I just returned from China. Some websites are accessible there based on content and other factors. Battle4Liberty was not.
I met two fascinating scholars in Beijing, economist Feng Zingyuan and political scientist Lui Junning. Feng is a professor in the Rural Development Institute at the Academy and one of the top Austrian economists in China. Yes, I said Austrian economist. I didn’t know there were many followers of Mises and Hayek in China, but he insists the number is growing.
Lui has been battling the political system in China for a long time as well. His 2001 article calling for economic and political reform got him expelled from the Chinese Academy of Social Science and barred from traveling outside the country. The travel ban was rescinded in 2009, but his place in the Academy has not been restored. Lui boldly rejects the idea that liberal democracy is merely a Western idea. He writes for the Wall Street Journal on occasion; one of his op eds can be found at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304760604576427931129537282.html.
Both Feng and Lui are fans of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. They actively defend the morality of capitalism in a nation whose economy is officially based on Marxism. The fact that their views are tolerated in China is a positive sign. It is also encouraging to learn that their ideas are being well received by many students there.
One thing really hit home from our discussion. While there are important differences, China and the United States are facing many of the same economic problems. China has financed much of its infrastructure boom with debt. Quantitating easing that debases the currency continues to be central to Chinese monetary policy. Although the official numbers are lagging, there is growing evidence that prices in China are on the rise. Beijing continue to expand the economic bubble with various forms of “stimulus.” Their story sounds a lot like ours.
A half-century ago China and the U.S. were 180 degrees apart, politically, socially, and economically. China was a poor, tightly controlled and insular nation, with very little contact with the outside world. China began introducing market-oriented reforms in the late 1970s and growing economically in the 1980s. Change has been slow and China remains a largely socialist nation, but its economy has moved in the right direction and has developed a great deal.
In contrast, the U.S. was largely free 50 years ago, with expanding economic opportunities and political liberty. Our economy was strong, but Ayn Rand foresaw impending problems when she published Atlas Shrugged in 1957. Looking back it’s hard to refute her forecast. Government corruption and cronyism are serious problems today and economic growth has slowed. Amid a $16 trillion deficit, wealth redistribution has become Washington’s primary political purpose as one “class” is constantly pitted against another.
During the past two decades, China has sought to introduce its own version of liberty and free enterprise. Just last week, Premier Li Keqiang announced plans for instituting a free trade zone in Shanghai. Meanwhile, Washington continues to pursue even more intervention, as the Fed announced its plan to continue buying $85 billion worth of bonds each month. While China is looking more like the U.S., our nation is looking more like China. The cronyism, political corruption and tight central planning many Chinese seek to dismantle have become massive problems in the U.S. with no end in sight. The two nations are traveling on the same road, but in different directions.
The case for capitalism as a moral and productive system is compelling. It’s both ironic and sad that many Chinese—led by scholars like Liu and Feng—seem to understand this better than many Americans do. I don’t know what the future holds, but there’s a lot we can learn from watching the internal struggles in China over political and economic freedom. The nation’s recent growth is proof positive that economic development is linked to free enterprise. I don’t worry that China will soon become a global economic powerhouse, however. I worry that my country will cease to be one if we don’t change course soon.