The Road To Serfdom: Lessons In Chinese Politics

Yesterday I played golf with another Boeing retiree, one who is still working for Boeing, and a fourth who works for PGE in Portland. We had a great time, and I actually played pretty well for a change. However, in light of an article in the paper this morning, a comment that one of my playing partners made yesterday stands out. John has just returned from mainland China, and his main observation was the amount of money the people had. Our conclusion was the more money people have the more they travel. Everywhere John went he saw a lot of people. Prosperity has hit China, and I can tell you this prosperity did not emerge from a centrally planned economy, but one that is resulting from more freedom, which hopefully the Chinese will not lose.

Yang Jisheng is a Chinese historian who is in New York to receive the Manhattan Institute’s Hayek prize for his book “Tombstone.” It is a book about the Chinese famine that occurred from 1958 to 1962 where 36 million Chinese people died from starvation. “It would take years more for him to realize that the source of all the suffering was not nature: There were no major droughts or floods in China in the famine years. Rather the cause was man, and one man in particular: Mao Zedong, the great Helmsman, whose visage still stares down on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.”

Yang’s father died from starvation during this time, and the event has had a profound impact on Yang. However, Yang has identified a particular book as having had an important directional influence on him. Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” was originally translated into Chinese in 1962, and Yang who was a journalist had the opportunity to read it. “Mr. Yang quickly saw that in Hayek’s warnings about the dangers of economic centralization lay both the ultimate explanation for the tragedies of his youth – and the predicaments of China’s present.” Hayek states, “In a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation.”

During Mao’s reign, he had complete control over what was produced and what was eaten. “Peasants were forced to work intolerable hours to meet impossible grain quotas, often employing disastrous agricultural methods inspired by the quack soviet agronomist Trofim Lysendko.” The grain was then shipped to cities and exported to other countries, leaving very little for the peasants who worked the fields. “Cannibalism, including parents eating their children, became commonplace.”

All of this happened while many in my generation extolled the positive events of Mao’s reign. I remember many of my friends carrying Mao’s red book, thinking it was cool, not recognizing the horror’s associated with Chinese leadership. According to the WSJ, “The power of Mr. Yang’s book lies in its hauntingly precise descriptions of the cruelty of party officials, the suffering of the peasants, the pervasive dread of being called a right deviationist for telling the truth that quotas weren’t being met and millions were being starved to death.”

But Yang doesn’t stop here; he writes about the power structure of China today. “The conventional notion that the modern Chinese system combines political authoritarianism with economic liberalism is mistaken: A more accurate description of the recipe is dictatorship and cronyism, with the results showing up in rampant corruption, environmental degradation and wide inequalities between the politically well-connected and everyone else.”

Collectivist philosophy leading to wide inequalities or Capitalism leading to wide inequalities; I don’t think the problem of inequality is an economic issue as much as it is a human issue between the oppressor and the oppressed. It is a power issue, where those that have power take advantage of those who don’t. Maybe Paulo Freire is right when he says that it is time to create a new pedagogy, one that is created by a dialog between the oppressed and oppressor? However, I think Jesus has already laid out this pedagogy for us in the Sermon on the Mount.

My summer reading includes: The Gospels, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, The Road to Serfdom, and Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. Who know who I will be by the end of this summer.

And that is my thought for the day!

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