by Fred Reed for the Saker blog
A staple response of nationalistic commenters on the web, when told that China is advancing rapidly in technology, is a truculent, “If the Chinese are so damn smart, why do they send their students to American universities? Huh?”
The answer may surprise. Appended below is an email from an internet friend with a career in math and engineering:
“….My oldest daughter, being half Asian, has joined many Asian circles of friends at her university. When one of the groups was talking about why Chinese come to (state), to study, one of the male students said “Not the best of the Chinese students come to America. I came here because I couldn’t get into a good college at home. It’s much easier to get into an American college. ”
The acceptance rate at my daughter’s university’s college of Science and Engineering is 7%. This student felt that it was very easy to get into.
My daughter’s best friends are now mostly foreign Asians who come here to study. Her American friends are almost all lost and adrift. Her high school has been consistently ranked in the top 3 in the state, but her former classmates are almost all lost and failing. Those classmates who got into the U of (state) of CSE are dropping out because of the work load. I don’t think those analysts at the CIA, Harvard, etc., realize that the nation’s defense depends more on what is happening to America’s young people, rather than defense or economic technology. When I was in China and visited two schools, I could see that China knows its future depends on these students.
This is not an isolated view. A few years back another friend’s daughter, then teaching petroleum geology at (I think) Rice, told him that her Nigerian students were better prepared mathematically than the American.
This, boys and girls, is the American system in flower. Degeneration is now the norm. A cursory Google search produces countless examples of math being dumbed down as being racist, grammar being abandoned for the same reason, advanced placement courses being eliminated or enstupidated for the same reason, and standardized tests and admission requirements in general being eliminated for the same reason. The underlying explanation (I will guess) is the anti-intellectualism in the fundamentally plebeian American character and the realization by the rabble that in a pseudodemocracy they can vote themselves the treasury, government, and culture. Which they have.
The foregoing are just a few examples of the growing inferiority of America’s social, economic, and governmental systems to those of China. As Americans we are told from birth that we are the smartest, most technologically and scientifically advanced, inventive, free, militarily powerful, democratic, and astonishing country in the world, far superior to such authoritarian and undemocratic nations as China. Well, it just ain’t so. Not now.
First, the Chinese government is heavily technocratic, rife with engineers, scientists, and economists. At the top, Xi Jin Ping is a chemical engineer, Biden a second-rate lawyer graduating low in his class at a mediocre law school after being caught cheating. America chooses leaders, if so they quite are, in popularity contests, and so has leaders whose chief accomplishment is being popular. When last I looked, I think that in all of Congress there was one scientist.
Since American leaders are elected every two, four, or six years, they spend more time running for reelection than governing–posing, polishing their images, consulting pollsters, testing the wind. Today the midterms preoccupy Washington with pols looking not at what the country needs but at how not to look soft on China or Russia. In 2024, will we get more Biden, or Harris? Trump? Some pretty governor whose chief appeal will be that he is not Biden or Trump? None of whom could do high-school algebra.
Second, the inherent and ineradicable weakness of democracies, that the great majority of the public lack the intelligence, knowledge, interest, or some combination of these, to be allowed to vote. So do most of Congress. They are elected for their ability to be elected, nothing else.
Hiding this ignorance, both of people and leaders, is an important duty of the media. Reporters ask, “Senator, what do you think of America’s Afghanistan policy?” not, “Do you have the slightest freaking idea of where Afghanistan is?”
A third of the public cannot name any of the three branches of the federal government, and they vote! Far fewer know what the Dardanelles are or what countries border the Caspian, whatever that is. This makes the populace easily manipulated. If CNN and MSNBC for three months say, “The Russians are coming, oh god, the Russians are coming,” polls will show that the public sees Russia as a grave danger. Not one in ten could tell the Duma from a poached egg. (I might add that it is difficult to tell our leaders from poached eggs. (If the media then said, “The Guatemalans are coming, oh God…,” in three months….
Chinese leaders do not have to concern themselves with election or this or that political fad. They can focus on long-term ends and maintain constant policies. It shows.
Third, Chinese leadership is authoritarian. When Beijing decides that something needs to be done, it is. Over two decades ago, China decided that it needed high-speed rail. It was constructed year after year and now has combined length of twenty-four thousand miles. This sustained focus, applied to a gamut running from bridges to the space program, produces results.
America cannot do this. It bogs down in a tangle of bureaucracy, infighting by special interests, and struggles over funding. America cannot undertake high-speed rail because the Republicans would block funding, airlines would pay Congress to drop the idea, racial lobbies would object that it went through their neighborhoods, environmentalists and many others would file suit, and the project would degenerate into pork.
An aspect of Chinese authoritarianism is that the government governs. If Beijing says that Bitcoin mining will stop in China, it does. Right now. If it says that some IPO won’t take place, it doesn’t. If it says that such-and-such is needed to block covid, such-and-such happens and covid is blocked. By contrast, America runs on a sort of inverse socialism. Instead of an economic system in which the means of production belong to the government. America is a system in which the government belongs to the means of production. Wall Street, the big corporations, the media, military industry, and so on This results in policy to the advantage of these, not the country. For example, purchases of hugely expensive and unnecessary weapons while infrastructure decays, an inability to fire incompetent teachers or raise standards for hiring.
Forth, American government is weak. Rebellious groups riot night after night, burning and vandalizing, and government does nothing. Flash mobs loot stores and organized shoplifting drives stores out of cities, and governments look on when they do not actually approve. Effective vaccination against covid is impossible because many refuse, with whole websites encouraging refusal. Crime flourishes, carjackings, racial attacks, shootings, and governments do nothing.
Since the Chinese do not loot, I can’t be sure how they would solve the problem. They don’t have the problem because they are civilized, and we no longer are. America could end looting with four words, “Looters will be shot,” followed by perhaps two demonstrations. But American governments have ceded control of the streets to pillagers.
Fifth, China does things to benefit its people. America doesn’t. Whether the Chinese government does this from a resurgence of Confucian values, or to keep the people happy so they don’t revolt, can be argued. The fact cannot. The standard of living in the Middle Kingdom has been going straight up, astonishingly up, over four decades.
Compare this with an America in which sprawling, growing aggregations of homeless people live on sidewalks in city after city, schools in the downtowns (We mustn’t say “slums.”) annually produce millions of semiliterates, retirement programs vanish, people can’t afford medical and dental care, university students are craftedly loaded with crippling debt for increasingly sub-mediocre educations by predatory banks, and thousands are shot annually in cities to the amazement of the civilized world.
Beijing decides which industries are vital to the country’s advance and encourages them by subsidies. This is common sense. Washington says it is “unfair trade practice.” Why Washington gets to decide the developmental policies of other countries isn’t clear and in any event Biden’s infrastructure package includes multibillion-dollar subsidies for the semiconductor business, but perhaps incoherence is thought a virtue.
Sixth, China differs starkly from America in its approach to international relations. America relies on economic coercion and military force or its threat. China depends primarily on commerce. Thus it has a huge trade surplus with the rest of the world from a for-profit economy and uses the consequent money for massive spending on China—roads, bridges, power plants. America has a massive trade deficit with the rest of the world, in particular China, and a huge national debt from the printing of money. It spends hugely on its military while infrastructure crumbles and begins to look like something from the Fifties.
Examples abound. America goads Russia militarily and economically, while Sino-Russian trade rapidly increases. America sanctions Iran and threatens it militarily, while Tehran and Beijing sign a large trade contract and Iran joins the SCO. America concludes naval alliances against China while rail traffic from China to Europe grows apace. America builds military bases in Africa while China buys up resources and builds infrastructure. America bombs Afghanistan without mercy for twenty years and then confiscates its financial reserves to starve its people; China provides aid and wants to build infrastructure and open mines. America bombs Iraq into rubble, but China inks a deal to build schools.
Seventh, Americans believe that they are free and the Chinese are not. They believe this because the media, social and legacy, tell them so. There is some truth in this. In China, if you say wrong things in chats, they simply disappear and, if you persist, the police will show up. “Wrong things” include mention of Tian An Men, Tibet, and Taiwan. In China, you do not buck the government.
In America, which has freedom of speech, websites that say wrong things disappear from Google, cannot be reposted on Facebook, are banned from YouTube and Twitter, disappear from the Wikipedia, and have their credit-card accounts canceled. If you are discovered to have said something deemed racist in an ancient email, and almost anything can be deemed racist, you can be fired. Yet there is free speech in America. The media say so.
There is a real sort of social control in China that does not exist in America. When China decided that boys were spending so much time playing video games that it was becoming a problem, it banned the games during the week and limited them to three hours on weekends. When it decided that private tutoring of children was becoming harmful, it forbade the undesirable parts. Done.
Further, China values morality of the sort that America did until recently. Pornhub is blocked, full stop. China does not have a philosophically advanced Supreme Court believing that Thomas Jefferson meant for children of ten to watch sadomasochism on cellphones. Violeta watches East Asian television series for the young out of cultural curiosity (these have Spanish subtitles). I can’t see well enough to read these, but she reports that Chinese series push civilized adolescents (to the extent these exist) speaking and behaving decently and solving the usual problems of such shows in a way consonant with morality. The US did the same in the Fifties and pre-war Sixties.
Today, the American series are all fuck this and fuck that and motherfuck the other thing and did Sally give Bobby a hand job after the prom. Take your pick.
Finally, a somewhat amorphous observation: The Chinese seem quicker, more agile, faster to market, to be moving into the future while America remains almost torpid. Five G, rapidly built out, quickly gets put to use in ports and factories. The digital yuan booms along while America talks. The digitization of almost everything roars ahead. While American trains creep along, China’s 360-mph model is in advanced development. Companies seem to get an idea Tuesday morning and have it in production by Friday afternoon. Where is this heading?
I need a drink.