The Strong Horse

Osama bin Laden said that people will follow the strong horse.  He wasn’t wrong. That phrase came to my mind today reading the RealClearInvestigations piece Why China’s Brightest Abroad Show Team Spirit For Beijing’s Hardball. The American fantasy is that people in oppressed nations want more than anything to be free, or at least be freer. Though this is partly true, it ebbs and flows and is sometimes much less true than we expect.  It is true that in measuring public sentiment under dictators all data is suspect. People are afraid to be the first to stop clapping for Stalin.* In the current case of China, those that have received approval to study abroad are from the class of people benefiting most under the current regime, and are additionally vetted to boot. They are among the most likely to support the regime to begin with; then additional carrots and sticks are applied.

Nonetheless, I think that Richard Bernstein is reading the available data correctly, and that China is not populated entirely by huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Beginning about a third of the way down, he illustrates that many of the students are proud of China’s power and growth, that it is expanding. There is no mention of them being proud of its government’s actions, but the sense is that they just don’t think about that much.

“The conviction in China is that we’re on the right track,” Wang added. “The vibe is that the system we have is better than the West’s.”

I don’t think this is a Chinese characteristic, I think it is a human characteristic. A great deal of German and Japanese fervor leading to WWII was created out decades of teaching the idea that because we are becoming powerful, it shows our way is superior. I may be reading the idea back onto historical events, but I think of Romans, Ottomans, and Venetians saying much the same.  Even when everyone recognises the idea in the abstract that because tyrannies do exist, it cannot be true that the most powerful is the most moral, they seem to forget this when it comes to their own nation. It may be tied at some deep level to seeking secure resources. When your people are powerful, you are more likely to eat. Notice that nations on the make do not seem to get attacked, either, even if they are not yet especially powerful. One would think that a rising threat would attract violence, but they seem to attract diplomacy, alliances, agreements, or at worst only sanctions and counterthreats. Something in our nature says that’s not a good bet to confront unless it is necessary.

Does this apply to us as well? Hmm, let’s look at some friends of ours first, the British before answering that. England was not powerful in the Middle Ages. Spain, France, the Italian states, the Holy Roman Empire and eventually the Portuguese were more powerful. British patriotism has large regional elements now, but even English patriotism was more regional until…I will say 1500, just as a round number. Over the next hundred years England became more powerful, and a more full English patriotism grew.  It likely reached its height in late Victorian times or early Edwardian. It dipped a little about the time of the Boer War, perhaps not accidentally, and plummeted after WWI, even though Great Britain was among the victors. A sort of anti-patriotism became fashionable in the 1920s and 30s. Among its elites it still is, despite their having been proved wrong repeatedly over the last hundred years.

I don’t think it is easy to measure the patriotism within one’s own society when it is this diverse and the target is moving. There have been intentional attempts to redefine patriotism, which I have thought pernicious, but acknowledge the door doesn’t have to be left open for that when the common wisdom is so oversimplified that it can easily be kicked in.  We think we know what “patriotism” means intuitively, but it has grown vaguer over the years until it became more of a glittering compliment word – at which point it is only natural that it will become a target for mockery.  Yet for all that, I think there would be general agreement that the 1950s were a high point of patriotism, which started receding in the late 1960s.

The standard explanation is that some were becoming disillusioned because of Vietnam, and we began to question whether we were actually doing good in the world or were all that noral and correct. What if that’s not true?  The standard explanation is also that it was the young who were opposed to Vietnam, but that isn’t entirely so.  Support for the war eroded among older Americans first, especially around 1968, while the war in general was supported by a majority of the young.  Those who had seen a victorious war, followed by an inconclusive one in Korea, were less enthused about a dithering, uncertain America doing much off anything abroad anymore. We may have the cart and horse reversed.  Had we been an aggressive country on the make, patriotism might have sustained longer.  Whether that sort of patriotism would be a good thing for us or the rest of the world is a separate question. While acknowledging it’s all contradictory and difficult, I am going to come down in favor of the idea that indecisive losing sapped our patriotism more than more intellectual and reasoned positions about the place of America in the world.  I think the latter was only partly true, and much of it was retrofitted onto a more basic response.

*This is why the success of large “peaceful” protests are not a full argument that civil disobedience works. Gandhi’s success was predicated on there being a half a billion people behind him who were not always nonviolent, and on their dealing with a nation with enough moral code to be shamed. I have never been able to track down the quote, so it may be apocryphal, but Ho Chi Minh is reported to have said that if India had been a French colony, Minister Gandhi would long since have gone to another reward. The assembling of large crowds has the effect of everyone discovering exactly how much support there is for a cause. Even if everyone just goes home, that information is now out on the table.

53 thoughts on “The Strong Horse”

  1. There is no way to actually gauge what “the Chinese people” think because they are living in a police state, one that outright murdered tens of millions of people several decades ago, within living memory of many people, and that completely controls all communications.
    For most people, security wins out over freedom, every time. The average Chinese person of course values not getting murdered, over criticizing the thugs who are their government. Of course.
    I once knew a Chinese family, studying at a US university, who was terrified of having to go back to China because they had had a second child while living in the US. It’s an evil place. Period. We should separate themselves from them, as much as possible, for moral reasons as well as economic. When watching Tiananmen Square retrospective documentaries in the last year, I feel sadness and outrage that people in China who were brave enough to speak out for freedom were (and are) so brutally treated, but also extreme fury that our political and business “elite” have made it so it is essentially impossible not to buy Chinese products and thereby help to bolster that evil regime.

  2. What Brian said.

    Remember Eric Berne’s “Games People Play”? Among these amusing summaries I recall “Let’s You and Him Fight”.

    I remember, too, that oft quoted excerpt from Solzhenitsyn so familiar that I need not provide the words, just the idea, and people will recall his pondering what would have happened had he resisted.

    Courage certainly plays a part in choosing to restrain that bin Laden’s “Strong Horse” AVI mentioned. Courage augmented by distance may not suffice for the Chinese ex pats studying or living abroad to say what they actually think. Certainly the Hong Kong protesters display courage. (A comparison and contrast of them with Berkeley students of the 60’s or with SDS would prove very interesting.) But courage won’t turn out as the significant driver.

    Instead of courage, I’d look to conviction. Specifically, conviction that absolutes exist, that morality is not merely a social construct.

  3. BTW, Brian, I empathize with the fury of your closing sentence. I’d add to it some other evaluations and attendant emotions, tho. I admit in advance that probably that addition includes some self-justification for not exercising my ability to enforce a tariff by refusing to by Chinese products. At any rate….

    Frustration: quite frequently I do not see any alternatives. Try going to Home Depot and attempting to buy, eg, deck screws not made in China. Or look for a replacement part for a manufactured in Amerioca refrigerator’s ice maker and suppress surprise at finding most of the options come from China (and that an option that comes from a factory only a few miles from where you went to hi school is half again the price of the Chinese option).

    Puzzlement: what do I do when some alternative exists, but at half again the price? How do I evaluate the cost/benefit ratio when I recognize that more than my bank balance is at stake, when I have some clues about ideas such as the benefits of free trade, such as how a totalitarian state can use trade as a tool of war, how that state can use its population as slave workers? How do I evaluate the options when, provided I’m willing to accept shipping delay, the internet allows me to buy from all over the world. (This week I purchased an electric motor to replace a aged failed motor in my home’s central air unit. The original part was made in a small town in Missouri. I’ve done field service engineering in that town. Possibly, since the factory has changed owners over the course of the decades and there are only a couple of large buildings in that town, I worked in the very building in which the original motor was made. The replacement motor will come from a plant in Mexico.)

    Satisfaction: Maybe a rationalization here. But I think about the Chinese workers. I and they both benefit when we do business. They have a productive job. Their government may rip them off. But at least some of the reward for that productivity comes to them. Their standard of living increases. That pleases me. And I wonder, too, whether their gaining the comforts and, indeed, securities of a better standard of living might influence their thinking. Perhaps they, in mass, will provide a check against their government doing things that might adversely affect their jobs.

  4. We all see the world through a keyhole. What I did not see in my short time in China was anyone who was frightened of his government. Policing was very light — with most of the few police officers on the streets being unarmed. The streets were safe. In the evenings, people poured out of their homes to dance in the streets — it may sound unlikely to westerners who get their news from the Lame Stream Media, but it happens. Life in Chinese cities is much more civilized for ordinary people than it is for people in San Francisco or London.

    Basically, Chinese people can reasonably feel that their government is working, and life is getting better year by year. This may support AVI’s hypothesis that nothing succeeds like success.

  5. @ Brian – Two decades ago I would say yours was a good summary of how to look at Chinese opinion. I think it is still partly true. Yet I think there has been a change as China has risen.

    And I think their rulers suspect it, which is why a trade war hits them where it hurts, and Hong Kong frightens them. They know that the moment they are weak that some percentage will turn on them immediately, bringing out those who never supported them. Then continued weakness will peel off support year by year.

    The Russian and Romanian secret police both had plans for assuming power if the government collapsed, which 75% worked. I imagine the secret police in China have similar fallbacks.

  6. What I did not see in my short time in China was anyone who was frightened of his government.

    How can one “see” that?

    Having spent some time in the PRC and Hong Kong and surrounding countries on business, citizens of the PRC strike me as suffering from PTSD. Hongkongers OTOH remind me of regular, everyday Brits or Americans or even (to a lesser extent) Singaporeans. Lively and risk-taking vs. dull and scared. Eyes are key; they’re the window to the soul.

    Authoritarian governments suck souls drybut it’s a subtle thing for an outsider to notice. Next time you’re there, take time to notice their eyes.

  7. In the 1980s we were assured that Eastern Europeans and Russians were super happy under communism, so excuse me if I don’t believe the Chinese are blissful under their CCP overlords.
    As an American, I believe it is absolutely imperative that we separate ourselves from their regime, as fast and completely as possible.

  8. At the risk of commenting on a subject that I have only a limited understanding about, I think a factor with the relationship between the Chinese people and their government may be the Confucian-based social order. From what I have been told, the Chinese put a premium on propriety, consensus, and aesthetics.

    Rather like Ecclesiastes, there is a time and place for things. Appearances mean a lot, and it requires some good reasons to cause a situation to become messy in comparison. At least from what I understand.

    Right or wrong would be judged by how closely one remains true to the social order.

    Now, maybe that won’t mean much if the trains don’t run on time or if the pork is too spoiled or whatever. If gets to the point where tanks are rolling down Nanjing Road then I think the order wins.

  9. “Who said “blissful?””
    “In the evenings, people poured out of their homes to dance in the streets”

  10. A very good analysis of the changes in Middle East relationships.

    George Friedman whose private intel servce, I used to subscribe to.

    It is difficult to accept that an era has passed into history. Those who were shaped by that era, cling, through a combination of alarm and nostalgia, to the things that reverberate through their minds. Some (though not Europeans) spoke of a betrayal of Europe, and others deeply regretted that the weapons they had worked so hard to perfect and the strategy and tactics that had emerged over decades would never be tried.

    The same has happened in different ways in the Middle East. The almost 20-year deployment has forged patterns of behavior, expectations and obligations not only among individuals but more institutionally throughout the armed forces. But the mission has changed. For now, the Islamic State is vastly diminished, as is al-Qaida. The Sunni rising in Iraq has ended, and even the Syrian civil war is not what it once was. A war against Iran has not begun, may not happen at all, and would not resemble the wars that have been fought in the region hitherto.

    And this insight is significant and explains much.

    A generation of military and defense thinkers have matured fighting wars in the Middle East. The Long War has been their career. Several generations spent their careers expecting Soviet tanks to surge into the Fulda Gap. Cold Warriors believed a world without the Cold War was unthinkable. The same can be said for those shaped by Middle Eastern wars. For the Cold War generation, the NATO alliance was the foundation of their thinking. So too for the Sandbox generation, those whose careers were spent rotating into Iraq or Afghanistan or some other place, the alliances formed and the enemies fought seemed eternal. The idea that the world had moved on, and that Fulda and NATO were less important, was emotionally inconceivable. Any shift in focus and alliance structure was seen as a betrayal.

    After the Cold War ended, George H.W. Bush made the decision to stand down the 24-hour B-52 air deployments in the north that were waiting for a Soviet attack. The reality had changed, and Bush made the decision a year after the Eastern European collapse began. He made it early on Sept. 21, 1991, after the Wall came down but before the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a controversial decision. I knew some serious people who thought that we should be open to the possibility that the collapse in Eastern Europe was merely a cover for a Soviet attack and were extremely agitated over the B-52 stand-down.

    I think this explains some intemperate remarks by Bolton and Mattis. Worth reading.

  11. …on their dealing with a nation with enough moral code to be shamed.

    Feh. Gandhi’s entire success lay utterly and solely upon this.

    Had India been under the thumb of Stalin or Hitler, Gandhi would have become an unperson. Or been used as an example. And in such a way that he would not have been a martyr. He would be barely known of a decade after his end.

    I recall someone wrote an alternate history story where Germany had taken over the UK, and with it most of their possessions. In it, Gandhi tried the same techniques against Hitler’s minions in India that had worked against the Brits, and wound up in prison and knowing he faced a pointless and ignominious death.

  12. @ Brian – I see the point, but he is describing something that he witnessed, and your over-interpretaion for dramatic effect is not justified. I have close ties to Romania, and they are a festival-driven people, even under oppressive government, so long as they feel safe in that moment. A feeling of personal safety in one’s village can keep revolution at bay. Even under Ceausescu, not everyone was happy to see the revolution.

  13. More on the military resistance to Trump’s policy.

    From the time of Augustus Caesar until Constantine, the Roman emperor was protected by a corps of soldiers known as the Praetorian Guard. Over time, the Praetorians became the real power in Rome, appointing and deposing emperors at will.

    In our time, praetorianism has come to mean despotic military rule, something associated with countries in which the army is the real power behind the government. Praetorianism would seem to be incompatible with republican government, although the attempted coup against President Charles de Gaulle in 1961 arose from a praetorian bent on the part of the French officers who sought to depose him over of his intention to grant independence to Algeria.

    It is troubling to note that when it comes to President Trump, many people who purport to be defenders of healthy U.S. civil-military relations have adopted what can only be called a praetorian view. The most recent examples have come in the wake of his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria against the advice of the military or “without consulting the Pentagon.” I happen to believe the decision was a bad one but the idea that the president is always obligated to accept military advice flies in the face of the meaning of civilian control of the military.

    Mattis and Bolton are examples. We do not have an alliance with the Kurds and we helped protect them for 28 years,

  14. I’m pretty sure that “military personnel who live in DC and talk to national journalists” are not actually representative of the military as a whole.

    Those who were delusionally fantasizing about the military opposing Trump, as one of their infinite ways the Orange Man will go down, just demonstrated that they know absolutely nothing about the military. Thank goodness nothing like that can happen here, or we’re in deep trouble.

    From the current leaks it sounds like the new Dem plan is to impeach Trump for not listening to career State Department officials…there’s nothing funnier to me than the notion that the president of the United States can even be a “national security risk”. Our political and media “elite” are complete morons, that’s the one and only thing Ben Rhodes was ever right about.

  15. Brian took exception: “… so excuse me if I don’t believe the Chinese are blissful under their CCP overlords.”

    Does any thinking being believe the Brits are “bissful” under their Westminster overlords? How about the Deplorables being “blissful” under a partisan Democratic House?

    Yes, some Chinese don’t like their government — just like some Americans, some Brits, some Swedes, etc. The idea that the great mass of Chinese people are held down only by an oppressive Secret Police is insane — not founded upon reality. They are not desperately longing for the chance to elect their own Hillary Rodham Clinton. Their eyes are not empty.

    Lots of Chinese people are well rewarded for working in competitive industries. They buy their own cars from a much wider range of choice than any European could imagine. They drive those cars on toll roads from their apartment in the city to their second home in the country. They pay for their kids schooling, and for their medical treatment. In some ways, Chinese citizens today experience a less socialist world than the average resident of California.

    Don’t over-simplify the situation in China. And don’t ever under-estimate the Chinese people!

  16. Don’t over-simplify the situation in China. And don’t ever under-estimate the Chinese people!

    So you, whoever you are, have spent years in China ?

    I have only talked to 50 or 100 Chinese and I think you are full of it.

    Why are Chinese kids joining the US army to get citizenship after serving their enlistment? These are not officers.

    My Chinese medical student was here to provided a home for her parents since China has no pension system. Her mother was a professor at Beijng U.

    My daughter’s friends were an American guy and his Chinese girlfriend. She came to the US with him to get married.

    Marrying a quailo used to be a no no.

  17. Mike K: “Why are Chinese kids joining the US army to get citizenship after serving their enlistment?”

    Let’s hope none of them are Chinese Communist sleeper agents aiming to learn about US military morale!

    Comments like Mike’s are a good example of us still thinking that we have an insuperable advantage over China. We are stuck 20 years in the past! So we permit an asymmetrical advantage to the supposedly backwards Chinese.

    We think that we are very different from the Chinese. We have Constitutional government, freedom, the rule of law, open markets. We still think that, despite the obvious Deep State bureaucracy, the strictures of Political Correctness, the fact that Hillary & Biden are above the law. We think China still has Orwell-type repressive Communism, despite the evidence of our eyes.

    Reality is that both the US & China have converged on a type of ‘Crony Capitalism’ that should properly be described as Fascism. Private property is ok, as long as it kisses the ring of the Political Class. The difference is that our Political Class thinks it is untouchable, and so it is undermining the Middle Class and neglecting the people. The Chinese Political Class understands that its position rests on improving the lives of its citizens.

    Our problems in the US start at home.

  18. The idea that the great mass of Chinese people are held down only by an oppressive Secret Police is insane — not founded upon reality.

    It is reality. But it’s also reality to some extent in any country/state. It’s just that its a much stronger reality in an authoritarian country like the PRC or (to a lesser extent) Singapore than in less authoritarian states like the in North America or Europe, or Japan or Brazil.

    Eliminate the ethnicity factor by comparing and contrasting PRC ethnic Hans with ethnic Hans in other states. Visit another ethnically Han state like Taiwan or Hong Kong or a state with a large ethnic Han population like Singapore or Indonesia or Burma. Interact with the ethnic Hans in those states. Find out if there’s a difference.

    In my limited experience PRC citizens having grown up in an almost-totalitarian state (pre-1980) are deep down scared of their government. They have inter-generational, terrifying memories of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in which millions perished for capricious, nonsensical reasons. These memories aren’t as strong in citizens born during/after Deng but no doubt that knowledge was passed down by parent & grandparents.

    A billion people suffering from PTSD.

  19. “The conviction in China is that we’re on the right track,” Wang added. “The vibe is that the system we have is better than the West’s.”

    Pretty arrogant and presumptuous on all levels. The parts of the Chinese system being derided are the ones that China has had traditionally for decades, if not centuries. The parts of the Chinese system which are actually working are the ones grafted on from those of The West.

    You might make an argument that some form of hybrid would be better than that of the West, China is only doing “better” than the West solely because it was so far behind that it has plenty of room for catching up, and has a population base that is 3-4x larger than any other nation except India. China’s per-capita GDP (PPP) is still only 2/7ths that of the USA, and still marginally below the centerline of all nations.

    Moreover, it has substantial financial and economic issues looming which it needs to resolve before they cause a serious crash, which they may not manage to do, not the least of which is that, if America stops buying Chinese products, the economy of China collapses. Americans will be very annoyed if they have to ramp up the creation of automated factories to replace what China does, but it will come out better off for that. China does not have the deeper pockets internally to sell, internally, the higher-priced, higher-markup stuff that really keeps China afloat.

    BTW, China’s overall PCGDP(PPP) is also 2/7ths that of both Hong Kong and Macao, both far more westernized than China… and China is looking to kill the Golden Goose on at least one of those.

    So, Mr. Wang… You’re almost certainly wrong.

  20. When watching Tiananmen Square retrospective documentaries in the last year, I feel sadness and outrage that people in China who were brave enough to speak out for freedom were (and are) so brutally treated, but also extreme fury that our political and business “elite” have made it so it is essentially impossible not to buy Chinese products and thereby help to bolster that evil regime.

    Brian, I don’t entirely disagree with your position, but, part of the way to improve China is to drag them kicking and screaming into the modern era. Modernization of China will do to it what it did to the Soviet Union, destroy it utterly by showing that the systems there are not as good as the ones in the West. It will offer an alternative to the people of the PRC which is not currently on their radar, much less something to hope for.

    I’m also put in mind of Jefferson — “Money, not morality, is the principle commerce of civilized nations”. We can use economics to put pressure on China, but refusing to do business for moral reasons is less effective.

    I still want to know where all the Apartheid style protests for “Divest Now” crowd who hate Israel and South Africa are. Are we to assume that Chinese Lives Don’t Matter?

  21. Anonymous said: “… part of the way to improve China is to drag them kicking and screaming into the modern era.”

    Depends on what one means by the “modern era”. If it means listening to lectures from young Greta, subsidizing windmills, and putting transgendered people on a pedestal — then that is not going to improve China, any more than it is currently improving the West.

    Sad fact is that most places in the West would have to improve our infrastructure to equal the standards of today’s modern Chinese infrastructure — highways, metro systems, high-speed rail, airports. That is mostly because their infrastructure is new, and because they did not have to waste time & money on endless red tape & litigation.

    Or the Chinese could look at the London Parliament’s 3 years worth of wasteful bickering over Brexit and decide that they are better off without that part of the “modern era”.

    China is no longer a ‘developing nation’. Let’s stop subsidizing them in various ways, and leave them to sort out their own problems. We in the West have massive unsustainable problems of our own to deal with. Let’s work on them!

  22. “Americans will be very annoyed if they have to ramp up the creation of automated factories to replace what China does, but it will come out better off for that.”

    Will Americans really be annoyed?…surely, the workers hired for those new automated factories won’t be annoyed, nor will the people who are paid to design and build those factories…certainly not the bankers and venture people who fund them, or the railroads and trucking companies that move raw materials and intermediate goods among American production facilities.

    Consumers who pay more for products…and are not in any of the groups directly benefiting…may be annoyed, but I think the higher-prices are likely to be temporary, as automation and optimization drive down costs and prices. American industry had a long history of driving down costs and prices, long before China and Wal-Mart were factors.

  23. “part of the way to improve China is to drag them kicking and screaming into the modern era.”
    We’ve been hearing that for 25 years, and it is clear at this point that that is just wishful thinking. We need to disengage starting now, as quickly as possible.

  24. We defeated the Soviets through containment plus provoking them into a hopeless attempt to keep up with our spending that caused them to crash into bankruptcy and collapse their system.
    We have been assured for 25 years now that that isn’t the right approach for China, but that closer and closer engagement will defeat them instead. I don’t think it’s possible anymore to honestly think that is ever going to work. By getting into bed with them we are both propping them up with our own money, and also simultaneously at serious risk from the repurcussions of any (entirely theoretical) collapse they might suffer.

  25. The Cliff Notes version of the collapse of the USSR starts with their Communist practices screwing up their agriculture, requiring the USSR to begin importing grain. That was tolerable as long as the price of oil was high, since the USSR was a major oil exporter and could afford to buy grain on international markets. But the Saudi-engineered collapse in world oil prices in the mid-1980s left the USSR unable to pay for food imports, leading to its financial stress and collapse in the early 1990s.

    Note that today it is the West which is having to pay for imports from China — using IOUs. If China decided to stop accepting IOUs, we in the West would be in big trouble — like the USSR in the late 1980s.

    We (or at least our Best & Brightest rulers) have fallen victim to the Money Delusion. We think wealth comes from inflated prices for stocks & real estate. The Chinese know that true wealth is the capacity to produce goods & services. The way forward for the West is clear — rebuild our capacity to produce, by reorganizing & simplifying the tax code and rolling back excessive regulation. But our worthless Political Class refuses to see that.

    We should fix our own problems first, and let China and China’s neighbors look out for themselves.

  26. Let’s hope none of them are Chinese Communist sleeper agents aiming to learn about US military morale!

    Comments like Mike’s are a good example of us still thinking that we have an insuperable advantage over China. We are stuck 20 years in the past! So we permit an asymmetrical advantage to the supposedly backwards Chinese.

    I’m not thinking we have an insuperable advantage but these kids seem to think so. I think what they see is what Hong Kong sees.

    The Chinese who were more educated went through a two, or more, year background check. I remember two guys with advanced degrees, not Engineering, whose background check exceeded the time limits for their enlistments and they had to reapply.

    My daughter, who has been to China multiple times, has Chinese friends who have immigrated. None have gone into industries that might be security related.

    Monterey Park,. which used to be a lower middle class LA suburb, is now 100% Chinese with the whole culture Chinese.

    I agree that the CCP government is a rival, if not an enemy, but the Chinese people are voting with their feet.

  27. “If China decided to stop accepting IOUs, we in the West would be in big trouble — like the USSR in the late 1980s.

    Who else is going to buy it? They could require payment in advance in bullion if they wanted. It would crater their economy instantly. They’re already running up against price pressure.

    There’s a couple of hundred million that would rather work in the sweat shops than go back to the pig farm. There might be a little unrest if they suddenly all lost their jobs. Trump is the first one to notice that we’re in a Mexican stand off where we hold the riot gun and the Chinese have a .22 derringer with one barrel unloaded.

  28. My impression is that Emperor Xi aims to engineer a soft landing into a Singaporean-type authoritarian republic à la Lee Kuan Yew.

    He’ll probably succeed.

  29. The China thing is really complicated. David Goldman thinks we have already lost but I, while usually agreeing with his take on things, don’t agree with this. Socialism/communism/fascism are all similar and require authoritarian governments that usually fail eventually. That is just not compatible with human nature.

    We get down to genetics. Plomin’s book, “Blueprint,” suggests that 50% of behavior by adulthood is genetic. Socialism, etc require the “Blank Slate” of Stephen Jay Gould, beloved by the left. The blank slate postulates that conditioning produces behavior, the “New Soviet Man.”

    We evolved as hunter gatherers who lived in small family groups. It took a climate change and 100,000 years to get to agriculture. We’ve had agriculture for 10,000 years. Behavior was still based on family, the “selfish gene” if you will. I don’t see humans giving up family for the State in spite of ferocious pressure by authoritarians. The Chinese are an example of a population that has been under such pressure for 70 years. Still, we see Christian churches, emigration and resistance in Hong Kong, which has been a window on the free world.

    Certainly the left has tried to destroy the family with this transgender nonsense and cultural destruction. It affects a share of the population but, as we saw in 2016, its appeal is limited.

  30. David Goldman thinks we have already lost

    Many people have thought so at various times over the past one hundred years at least and so far they have been wrong. Perhaps Goldman is right this time but I think the odds favor the USA.

  31. What’s the first thing the “differently gendered” want as soon as they are no longer actively persecuted? To get married and raise children.

  32. Goldman is an authority on China and has written a lot that is very good. He seems convinced that 5G technology will rule the world.

    I am probably too old to agree. A few years ago, I was astonished to learn that a refrigerator has a mother board. This lesson was conveyed by the motherboard failing in a house that we only occupied on weekends. The stench was the first clue. A thousand dollars later, the motherboard was replaced, then failed again a month or two later. More stench and thrown out frozen food.

    I have avoided the Alexa surveillance machines and the smart doorbells that send video back to the makers.

    I still have my iPhone 5 and worry that my grandchildren spend too much time on their smart phones. Fortunately, their parents are keeping them busy with sports.

    I see no solution to young men spending their days with video games until feminism has run its course. One daughter married a young man who spent all his free hours on video games. After five years she gave up and is now married again to a very nice young man and has presented me this year with a beautiful granddaughter, my 5th. She is trying to talk at 6 weeks and will, no doubt, be a genius.

    Long ago, before medical school, I was a computer programmer and wrote in assembly language. In recent years I have added a few more modern languages like C and C++ but see no reason to persist. I have no interest in having household devices connected to the internet , although I was an early adopter.

    Goldman has not convinced me,

  33. I don’t see where 5G will be anything other than more of the same. The difference between no cell phones and ubiquitous cell phone is huge, even here where land line phone service was nearly universal. But it took almost 20 years to occur. The impact in Africa and Asia is still taking place and already profound. What I don’t see being able to stream 4K video to my phone instead of 1080P as changing the world. The U.S. has somehow managed to survive having the lowest speed broad band in the developed world for a long time.

    Tablets and especially phones are next to useless for creating anything beyond tweets and cat videos. I can’t imagine trying to design something on one. I can easily imagine spending hours clicking on random Youtubes and the like but not getting paid for it.

  34. The argument that is being made is that 5G is essential for ‘Internet of Things’ applications and for autonomous vehicles. I question these assertions.

    I have a basement sump pump, with backup battery, which has a nice feature: it detects incipient pump motor failure (via an increasing current draw). It would be nice to have it able to send an email or a text message, but that is hardly a high-bandwidth requirement. A WiFi connection or plain old cell service (assuming the signal can get out of the basement) would work just fine. The same is true for many real-life IOT applications and potential applications.

    Autonomous vehicles may need to communicate with one another and with various roadside facilities, but this is hardly something that needs to or should involve the cellular network. A vehicle-to-vehicle protocol, analogous to the one now being implemented for aviation under the name ADS-B, should work just fine.

  35. A lot of the hype reminds me of a joke I heard in the early 80’s. The new personal computers were making it possible for thousands to spend hours every night balancing their check books.

  36. MCS…regarding the replacement of secretaries by PCword-processing programs, a software CEO remarked that:

    “The main thing we have accomplished so far with the computer revolution is to turn high-paid executives into incompetent clerk-typists.”

  37. The joke is more about the computer magazines then that would be filled with programs to type in for things like bank balances.

    I would be tempted to extend your quip to turning engineers into poor draftsmen. Honesty compels me to admit that even though I’m a fairly slow typist, having chosen band and Algebra II over typing in 8th and 9th grade, I’ve never been able to dictate and on those rare occasions where there was someone that would have transcribed for me, I wrote it out longhand. I might have gotten better with practice, but I’m far more comfortable being able to directly see and revise what I write.

    I’ve never even tried to design anything without paper, pencil, and drawing board or now CAD. I can’t imagine that trying to communicate my ideas to someone else would be more productive than just sitting down and doing it myself. I’ve only rarely had to produce drawings to standards so probably count as completely incompetent and would have to get someone with those skills.

    Possibly the relaxation in formality in business correspondence is simply bowing to the inevitable. Thank God for spell check.

  38. “I would be tempted to extend your quip to turning engineers into poor draftsmen.”

    Also, with the dominance of PowerPoint, turning (just about everybody) into incompetent graphics artists.

    (And that’s those that at least *try* to do something visual, rather than just list bullet points)

  39. Not to mention the millions of man hours spent waiting while someone tries to get the projector to work with the lap top.

    With just the right transition, nobody will notice the words are BS.

  40. [Reagan] persuaded Saudi Arabia to increase oil production from 2 million to 9 million barrels per day. These moves paid handsome dividends. The sharp drop in crude oil prices lowered gasoline prices below $1.00 per gallon The increase in domestic oil production and from Saudi Arabia effectively smashed the OPEC cartel’s ability to fix worldwide oil prices.

    Finally, the sharp plunge in oil prices crippled the bellicose Soviet Union, which derived most of its income from oil production.
    Ronald Reagan Soviet Economic President

    Pretty good for a term paper.

  41. A slick “term paper” but not exactly the 80’s I remember.

    I remember the spike in oil prices above $100 a barrel causing a sever recession in Asia and that the plummeting oil price to as low as $12 devastated the domestic oil industry. I believe the Saudi production increase was much more to make up revenue than as a favor to Reagan.

    As for the Kurds. The world needs another small, landlocked, impoverished, ethnically based country like an outbreak of plague. Between training and arms, we have made them strong enough to require accommodation if they can overcome their own corruption and fractiousness. The alternative for us would be an open ended commitment to protect them from all comers.

  42. Not sure about that term paper.

    Per the book “Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union”, 1994, by Peter Schweizer — Saudi Arabia cut production in the later 1970s and early 1980s in an effort to defend high oil prices. Since most of the other members of the OPEC cartel cheated by keeping up production, by the mid-1980s Saudi Arabia had the capacity to produce about 10 Million Barrels of oil per day — but was producing less than 4 Million.

    President Reagan cut a deal whereby the US committed to defend the Saudi Royal Family from all enemies, foreign & domestic, in exchange for Saudi opening the taps, which collapsed the price of oil and caused massive financial problems for the USSR. Of course, there was collateral damage — the domestic US oil industry was also kicked in the teeth by the oil price collapse.

    There are stories that Reagan’s commitment to defend was later extended to the Kuwait Royal Family too — which necessitated the US response to Iraq’s subsequent invasion of Kuwait.

  43. Like I said, not the chain of events I remember. Reagan was very lucky that the Saudis never tried to cash that blank check if he was so unwise as to sign it. There are a lot more stories than actual facts.

    I doubt that congress would have just stood by while he directed troops into the middle of a civil war. Iran and Iraq were busy killing each other; I doubt that Yemen was counted as a contender.

  44. <a href=How Our Guys Won the Cold War: VICTORY: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union, By Peter Schweizer

    Did Casey also, with Reagan’s approval, make a similar wink-and-nod deal to guarantee a U.S. troop invasion if needed to protect the Saudi monarchy, even against its own subjects, in exchange for a Saudi promise to hold down oil prices so the Soviet Union would earn less from its oil exports?

    Maybe it’s all a bunch of right-wing BS. I do remember when the Carter-sponsored shale oil industry collapsed in the early-80s which decimated the economies of Parachute and Rifle, Colorado.

    But it’s comforting to think that The Gipper engineered the Soviet idiocracy’s collapse, because then one can think the same thing about the bloviating Trump’s Chinese tariffs.

    Hope springs eternal.

  45. I’m not denying that Reagan’s actions had an accelerating effect on the collapse of the Soviet Union. After 70 years of economic disaster, it might be hard to localize the proximate cause in a span of just a few years.

    I find the oil scenario implausible. The Saudis were making about the same money after the increase in production as they were before at the higher price. This guarantee wasn’t going to be some night drop on Granada. It would require months of troops and material landing and wasn’t happening without Congressional support. Reagan had to know this and the Saudis had to know it too. Look how long the buildup for the first Gulf War took; that with full access to Saudi ports and no insurrection to get in the way.

    I’ve always taken the idea that Reagan was following some grand strategy with a large grain of salt. A strategy of simply doing what the Soviets found most objectionable would have been the same. Reagan’s virtue was that he kept at it and didn’t back down with every grumble from Moscow and their useful idiots and fellow travelers.

    In this, I find Trump’s actions concerning Russia, Iran and North Korea pretty much identical. He talks with all of them, yet the sanctions keep on coming. This is a sharp contrast to the last 30 years where we backed down every time someone would say pretty words without waiting to see actual action. Trump can whisper sweet nothings in Kim’s ear all day long; the North Koreans are still starving in the dark and will be until they either dismantle their nucs or we’re stupid enough to elect one of the clowns.

  46. …we’re stupid enough to elect one of the clowns.

    Unlikely if the economy holds up. Next may not look like 1984’s EC rout but Trump should easily slide into a second term.

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