Kong — where the financial sector is vastly rich but the rest struggles and housing is punishingly expensive.
And so China has come to feel certain that their political system is superior, and will eventually lead them to become the world’s most powerful nation.
So long as their people remain productive and hungry to become wealthier, China will have the most attractive market in the world, and western business interests and their lobbyists will do whatever is necessary to keep pouring in.
With their growing riches, the people in China will continue to bow to their leaders and accept the electronic surveillance of their activities, while looking the other way when dissenters and non conformists in their midst are caught and silenced.
The prospect of world supremacy is now within reach, says the Communist Party to their people, and if some don’t get to see it, then their children will, so every sacrifice is worth it.
And America, like Britain and other European powers before her, will accept that its time has passed, all the while muttering to ourselves, ‘but isn’t money free speech? Or did we get that wrong? Did we let our soul end up in business’ pockets?’
And we will remember Teddy Roosevelt, “The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first and love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We talk frequently about how we can rise to the occasion and indeed have done so often. But China’s challenge is quite different. They are aggressively seeking markets everywhere, Africa, the rest of Asia, Latin America, even in Europe, while saying, ‘Like what you see? It’s our political system that makes it possible. Be like us, adopt our system and riches will be yours too.’
Implicit is the message, ‘Money rules. Make that your focus.’
But isn’t that what most of us believe also?
The Chinese have, very cleverly, adopted a most tangible aspect of our system — the importance of money to reward productivity — and then paired it with an equally appealing notion to many. ‘Leave the political thinking to us. Don’t trouble yourself with such cumbersome thoughts. Let us all make lots of money, but let it be clear that such money will not allow you entry into the higher ranks of the political system that rules the nation.’
‘There will be no Donald Trumps here in China’s system — people making their fortunes in business and then parachuting into political leadership. The highest posts in our system are reserved for those who have devoted themselves from an early age, to the business of running a nation and apportioning its fortunes.’
‘Why should riches and politics, both, be the privilege of the very talented or very persuasive?
‘If we divide up those two realms, we will all be better off. Politics must be a discipline separate from the accumulation of riches. It requires special talents to better distribute the wealth. That way it is done fairly, and not according to the wishes of the person who made the money and whatever biases they may have. We communists say, come to China and make money, but we will keep enough of it for the government to better spread it around and make the nation stronger and fairer.’ (later on, we’ll want more of what you’re making, but not now)
If China can keep money from corrupting the communist party, they will be very hard to beat.
But they can be beat.
By using our liberties to strengthen our nation.
China is exposing our weaknesses. Our challenge is to correct them quickly enough.
Why is it that the richest nation in the world has such problems with poverty, with access to medical care, with providing quality education to all our citizens? In New York City, year after year, the school system cannot deal with the blatant segregation that keeps Blacks and Hispanics marginalized.
Why is it, that racism has been allowed to fester in the country for as long as it has?
Why is it, that in the richest nation in the world there is so much violence?
What is wrong that we feel such distrust for our fellow citizens that we must keep ourselves armed to the teeth and cannot consent to regulations limiting the purchase of weapons?
The rest of the world looks at us and says, ‘yes, America, you have shown much creativity in many fields, but there is something very flawed about you. We would like to try out the Chinese model instead.’
The rest of the world looks at us and says, ‘yes, America, you have great companies, Apple and Google, Amazon and Facebook, Intel and Qualcomm, Disney and Netflix, but in a very short time, China has come up with Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei and they are a force in electric vehicles and a leader in artificial intelligence. Yes, the Chinese have stolen technology, but they are creating their own, too.’
The rest of the world looks at us and says, ‘There are imperfections to both systems, yours and the Chinese, but the Chinese model seems to work faster, so we may just go with them. Do understand that we, too, are in a hurry. And our people will accept that some freedoms will be restricted and deferred.’ (never mind how long)
For the first time ever, then, the rest of the developing nations in our world are seeing close competition between two systems that believe in markets and want to pursue maximum riches.
And while China keeps rising in spite of their freedoms being severely curtailed, to those who point out the contradictions in our system, we answer, ‘The path to equality of opportunity is most desirable but tough. We’ve been at it for a while but have not been able to prevent the wealthy from dominating politics to secure their privileges at the expense of the rest. But we believe that, eventually, we will have a fairer nation.’
Eventually? When will that be?
Can we in America take the challenge that China now poses and speed up our renewal?
I hope so. But China will keep beckoning and whispering in the ears of businesses, ‘come, my friends, make money and trust that you will be able to go back and hire lobbyists and finance campaigns to keep yourselves in power. But you must not say a word about the ‘reeducation’ of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the suppression of freedom in Hong Kong or our plan to retake Taiwan.’
‘Trust us,’ says China to our businesses, ‘the soul of America is in your pockets. We will help you keep it that way. Shake that money and all will listen. It’s the money folks that are the true gods of this world and money the true free speech. Never lose faith and may the best nation win.’
And if we here in America fall for it and forget that free speech is the right to dissent, even if we are wrong, then we will play China’s game. If we forget that free speech must always respect other people’s rights, whether we approve of them or not, then we will play China’s game. And so fall under the spell of autocracy and dictatorship — governments that make gods of their leaders and compel the person to bow.
Soon enough the Thought Police will come for our neighbor.
‘Did you hear what happened to Fred?’
‘He was down at the pub and talked too much.’
‘He was being critical of our leaders.’
‘Hmm… you know… I warned Fred about that. He’s a good guy… has a good business… makes money…. has a nice house, too… what’s the point?’
The point is we tarnish our humanity when we surrender our right to express our own thoughts.
With our humanity tarnished, we then become less creative, lose personal power and diminish our capacity to fully love.
No amount of money will make up for it.