By Ron Unz | April 18, 2012
All this began to change very rapidly once Deng Xiaoping initiated his free-market reforms in 1978, first throughout the countryside and eventually in the smaller industrial enterprises of the coastal provinces. By 1985, The Economist ran a cover story praising China’s 700,000,000 peasants for having doubled their agricultural production in just seven years, an achievement almost unprecedented in world history. Meanwhile, China’s newly adopted one-child policy, despite its considerable unpopularity, had sharply reduced population growth rates in a country possessing relatively little arable land.
Meanwhile, America has no high-speed rail whatsoever, despite decades of debate and vast amounts of time and money spent on lobbying, hearings, political campaigns, planning efforts, and environmental-impact reports. China’s high-speed rail system may be far from perfect, but it actually exists, while America’s does not. Annual Chinese ridership now totals over 25 million trips per year, and although an occasional disaster—such as the 2011 crash in Weizhou, which killed 40 passengers—is tragic, it is hardly unexpected. After all, America’s aging low-speed trains are not exempt from similar calamities, as we saw in the 2008 Chatsworth crash that killed 25 in California.
Given these facts, we should hardly be surprised that international surveys over the past decade have regularly ranked America as the world’s most hated major nation, a remarkable achievement given the dominant global role of American media and entertainment and also the enormous international sympathy that initially flowed to our country following the 9/11 attacks.
We know from the collapsed communist states of Eastern Europe that control over the media may determine public perceptions of reality, but it does not change the underlying reality itself, and reality usually has the last laugh. Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and his colleagues have conservatively estimated the total long-term cost of our disastrous Iraq War at $3 trillion, representing over one-fifth of our entire accumulated national debt, or almost $30,000 per American household. And even now the direct ongoing costs of our Afghanistan War still run $120 billion per year, many times the size of Afghanistan’s total GDP. Meanwhile, during these same years the international price of oil has risen from $25 to $125 per barrel—partly as a consequence of these past military disruptions and growing fears of future ones—thereby imposing gigantic economic costs upon our society.
And we suffer other costs as well. A recent New York Times story described the morale-building visit of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to our forces in Afghanistan and noted that all American troops had been required to surrender their weapons before attending his speech and none were allowed to remain armed in his vicinity. Such a command decision seems almost unprecedented in American history and does not reflect well upon the perceived state of our military morale.
How corrupt is the American society fashioned by our current ruling elites? That question is perhaps more ambiguous than it might seem. According to the standard world rankings produced by Transparency International, the United States is a reasonably clean country, with corruption being considerably higher than in the nations of Northern Europe or elsewhere in the Anglosphere, but much lower than in most of the rest of the world, including China.
By contrast, local village authorities in China have a notorious tendency to seize public land and sell it to real estate developers for huge personal profits. This sort of daily misbehavior has produced an annual Chinese total of up to 90,000 so-called “mass incidents”—public strikes, protests, or riots—usually directed against corrupt local officials or businessmen.
However, although American micro-corruption is rare, we seem to suffer from appalling levels of macro-corruption, situations in which our various ruling elites squander or misappropriate tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars of our national wealth, sometimes doing so just barely on one side of technical legality and sometimes on the other.
Sweden is among the cleanest societies in Europe, while Sicily is perhaps the most corrupt. But suppose a large clan of ruthless Sicilian Mafiosi moved to Sweden and somehow managed to gain control of its government. On a day-to-day basis, little would change, with Swedish traffic policemen and building inspectors performing their duties with the same sort of incorruptible efficiency as before, and I suspect that Sweden’s Transparency International rankings would scarcely decline. But meanwhile, a large fraction of Sweden’s accumulated national wealth might gradually be stolen and transferred to secret Cayman Islands bank accounts, or invested in Latin American drug cartels, and eventually the entire plundered economy would collapse.
A similar dangerous reticence may afflict most of our media, which appears much more eager to focus on self-inflicted disasters in foreign countries than on those here at home. Presented below is a companion case-study, “Chinese Melamine and American Vioxx: A Comparison,” in which I point out that while the American media a few years ago joined its Chinese counterparts in devoting enormous coverage to the deaths of a few Chinese children from tainted infant formula, it paid relatively little attention to a somewhat similar domestic public-health disaster that killed many tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans.