The Future of Housing Prices
In Re John Yoo...

Kerry Howley on China

She is driven into shrill unholy madness by the stupidity that is the Weekly Standard:

: The whole [Weekly Standard] thing is nonresponsive to Brzezinski's argument, but it's the last sentence that strikes me as weirdly dismissive. In 1978, the majority of rural Chinese were living at subsistence, the way the majority of Burmese live now. A third of the rural population--260 million peopl--lived under the poverty line, meaning that they were not adequately fed or clothed even in a good year.

By 1997, the number of people living under the poverty line had been slashed by 200 million. A Chinese person born in 1960 could expect to live until 41, give or take. Kids born today will, on average, live 30 years longer. No other society has ever undergone such a dramatic transformation in two decades. The fact that we can even talk about restrictions on Chinese Internet access implies a massive improvement in wellbeing.

There is a serious lack of imaginative capacity among pundits who can, in a sentence, brush this kind of thing aside. Bangladeshis vote for their corrupt leaders and legally worship whatever God they wish. In what substantive sense is a kid born in Dhaka (GDP per capita: $2300) better off than a kid born in Beijing ($7700) or Singapore ($31,400)? Free to do what? Almost anywhere, prosperity brings with it the ability to educate your children, to enjoy a modicum of leisure, to leave. What's freedom of exit worth if you can't afford a plane ticket?

I get the sense, reading this kind of analysis, that China hawks have stopped conceptualizing the Chinese as people. They're just political objects defined by a checklist of political freedoms they do and do not have. The ability to educate yourself, to pay a doctor to treat your sick children, to take in a film, to do the things people do -- none of that is on the list. I've written before on how silly it is to act as if Internet access means nothing if political material is blocked, as if all the entertainment and connection communication affords is meaningless unless directed at political change. This is just that same mistake writ large --every Chinese person is an activist whose life is worthless without the right to participate in the political process. It just exposes an incredible ignorance about the way people live.

None of this is to excuse the Chinese government for its many ghastly crimes, or to suggest that it does not continue to stand in the way of prosperity in meaningful ways, or to argue that prosperity is the only good that matters. But you don't need to denigrate the alleviation of hunger to criticize political tyranny. 'd feel a little less put off by all the self-congratulatory China-bashing if the punditocracy's understanding of freedom were less romanticized, less dismissive of the more mundane liberties afforded by a full stomach and regular income.

In 2004, while I was still in Burma, floods in neighboring Bangladesh killed 1000 people and left 10,000 more without any possessions. The Western press treated the whole thing as an unfortunate natural disaster--sad, but no one's fault, really. And yet floods are completely predictable in Bangladesh--there is a reason they call it Monsoon Season--and that kind of devastation is the result of poverty rooted in economic mismanagement. Price controls strike me as just as criminal as religious discrimination, and a country with the good sense to get rid of them doesn't need to hear that preventing starvation is a "poor substitute" for anything.