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You, Me and China make Three, part II

Back on April 20th I presented my introduction to a book by Will Hutton: The Writing on the Wall.

First, the book is 334 pages. The list of references 39 pages. There is a lot I could cover. But this is the Angry Bear which I view as being about US(of A). It is this part of Mr. Hutton’s writing that caught my attention. As much as I am interested in China’s life influencing ours, I am more interested in understanding what happened to us.

I presented his concept of values coming out of the Enlightenment as being the basis for what the USA (as a stand-in for referencing Western processes) had achieved and what China has to move more toward. It is not that China must model us exactly, but that it’s current structure is limited. It needs to be more democratic based on values from the Enlightenment. Mr. Hutton presents the democratic Enlightenment concepts as four: “accountability; representativenesss; respect for the rule of law; and the capacity, through free speech, for debate, exchange, and interaction.”

As much as the book looks at China and how it does not meet these concepts sufficiently to allow it to grow such that it will meet the needs of it’s people, I want to focus on his view of us. In this case, the USA specifically. I believe he points to the USA because it was the leader in the world, as he presents the case, for manifesting the democratic Enlightenment concepts. I believe, his view of the Enlightenment is in agreement with Wiki’s presentation:
The Enlightenment is held to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy and reason as primary values of society. This view argues that the establishment of a contractual basis of rights would lead to the market mechanism and capitalism, the scientific method, religious tolerance, and the organization of states into self-governing republics through democratic means. In this view, the tendency of the philosophes in particular to apply rationality to every problem is considered the essential change.

The discussion of Enlightenment begins with free trade and that the USA is “not a natural candidate to support an open world trading and financial system…” We benefit, but we are “ambivalent”. “An open trading system tempts every country to pursue strategic trade policies that are much more mercantilist in their rationale…All genuflect to the rules-based openness of the trading system as regulated by the World Trade Organization. But they believe in it more because it is the means to secure their strategic, mercantilist aims than because of any desire to create gains in which everyone would share.”

Mr Hutton is pro free trade. He makes a case that America’s growth was less do to protectionist positions taken early on and more the result of a growing population with access to free land. Space and ambition were the key. As the coasts were joined, we moved to substitute foreign trade for the loss of our frontier. “The aim was not to create an overseas empire but to export the American idea…” unlike the European expansionism. And as expected, he flatly states that free-trade is not the cause of the condition we find ourself in currently. Though he thinks both sides, one portrayed by Lou Dobbs and the other by Friedman need to be “cooled down”. They are both “vastly exaggerated”.

The source of our mis-thinking is found in how we view liberty. “Liberty, in the American narrative, is the sun under which everything flourishes. Liberty permits individuals’ hard work, courage, and application to produce wealth and happiness. Government should not get in the way…Liberty and the American dream are linked…The great conservative counterrevolution …has been grounded in its brilliant capacity to exploit these cultural icons to support its own cause.”

But this is an error of our self perception. It is more correct to view liberty as a goal within “…a highly sophisticated Enlightenment political infrastructure.” Look at the United States…and you will see an economy and society characterized by pluralism, diversity, and investment in individual capabilities.”

He bolsters this view by presenting Alexis de Tocqueville’s work about America. “Public engagement and never-ending argument leavened what otherwise might have been a culture of egoism…and transmuted it into a culture in which egalitarianism and individualism enriched each other. Self-interest was not only a matter of bettering oneself; it was also a mattter of ensureing that there would be a vigorous public life and opportunity for others…The same impulse–wanting the best for oneself and for others— prompts much of American civic activism.” Our liberty “always included conceptual egalitarianism, which provided the tension between the ambition and appetites of the propertied rich and their accountability to society.” “This is not the egalitarianism of income or opportunity; rather, it is the equality of self-esteem, self worth and possibility…there is no obstacle of title, birth, accent or social rank…”

It make you feel proud, does it not? Unfortunately he notes we are losing it through “neglect and willful disparagement of their importance, in particular by American conservatives.” We are losing the “fecund interaction” of markets and the price mechanism with the Enlightenment infrastructure and resultant culture. Mr Hutton states it was our genius.

This is where I will go next. What has changed. I believe it was my very first post via an invite from Cactus (he posted it for me) that I made the statement that we had changed. We no longer were making money as we had. We no longer were focused on what we use to. It was more than just tax rates that changed in the Reagan years.

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Enlightenment: You and Me and China make Three

I have been reading the book: The Writing on the Wall. Mr. Will Hutton is the author.

The book is billed as a look at what makes China tick and what the west should do about it. I chose it on the strength of the reviews as I wanted to learn more about China in regard to our discussions concerning globalization. I also wanted to hear a voice not from the US. Mr. Hutton is very established in the economic world in England. Maybe he is their Mr. Krugman?

You can read a summary regarding the subject of China by Mr. Hutton here.

In the book, he looks at the history of China and makes note of the similarity throughout time of the Chinese thinking of life. He seems to have asked: What is their heritage and how does it inform us as to their future? The conclusion: China needs to move through the period of enlightenment just as the west has. China needs to allow the development of the culture that the Enlightenment Period birthed giving rise to people such as Tom Paine, our founders and Adam Smith if they want to succeed in applying a western capitalistic system. This is the hitch in China’s current functioning. Their communist ideology of one party rule can not hold if they are to sustain their historic annual growth. And they must sustain the growth because they are such a large population.

From the above article by Mr. Hutton:

…but there are limits to how far the reformers can go without giving up the basis for the party’s political control. Conservatives insist that much further and the capacity to control the country will become irretrievably damaged; that the limit, for example, is being reached in giving both trade unions more autonomy and shareholders more rights. It is the most urgent political debate in China…
The maxims of Marxist-Leninst-Maoist thought have to stand, however much the party tries to stretch the boundaries, because they are the basis for one-party rule…
Enterprises are accountable to no one but the Communist party for their actions; there is no network of civil society, plural public institutions and independent media to create pressure for enterprises to become more environmentally efficient. Watchdogs, whistleblowers, independent judges and accountable government are not just good in themselves as custodians of justice; they also keep capitalism honest and efficient and would curb environmental costs that reach an amazing 12 per cent of GDP. As importantly, they are part of the institutional network that constitutes an independent public realm that includes free intellectual inquiry, free trade unions and independent audit. It is this ‘enlightenment infrastructure’ that I regard in both the West and East as the essential underpinning of a healthy society. The individual detained for years without a fair trial is part of the same malign system that prevents a company from expecting to be able to correct a commercial wrong in a court, or have a judgment in its favour implemented, if it were against the party interest.

Over stir-fried curried chicken and crispy fried flying sea bass, the Chinese guests repeated politely and persuasively that China was making up new economic and political rules.

Does that last sentence sound familiar?
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This brings me to why I’m writing about Mr. Hutton’s book. He’s not just writing about China and what the west needs to do, he is writing about us and what we are loosing. By loosing our enlightenment heritage, we will loose our way with China. The most striking thought I had as I read through the chapters on China was that his descriptions were familiar.

Even though the book is in chapters, the layout is in two parts; China and then the US. Though, the US does stand as a sort of proxy for the west in part as Mr. Hutton’s other writings have noted the trends away from enlightenment derived ideology within his country; just not too the extent of the US. I do not recall reading or hearing of anyone of position within the European Commons presenting such a thought as relayed in Ron Suskind’s article quoted above. It is a thought that is not so harmful from the life of delusion it relays as much as it is harmful from the resultant action begot of condescension and dismissal of all other people. I have not heard such personality coming from Europe. Not hearing such, means Europe is more real than US and that means (if Mr. Hutton is correct) that the US of A is no longer the example to be followed by developing nations. It means we are becoming irrelevant in the discussions regarding how to create a better world. The light is on in the Statute of Liberty, but no one is home.

As he describes what China needs to create specifically, I could not help think “but we’re going in just the opposite direction.” There is the distinct possibility that we could meet China half way. This would be a great loss for the world because we would have pulled back from the gains Mr. Hutton attributes to our passage through the enlightenment as much as China would have move toward it. Essentially the movement would result in leaving two mega economic powers in a state of half-fastness. The US having not sustained it’s progress of enlightenment derived social structure, thus a half-fast job of living and China not completing it’s progress through enlightenment derived social structure, thus a half-fast job of living. Where does that leave the rest of the world?

I believe we have seen such a reversal from enlightenment derived social structure in Putin’s Russia. We have in Putin a living example of the danger to a nation that let’s it’s fears pull it away from enlightenment. He has undone much of what Mr. Gorbachev sacrificed for. Mr. Putin has copied the posture of our current president Bush. Most notably was Mr. Putin reserving the right to preemptive strike within I believe 2 weeks of President Bush establishing such a policy. Mr. Putin’s governance is the manifestation of the harm of the implementation of “… and when we act, we create our own reality”. Bush et al acted in all their glory of condescension and begot Putin who happens to be sitting on a lot of raw material the world needs for economic production.

It is Mr. Hutton’s theory, that passing through the Enlightenment Period is the explanation for what we and Europe had accomplished and ably implemented in Japan and post WWII Germany that I want to discuss in the next posting. I believe it will help us understand a lot of what we have discussed here at Angry Bear concerning what has happened in this nation. Why do Cactus’ graph show what they do. Why does PGL say we do not have to fear globalization. Why Mr. Hutton states:

Britain and the West take our enlightenment inheritance too easily for granted, and do not see how central it is to everything we are, whether technological advance, trust or well-being. We neither cherish it sufficiently nor live by its exacting standards. We share too quickly the criticism of non-Western societies that we are hypocrites. What China has taught me, paradoxically, is the value of the West, and how crucial it is that we practise what we preach. If we don’t, the writing is on the wall – for us and China.

END

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