What is going on with China right now ?

China was admitted into the World Trade Organization in 2001 with the understanding that they would participate in free trade and to international norms.

Until the 1970s, China’s economy was managed by the communist government and was kept closed from other economies. Together with political reforms, China in the early 1980s began to open its economy and signed a number of regional trade agreements. China gained observer status with GATT and from 1986, began working towards joining that organization. China aimed to be included as a WTO founding member (which would validate it as a world economic power) but this attempt was thwarted because the United States, European countries, and Japan requested that China first reform various tariff policies, including tariff reductions, open markets and industrial policies.

That has not happened. China has followed a mercantilist trade policy, stealing intellectual property, requiring companies selling to the Chinese to share ownership with often corrupt entities owned by the Peoples Liberation Army and relatives of regime principals.

Mercantilism is a policy that is designed to maximize the exports and minimize the imports for an economy. It promotes imperialism, tariffs and subsidies on traded goods to achieve that goal. These policies aim to reduce a possible current account deficit or reach a current account surplus. Mercantilism includes an economic policy aimed at accumulating monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade, especially of finished goods. Historically, such policies frequently led to war and also motivated colonial expansion.[1] Mercantilist theory varies in sophistication from one writer to another and has evolved over time.

America has been largely passive in tolerating this behavior until Donald Trump became president. Some of this passivity may reflect Chinese influence with US politicians.

While it may seem politics as usual in Washington today, some are alarmed.

“Nobody in the 1980s would have represented the Russian government. And now you find so many lobbying for the Chinese government,” said Frank Wolf, a retired U.S. representative from Virginia who long served as the co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. “I served in Congress for 34 years. I find it shocking.”

Below are some of the more prominent former U.S. politicians and officials whose have lobbied for China or whose business interests are closely connected to it.

Charles Boustany

John Boehner

Jon Christenson

David Firestein

Mike Holtzman

Donald (Andy) Purdy Jr.

And there are more with details at the link. Both parties are represented including Diane Feinstein and her Chinese “driver.”

It happened five years ago, but additional information is just surfacing about how the Bay Area senator’s office was infiltrated by a Chinese spy.

The Bay Area is a hotbed for Russian and Chinese espionage. Late last year, the feds shut down the Russian consulate in San Francisco.

You may remember the thick black smoke that billowing from building before Russian diplomats turned it over to authorities, presumably produced by burning documents.

Now, all eyes are on Chinese intelligence in the Bay Area after the website Politico reported last week that a staffer for Senator Feinstein turned out to be a Chinese spy who reported back to the government officials about local politics.

Both she and Nancy Pelosi are married to men who have made millions from their wives influence in China.

According to her 2011 financial disclosure statement, Pelosi received between $1 million and $5 million in partnership income from Matthews International Capital Management LLC, a group, which brags about its “singular focus on investing in Asia.” Paul Pelosi was listed as one of the Directors of Matthews International Capital when it was formed in 2010. Funds managed by the company include the Asian Growth and Income Fund, the China Dividend Fund, the Pacific Tiger Fund, and the China Fund.

Now, China is embroiled in the Wuhan virus scandal. It is also heavily involved in illegal drug imports to the US.

The coronavirus has turned America upside-down. In less than three months, the virus has killed 70,000 Americans and destroyed more than 30 million jobs. According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “enormous evidence” shows that the virus emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, China—not in that city’s infamous “wet markets.” But while few question that the virus originates in Wuhan, many don’t know that Wuhan is also the source of another deadly epidemic: America’s fentanyl overdoses.

Fentanyl, a form of synthetic opioid, has quickly become America’s most dangerous drug. In 2018, fentanyl killed 31,897 people in the United States—more than twice the number of any other narcotic. The chemical compound is so lethal, in fact, that just two milligrams—enough to cover Lincoln’s beard on a penny—can prove fatal. In the past five years, fentanyl has devastated hundreds of American communities, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, where overdose death rates have skyrocketed.

“Most of the fentanyl and novel synthetic opioids in U.S. street markets—as well as their precursor chemicals—originate in China

There is currently much concern about Chinese dominance in the Pharmaceutical industry for legal drugs.

Last month, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission held a hearing on the United States’ growing reliance on China’s pharmaceutical products. The topic reminded me of a spirited discussion described in Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House. In the discussion, Gary Cohn, then chief economic advisor to President Trump, argued against a trade war with China by invoking a Department of Commerce study that found that 97 percent of all antibiotics in the United States came from China. “If you’re the Chinese and you want to really just destroy us, just stop sending us antibiotics,” he said.

Much of this dominance is a result of Chinese cartels that undercut US manufacturers until they shut down. In addition, Chinese quality controls are abysmal.

While the potential exposure to raw material supply disruptions drives part of our fear, concern about the safety and efficacy of Chinese-made pharmaceuticals is another component. In the summer of 2018, one of China’s largest domestic vaccine makers sold at least 250,000 substandard doses of vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough. It was the latest in a slew of scandals caused by poor quality drug products made in China over the last decade. In 2008, the contamination of a raw ingredient imported from China and used to make heparin, a blood-thinning drug, was associated with at least eighty-one deaths the United States. According to an investigative journalist, fraud and manipulation of quality data is still endemic in Chinese pharmaceutical firms.

There is now pretty good evidence that a lab accident in the Wuhan Biological virus lab in October may have set off the world wide epidemic.

Donald Trump set off a firestorm by winning the 2016 election. Several reasons. One may be that he has decided to reverse the submission to China in world trade.

For thousands of years China’s internal weaknesses—natural disaster, famine, plague, civil unrest, and foreign invasion—kept its attention inward. We are now at the greatest turning point in Chinese history since its unification in the 3rd century B.C. China is turning outward—but doesn’t want to rule you. Like the Borg in Star Trek, it wants to assimilate you.

President Trump is right to insist that America’s status quo with China can’t continue. He campaigned against their systemic theft of U.S. intellectual property and the migration of our manufacturing to China. He reversed 20 years of benign neglect toward China’s challenge to our strategic dominance and took vigorous steps to check China’s expansion. But he hasn’t succeeded. Thus far he has addressed symptoms rather than causes. Our trade war with China settled into an uneasy truce by the end of 2019, with modest damage to both economies but no clear winner.

Now, has the CCP enraged by the reaction to the virus epidemic, become unstable ?

Covid-19 has scarred the Chinese psyche. The CCP’s draconian response to the outbreak upended lives and devastated the economy. Correcting previously fabricated data, the Wuhan government recently increased its official death toll by 50 percent. The Chinese naturally want to know the pandemic’s source, who should be held responsible, and how to prevent future outbreaks. Yet the rest of the world already understands that the virus originated in Wuhan, where the CCP’s coverups turned a containable situation into a global crisis.

The CCP launched a well-coordinated propaganda war, spreading disinformation to deflect any blame and instead demand praise for its response. One Chinese official, for example, tweeted that the U.S. military planted the virus in Wuhan. Though his outrageous conspiracy theory drew laughter internationally, a portion of China’s domestic audience seems to have believed the claim. Then, after Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on March 10, the country declared victory in the “people’s war” on the virus, claiming that all new cases came from foreign visitors.

It’s interesting to consider what this means about China and the future.

47 thoughts on “What is going on with China right now ?”

  1. China understands us much better than we understand them. Someone estimated that there are more English speakers in China than in England. How many (non-Chinese) Chinese speakers are there in the West?

    What we do know is that every Chinese schoolkid learns about the “Century of Humiliation”, which started when the English launched their Opium Wars to force China to accept drugs grown for the English in their Indian colonies, and continued until the Japanese invaders were finally expelled from Manchuria as a result of WWII. There are reliable reports that China is quite openly pursuing a long-term plan to make sure that the “Century of Humiliation” can never be repeated.

    China has a lot of advantages over the West — no Political Correctness, no elite fascination with fighting imaginary “racism”, no senseless open borders, no army of lawyers and bureaucrats getting fat by obstructing every development that might create jobs & tax revenue, no reluctance about bribing officials & businessmen in other countries.

    Whether the C-19 Scam was accidental or deliberate, it will certainly end up further weakening the West because of the idiotic over-reaction of our Political Class. China’s rulers will take advantage of this, for sure. It would not be surprising to see China step in to buy Western businesses in financial difficulty from the C-19 over-reaction — and eventually ship R&D and manufacturing back to China. Ultimately, the West will be too weak to resist any Chinese demand.

    The problem is not China, which is simply looking after its own interests. The problem is in the West, where We The People have allowed the development of an incompetent ruling class which considers itself to be above boundaries and refuses to look after the interests of its fellow citizens.

  2. Well said, Gavin. David Goldman is saying that China is far ahead of us in G5, which I am not that impressed with. Maybe I am too old but the “internet of things” is not something I am persuaded is critical. Maybe I just don’t know the important applications.

  3. Here is ma good discussion of where modern China came from.

    Since the late 1980s, China has been allowed—allowed—to extract trillions of dollars from the U.S. economy in the form of massive trade surpluses. As a result, the communist nation now has glistening cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan, while America is saddled with fading cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Atlanta, once-thriving metropolises now marred by urban blight, rampant crime, sorry schools, generational poverty and other canaries in the coal mine of a nation in decline.

  4. I would like to add one other thought. There is a lot of justified griping that China caught up with the West so quickly by shamelessly stealing (or, in the case of the Clintons, buying) Western technology. That is undoubtedly true, but let’s not ignore the huge investment China’s rulers have also been making in the education of their people — and most of us would agree that Chinese people tend to be pretty smart to begin with. Looking to the future, it is the current generation of smart well-educated young Chinese people who will be playing a very large role in building tomorrow’s world. Why do you think the English are looking to China for their 5G technology and their next generation nuclear reactors?

    What brought this to the fore for me was seeing a recent technical presentation which showed just how much we in the West have thrown away our earlier advantages. The presentation was given by a top scientist working in the research arm of a major company. The research project involved personnel from US National Laboratories, US universities, and several top flight US companies. On his final slide, the scientist acknowledged the contributions of those team members. It is worth thinking about the list of names:
    Stacey M. Althaus
    Hui-Hai Liu
    Jilin Zhang
    David Jacobi
    Dan Georgi
    Yixin Ma
    Munirah Alsaqer
    Wei-Shan Chiang
    Yun Liu
    Elizabeth Barsotti
    Mohammed Piri
    Ayaz Mehmani
    Baoyan Li
    Shawn Zhang

    If we in the West don’t take steps to get our act together soon, then the only viable future for the US will be as a granary for China, while Europe can look forward to a future as a quaint living museum where impoverished residents sell bric-a-brac to wealthy Chinese tourists.

  5. We are being strangled by lawyers and political actors with no sense of history.

    I have no problem with Chinese people. I will say that Han Chinese are at least as racist as Japanese.

    There is a reason why our most loyal ally in Asia is Mongolia. They fear the Han.

  6. K.T. McFarlane said that she was interested in Trump before he was interested in politics because he seemed one of the few who was taking Chinese ambitions seriously; Susan Rice said she was talking to Flynn about the Russians and he dismissed them as too weak economically to be a problem and instead wanted to discuss the U.S. relationship with China – she implied she threw up her hands at his priorities and gave up trying to draw him back to Russia (I’m not sure the point was that he wanted to distract from the real problem because of his collusion or that he was just, she thought, misguided.)
    Is this just the old conventional establishment having trouble thinking outside the box or is it the result of Chinese money? The Pelosi tie may explain her apparent belief that owing money to the Chinese isn’t suicidal.

  7. “Is this just the old conventional establishment having trouble thinking outside the box or is it the result of Chinese money? ”

    Probably both. If you’re making a lot of money, (think you’re going to make a lot of money) from a relationship, you’ll be tempted to push any problems with that relationship to the back of your mind, and resent anyone who tries to get you to think about them. For example, a wealthy or beautiful potential spouse.

  8. A real challenge is finding anything Rice was ever right about. It’s hard to see Russia as anything but a failing state. If it wasn’t for the oil and gas, it would be as important and troublesome as Kyrgyzstan just easier to spell.

    China seems to have lost the geological lottery that left it with few natural resources. The only thing it has in abundance is people that the government, until recently, considered as little more than cannon fodder. The dollars that we pump into China mostly flow right back out to buy what they need. Most of their treasury holdings are gone.

    The Chinese effort to make the Yuan a convertible currency, a peer to the Dollar and Euro is going nowhere. Whatever Dollars they collect are still only legal tender here, and only accepted on sufferance elsewhere. A more perspicacious policy would have tried to keep trade between China and the U.S. more balanced. If our Chinese exports were more significant, they would have much greater recourse in the trade war than they do now. We are free to choose which imports to block and limit what it costs us but they are still in the position of needing Dollars to buy there own imports, especially energy.

  9. Gavin, here is another part of the problem.

    The U.S. Justice Department on Friday arrested, and on Monday charged, Professor Simon Saw-Teong Ang of the University of Arkansas on a single count of wire fraud, but there is much more to the case that relates to China. According to the department’s press release:

    In the one-count complaint, Ang was charged with one count of Wire Fraud. The complaint charges that Ang had close ties with the Chinese government and Chinese companies, and failed to disclose those ties when required to do so in order to receive grant money from NASA. These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang’s scheme to defraud.

    Ang, 63, teaches engineering at the university. According to his bio, he holds four patents and has held a number of sensitive positions as he has risen through the teaching ranks including…

    section manager in the Advanced Power Integrated Circuit Development Center prior to joining the faculty of the University of Arkansas in 1988 as an Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering. He became an Associate Professor in 1991 and a full Professor in 1995. Dr. Ang is the Director of the High Density Electronics Center and an Associate Director of the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission.

    We are supporting and training people for China.

  10. I noted Italy ties, as well as the therapeutic/state sysgy represented by dr. bright, novamex and the gates foundation, Pillsbury’s 100 year mace, is very illustrative as to chinas motivations, money and media connections explain the purging of bill gertz, and the shadowbanning of bannon, who represents dissident voices like weng guio (best transliteration available) bain man romney, has shown his deck of cards at the hearing (his company was in joint ventures with Huawei through 3M), I’m sure he has a vested interested in the company, other figures like stepan halper and alex downer, which we saw in the Russia/Ukraine scam, have a part,

  11. China has a lot of advantages over the West

    A big advantage over us is the case of that professor and others like him. When we catch their spies, we might throw them in jail for a few years, maybe deport them if we’re lucky. When China catches our spies China, which they have done a lot lately because we are so recklessly incompetent, they kill every last one and salt the the earth, setting us back decades all over the world. We can presume that the UK choosing to just let China spy on them with the new wireless plan is tacit admission that China has more than enough information on their top leaders and assets to destroy them.

  12. The “Associate Director of the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission” is especially troubling. Sounds like a pretty good position if you wanted to find out how to make electric transmission unreliable. Wana bet there are any American directors of the Chinese electric transmission reliability center?

  13. Electric power — the life-blood of any modern country. Just for interest, as of the end of 2019, China had 47 operating nuclear power reactors, about half of the 96 in the US. We all know how bleak the situation is for further nuclear power in the US. In contrast, China has 12 more reactors currently under construction, 42 in the planning stages, and proposals for a further 170. And China’s nuclear electric power industry will not have to spend most of its resources fighting frivolous lawsuits from scientifically-ignorant activists.

    High speed rail — China has built 15,000 miles of genuine High Speed Rail in about the same time that California has spent $Billions not building any working High Speed Rail. But California lawyers & bureaucrats have done very nicely, thank you.

    It is embarrassing! The problem is not China — the problem is what we have done to ourselves here in the US.

  14. ” MCS Says:
    May 13th, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    The “Associate Director of the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission” is especially troubling. Sounds like a pretty good position if you wanted to find out how to make electric transmission unreliable. Wana bet there are any American directors of the Chinese electric transmission reliability center?

    Yeah. I am waiting for the second “accident”. We are at war, but it is inconvenient to notice it. Sun Tzu smiles.

  15. the problem is what we have done to ourselves here in the US.

    Yes,. I don’t think we will have any chance of recovery until lawyers are reined in severely.

    I don’t know exactly how that is to be done. There must be a way. Loser pays ?

  16. The cost of the lawyers is trivial compared to the cost of the delay. 50 years ago when my dad was building power plants, the carrying costs of a not particularly large conventional coal plant were a million dollars a day. Lawyers are expensive but a few hundred million dollars just sitting there costs a lot more.

    The people bringing the suits wouldn’t pay anyway. At worst, the organization just declares bankruptcy and restarts under another name.

  17. The cost of the lawyers is trivial compared to the cost of the delay

    Well, it is the same thing. The lawyers are the strategy of stopping things, like nuclear power plants. The idiots who want all electric cars have no idea of where electricity comes from. They think it comes out of the wall, or out of a cord, like magic.

  18. The problem is not China — the problem is what we have done to ourselves here in the US

    The problem is certainly both of those things. You can argue about this on an existential level that we are all ultimately free to choose our own life or death, but the objective fact of the matter is that someone else also exists contributing to our own death. That someone else is China. Yes, we must act to stop our own self-destruction. That action is now inexorably linked with stopping China’s stealing, spying, and leaching off of our economy. All that impressive Chinese intelligent industriousness would immediately be plunged back into a dark version of their recent past if their currency just freely floated against the dollar.

  19. Mike K…”The idiots who want all electric cars have no idea of where electricity comes from. They think it comes out of the wall, or out of a cord, like magic.”

    They’re not all *that* dumb. Many of them are convinced that solar & wind can do the trick if evil entrenched corporations would just stop suppressing them.

    Only a small % of people understand how difficult and expensive electricity is to store. If you look at solar or wind on a cost/kwh basis *without considering when those kwh are generated and when they are needed*, then…in some areas of the country at least and with some perhaps-optimistic assumptions about how long this equipment lasts…then those sources can look pretty good.

    Business journalists also don’t understand electricity very well, and this includes business and “technology” journalists.

  20. “It’s interesting to consider what this means about China and the future.” It sure is. Your country is failing and blaming it all on others. The Russians, the Chinese, even Canadians have come under fire.

    Its not gonna work. Almost no one believes you anymore and you did elect Trump. A buffoon who a lot of you worship, but is so far out of his depth, that he is useless for any reasonable leadership.

    Good luck, you are going to need it.

  21. Journalists don’t understand anything. It would interfere with spinning the story. Possible exception being hair care products.

    I don’t think it’s possible to buy electricity and not be offered a “renewable option” for an added cost. I’d pay extra for coal/gas/nuclear if there were provisions that all the renewable virtue signalers would be cut off when there wasn’t enough of there precious wind/solar. I suspect they’d figure it out pretty quick in the dark.

  22. }}} China understands us much better than we understand them. Someone estimated that there are more English speakers in China than in England

    Just because one speaks the language does not even come close to meaning one understands the national psyche.

    The US and Canada speak about as close to the “same language” as any two countries in the world, but their tolerance of Trudeau’s general idiocy, to say nothing of his recent heavy-handed ban on a wide array of weapons is totally mystifying to most Americans.

    You can say similar things about the USA and Australia, the USA and England or Ireland. Or England vs. Ireland.

    A language is only a small part of a cultural basis.

  23. “China understands us much better than we understand them. Someone estimated that there are more English speakers in China than in England”

    There are more people in China that claim and believe that they speak English than in England. After trying to make sense of numerous writings of Chinese in English, I’d put the actual proportion that are right at around 1%. The actual number of Americans that claim to speak Chinese is much smaller and I’m not in a position to judge how many are as mistaken as many Chinese seem to be.

    A major drive of the number of Chinese students in the West is acquisition of language skills. The joke would seem to be on them since American schools don’t seem better at teaching English than anything else. In all seriousness, the problem is likely to be that they are trying to learn English from other Chinese speakers in STEM schools.

    Cultural comprehension is even worse. It’s not hard to imagine that the average apparatchik that only knows America through the experience of an American university would conclude that the Revolution is all but over and even more so for British schools. They’re certainly not going to be disabused in Silicone Valley.

  24. As Sun Tzu wrote centuries ago — “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

    My big concern is that many of us in the West are stuck in the past. We know little about China, and care less. We do not even realize how much of our own former manufacturing capacity has gone to China. And we don’t realize that we are falling behind China in educating the next generation of technologists who will shape the future.

    Too many of us in the West are like the English in Singapore in World War II, forgetting that the world had moved on since those rapidly receding days of English greatness. The English had fortified Singapore, with all the big guns facing out to sea — the direction from which they expected any attack. The English underestimated the Japanese — after all, the Japanese had not gone to Eton and spoke English with funny accents. Thus the English were entirely routed & humiliated when the Japanese did the unexpected and attacked Singapore from the landward side.

    Too many of us in the US are like the failing English in Singapore, not recognizing that the world has moved on. Within living memory, Hewlett-Packard was the gold standard in personal computing, made in the USA — now it is merely a label stuck on a Chinese product and HP can no longer make PCs in the US. The US invented the Integrated Circuit; now we have to be grateful that a Taiwanese company will agree to build a chip-manufacturing plant in Arizona.

    Trivial example of how the world has changed — here is a link to the trailer for ‘Ever Night’, a Chinese historical fantasy TV series, probably closer in spirit to a Mexican telenovela. Nice song by Jane Zhang, who has something of an international reputation. But look at the movie-making capability, the studios, the special effects. Compare that to the low-rent pedestrian garbage produced by US networks in Canada. We need to get our act together!

  25. The US and Canada speak about as close to the “same language” as any two countries in the world, but their tolerance of Trudeau’s general idiocy, to say nothing of his recent heavy-handed ban on a wide array of weapons is totally mystifying to most Americans.

    PenGun gives us a window on the leftists in Canada who hate America and are oblivious to their own inadequacy. It is hard to remember the RCAF and the Canadians who landed at Normandy.

  26. Inadequate doesn’t begin to describe Canada’s posture in the world. The Canadian coastline, measured along 3 oceans, measures approximately 151,019 miles long. The Canadian Navy consists of 13,000 personnel and 30 ships. With Russia and China now pursuing expansion in the Arctic Ocean, Canada lies naked before them. Their only hope for avoiding conquest lies in the strength of its neighbor to the south.
    Be afraid Penny. Be very afraid.

  27. Having working in the nuclear power industry for 50 years, I’ve got stories about the Chinese thief of intellectual property for the design of nukes and their essential components. The engineers would scream but management let it continue.

    Now I have job in a foreign country building their first nukes using Korean reactors based on American designs we sold the Koreans decades ago.

    As to stealing intellectual property, I think Americans were pretty proud when we stole the technology of textile mills from England through a guy named Samuel Slater back in the late 1700s, just after the Revolution.

  28. That is an interesting comment about the “theft” of intellectual property, Whitehall. There has been a long-standing argument in historical circles about whether James Watt’s patent for steam engines promoted or held back the development of steam technology — intellectual property can be a double-edged sword.

    Certainly, only a lawyer could be surprised when businesses move entire factories to China — and then find that their “Intellectual Property” has become common knowledge. Keeping secrets is tough in any environment, and it is effectively impossible to keep industrial secrets once countries decide to offshore their manufacturing. Another factor is that once people know something is possible (whether it is a steam engine, a spinning jenny, or an integrated circuit), it becomes easier for other people to create something similar even without access to the “Intellectual Property” details.

    In the days of the post-WWII “Brain Drain” from Europe to the US, the driving force was not so much that the US had more creative inventors — it was that the US was the place where ideas could be put into action, as opposed to stuffy old Europe where the Best & Brightest were suspicious of anything new. Then in 1970 the US’s own Best & Brightest created the Environmental Protection Agency, and the downward slide began.

  29. Gavin…”Another factor is that once people know something is possible (whether it is a steam engine, a spinning jenny, or an integrated circuit), it becomes easier for other people to create something similar even without access to the “Intellectual Property” details.”

    And a lot of the details that *are* hard to duplicate are probably not in the product design itself, but in the manufacturing process…so when you offshore that…

  30. In the days of the post-WWII “Brain Drain” from Europe to the US, the driving force was not so much that the US had more creative inventors — it was that the US was the place where ideas could be put into action, as opposed to stuffy old Europe where the Best & Brightest were suspicious of anything new.

    One good argument about why the Industrial Revolution did not occur until the 19th century is the story of patent law. Property rights were also an invention of the English. Rome had a working steam engine which was used to open temple doors.

    Joel Mokyr wrote a book about this some years ago.

    But why are some nations more creative than others, and why do some highly innovative societies–such as ancient China, or Britain in the industrial revolution–pass into stagnation?
    Beginning with a fascinating, concise history of technological progress, Mokyr sets the background for his analysis by tracing the major inventions and innovations that have transformed society since ancient Greece and Rome

    I read it 20 years ago and used it in research for my own history of medicine.

    England did a lot to begin the Industrial Revolution but became bogged down in class war by the Boer War and lost ground to Germany.

    Germany’s problem was it failed at governance.

  31. the khaki election papered over a lot, the boer war encouraged german revanchism, many of the staff officers there, ended up leading forces in Europe a decade later, kitchener, (who was spared the worst) haig, Hamilton, French,

  32. Mike K….”England did a lot to begin the Industrial Revolution but became bogged down in class war by the Boer War and lost ground to Germany.”

    Hadn’t heard the Boer War interpretation before…what was it about that particular war that caused intensified class divisions?

  33. I didn’t mean the Boer War was a cause per se although I think it was a cause of WWI.

    What I meant was that 1815 to 1900 was Pax Britannica. The 1870 Franco-Prussian War was an exception that left England out. During that period, the rigidity of class (The “gifted amateur) became a powerful myth.

    The Duke of Wellington is often incorrectly quoted as saying that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton”.[27] Wellington was at Eton from 1781 to 1784 and was to send his sons there. According to Nevill (citing the historian Sir Edward Creasy), what Wellington said, while passing an Eton cricket match many decades later, was, “There grows the stuff that won Waterloo”,[28] a remark Nevill construes as a reference to “the manly character induced by games and sport” among English youth generally, not a comment about Eton specifically. In 1889, Sir William Fraser conflated this uncorroborated remark with the one attributed to him by Count Charles de Montalembert’s C’est ici qu’a été gagné la bataille de Waterloo (“It is here that the Battle of Waterloo was won”).

    In spite of the discovery of antisepsis by Lister in 1867, English surgeons were almost the last to adopt it. The incompetence of the English physician probably led to the death of Frederich, father of Wilhelm II, from cancer of the larynx. German surgeons had successfully removed such tumors but Frederich’s wife, daughter of Victoria, insisted on an English doctor.

    The Royal Flying Corps was very short of pilots in WWI due to restrictions on lower class candidates for flying school.

    German metallurgy and chemistry far outpaced English industry later in the century. Aircraft engines were a real problem in WWI for the RFC. Another example of England’s backwardness late in the century and early 20th.

    Sir John French was a fool who had cavalry charging into machine guns.

  34. Mike K…There’s an interesting memoir by the Royal Navy officer Percy Scott, who eventually became an admiral. He was very interested, beginning in the days when he ways quite junior (c 1890) , in the improvement of gunnery…something one would *think*, in a navy, would be universally viewed as of utmost importance. But most captains, he says, were far more interested in bringing their ships to a high state of attractiveness and neatness (he uses the term ‘housemaiding’) than in any serious attempt to ensure that their gun crews could actually hit something….target practice was actually resented, because it could lead to powder smudges, etc. This was apparently the way the incentives ran.

  35. David, you are now raising the well known dispute between Jacky Fisher and Charley Beresford. Fisher was the big advocate in the Royal Navy of gunnery and the Whale Island gunnery school. Beresford was a spit and polish type and he and Fischer were rivals.

    His later career was marked by a longstanding dispute with Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher, over reforms championed by Fisher introducing new technology and sweeping away traditional practices. Fisher, slightly senior to Beresford and more successful, became a barrier to Beresford’s rise to the highest office in the navy. Beresford rose to occupy the most senior sea commands, the Mediterranean and Channel fleets, but failed in his ambition to become First Sea Lord.

    From Beresford’s bio. He entered Parliament and was a critic of the “Fishpond” as Fisher’s allies were called.

    Fisher was also reputed, by the class conscious British to “have a bit of the tar brush” because of his birth in Ceylon and some suspicion of his parenthood.

    There is an entertaining series of novels by Andrew Wareham about the Navy on the China Station that goes into some of this.

  36. Peace time militarys always become obsessed with appearance over substance. In 1890 it had been 85 years since Trafalgar. The British Army had had numerous small wars since, befitting a small army. I don’t recall any meaningful naval action in the period.

    It was an article of faith that as long as British guns out ranged and out weighed anyone else that they were impregnable. This was the design philosophy of the Dreadnought and every ship built through WWI and into the interregnum.

  37. MCS, we are in a somewhat similar position with our Navy. We have these enormous nuclear carriers that seem to me to be white elephants far too liable to missile attacks,

    We need to go back to Jeep carriers and diesel subs but I doubt we will do so until badly hurt, Like Pearl Harbor.

  38. It sort of depends on who we are fighting. Against either China or Russia, it’s pretty hard to imagine either the Marines storming ashore or carriers floating off shore, providing air support.

    In fact, probably nothing beside the ICBMs, both ground and sub launched will count for anything. That’s when we find out how well the attack subs have been shadowing the Russian and, eventually, Chinese boomers. Not that it will make much difference to our shades whether the bomb that killed us was launched from Siberia or the Pacific.

    Short of that, the carriers are going to have to stand off farther and farther. It will probably be some time before anyone besides Russia or China has the capability to attack them in the open ocean with other than submarines. This is an old threat, supposedly contained by our attack submarines. Carriers aren’t much use in the open ocean however.

    We have small carriers, we call them amphibious assault ships. They’ll be quite the thing the next time we land on Guadalcanal. Small carriers don’t have the capabilities of sustained offensive operation with enough margin for defense.

  39. Mike K: “One good argument about why the Industrial Revolution did not occur until the 19th century is the story of patent law.”

    We have to remember that everyone has an angle — even Joel Mokyr. As the professor in my MBA class said — All a patent does is give the holder an avenue to go to court and sue. Lawyers like patents!

    The more one digs into the Industrial Revolution, the more complex the story becomes. England had the geographical benefits of a long coast line, woodlands, and arable land. That gave it enough advantages to outcompete the leading Portugese & Dutch on the seas. This led England to dominate the profitable Atlantic slave trade and control profitable slave-driven sugar plantations in the Caribbean from the 1600s to the 1800s, providing England with much of the Capital required for the Industrial Revolution. England’s curse of a damp rainy climate also gave it rivers which could be harnessed for power in the days before fossil fuels, giving it some of the Energy required for early steps towards industrialization. Very importantly, England in the 1700s adopted a number of agricultural innovations from the Continent, giving it a larger Food Supply which could support an industrial workforce. And there was the “Enclosure” movement peaking in the 1700s which made English agriculture more efficient — and also drove English peasants off the land, supplying the workforce for industrialization. Significantly, throughout the 1700s, there were various technological advances in metallurgy and metal-working, which enabled among other things the construction of low-leak cylinders and pistons — essential before steam engines would be practicable. And England possessed large supplies of easily-mined coal, giving it a better source of Energy than limited unreliable water power.

    Yes, politics and law probably played a minor part in the Industrial Revolution’s first flowering in England — but only because the other elements of food supply, capital, labor, and technology were already there.

    James Watt’s 1760s patent for the steam engine is a good example of the limitations of patent law. Watt had witnessed a horrible accident involving an attempt to use high pressure steam, and consequently used his control of the patent to squelch development of high pressure steam engines. It was only after Watt’s patent expired in the early 1800s that the Industrial Revolution really hit its stride as steam engines advanced rapidly, providing power for many productive applications.

  40. Gavin, I agree it is complicated. My point was that there were many inventions in the Middle Ages that we know nothing about the inventor because the laws were not there. England had laws and lawyers by 1800 that allowed people like Watt to profit from an invention. Maybe the man who made the steam engine in 400 AD might have made a profit and gone on to develop his invention.

    The coal story is interesting. One reason why coal got to be important was that early iron smelting had used charcoal and the English forests were gone by 1800. This caused a major problem for the Navy as timber became scarce and Napoleon cut off supplies from the Baltic. In my reading, I have learned that the English ships were near the end of their life by 1815 and they could not have won another major sea battle as most of the first rates could not tolerate a broadside firing.

    Your point about enclosures is excellent and that also drove a lot of emigration to America.

    The Wright Brothers spent years fighting patent wars.

  41. There were two technologies that didn’t develop until the last half of the 19th century that were vital to the development of all sorts of machinery.

    The first is steel, especially rolled steel plates and shapes. Steel wasn’t available in quantities until after the Bessemer process made it possible to produce tons at a time. the wrought iron that was all that was available is a very low strength material, especially at even slightly elevated temperatures like in a boiler. Watt was not crazy to be leery of higher pressure steam.

    The second is petroleum base lubricants. Until they were developed late in the century, everything was based on either lard or tallow or for very exacting requirements, where cost was no object, spermaceti and whale oil.

    The Wrights wasted much of the first five years after 1903 trying to develop a suitable engine themselves. Probably a harder problem than flight itself. By the time they came out of “stealth” mode, a lot of competitors had passed them by and they still needed a good engine. Their use of wing warping for roll control was a dead end. There’s a reason why it eventually became Curtis-Wright instead of Wright -Curtis.

  42. David, one comment from that thread reminds me of the obstetrical foreceps.

    If you’ve got something worth the bother to patent then you’ve already got a trade secret firmly in hand. Make the most of it so long as you can keep it secret. If you even attempt to patent it, you instantly lose the secret for an uncertain future gain.

    The obstetrical foreceps was invented in about 1600 by a man named Peter Chamberlen, a French Huguenot, who fled to England from France in 1596. The family kept the forceps a secret for decades while practicing midwifery in London for wealthy patrons.

    Peter the younger married Sara de Laune, daughter of a French Protestant minister, whose brother Gideon de Laune helped to found the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London. They had eight children, one of whom, also named Peter, became a famous physician accoucheur. Peter the younger died in London in 1626 at the age of 57 and was buried at Downe in Kent.

    It is not certain which of the brothers invented the obstetric forceps which were to remain a family secret for more than 100 years. Aveling (1882), however, gives that honour to Peter the elder. The Chamberlens went to fantastic lengths to keep their secret. According to Graham (1950) they are said to have arrived at the house of the woman to be delivered in a special carriage. They were accompanied by a huge wooden box adorned with gilded carvings. It always took two of them to carry the box and everyone was led to believe that it contained some massive and highly complicated machine. The labouring woman was blindfold lest she should see the “secret.” Only the Chamberlens were allowed in the locked lying-in room, from which the terrified relatives heard peculiar noises, ringing bells, and other sinister sounds as the “secret” went to work.

    I am also a member of Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London.

    The family kept the secret, which was a massive improvement in childbirth, for 100 years.

    Having no male heir, it is likely that Hugh the younger allowed the family secret to leak out during the last few years of his life. This indeed was the view of his young contemporary, William Smellie. Certainly obstetric forceps very similar to those of the Chamberlens’ came into general use after Edmund Chapman had made public his design in 1733 and William Gifford’s modification had been published in 1734.

    One alternative to patent law.

  43. Matt Ridley, from David F’s link: “By far the surest way to rediscover rapid economic growth when the pandemic is over will be to study the regulatory delays and hurdles that have now been hastily swept aside to help innovators in medical devices and therapies, and to see whether such reforms could be applied to other parts of the economy too.”

    Overhead! There is a plausible argument that governmental overhead has been the main driver of the downfall of every one of the many civilizations which rose and fell before us.

    Thanks for that link, David.

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