Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Selection: "Socialism Is Great!" (plus Dunn, Rand, Paul, etc.)

My boss was recently traveling in China — seeing firsthand the explosion of economic activity that can occur in a place like Shanghai when a totalitarian government even partially gets out of the way and allows commercial activity to occur.

Alas, at the very same time she was over there, it was being revealed over here that the White House communications director, Anita Dunn, considers Mao Zedong one of her favorite political philosophers and is willing to tell schoolchildren that — something that I imagine will be downplayed in any future essays or books (if any) promoting the idea of a “liberaltarian” alliance. Yet certain liberaltarians would rather spend their time complaining about rhetorical excesses by Dunn critics such as Glenn Beck (arguably America’s most effective advocate of limited government right now).

I’ll say much more on Monday about me sparring with liberaltarians, since the November issue of Reason (out now!) features my retort to culturally left-leaning libertarian Kerry Howley (it does not, however, include the story of a Chinese actress turned shoplifter who I mentioned in a previous blog entry, since that got cut in editing, but my point was simply that fun-loving rebels are sometimes as bad at adhering to property rights as they are at adhering to government edicts, alas).

The left, by the way, certainly isn’t fazed by Anita Dunn praising the most prolific mass-murderer in history, since, as the dutiful “fact-checkers” at MediaMatters so fastidiously put it, it’s not as if she explicitly praised the murders (though she was speaking admiringly of Mao’s relentlessness in taking over China — apparently, there were few other figures in history Dunn knew of who had articulated a “don’t give up, just do your own thing” attitude).


Luckily, we have the book “Socialism Is Great!” A Worker’s Memoir of the New China by Lijia Zhang to remind us that China flourishes exactly to the extent it ignores Mao’s advice and moves marketward (with the help of a big deregulatory push from Deng when Zhang was a girl — a push that libertarian activist Howard Rich has argued may make Deng, of all people, the most effective enhancer of liberty in the twentieth century).

Zhang was a teenager circa 1980 when she found herself reluctantly leaving school to work in a factory, where she soon found that

[the similarly unproductive] Nanjing Wristwatch Factory, for example, churned out Plum Blossom watches without regard for the saturation of the watch market; we produced rockets with guaranteed orders from the People’s Liberation Army. Just as enterprises good and bad received standard funds from the state, all workers received a standard salary, regardless of performance. “Work or game, it’s all the same,” went a popular saying.

Zhang is driven, though, and manages to find new opportunities for career advancement, education, love, and travel as China loosens up during the 80s (a decade that saw unprecedented advancements in human freedom and radical reductions in poverty around the globe, while your liberal friends were busy lamenting “the decade of greed”).

There are relatively few authoritarian monsters among the people she describes — mostly just weary workers cynically trying to navigate a ludicrous and inefficient system. As she writes of one acquaintance: “Jiang was a useful friend to have. Anyone in possession of any kind of power, such as charging tax, could trade it for any favor — securing a train ticket, for instance.” By contrast, gossips — some actual informers — become the most routine daily menace to normal social interaction.

With a little help from a Nietzsche-reading boyfriend, English language courses, and an interest in journalism, Zhang eventually got out of there and has chronicled her story for the world — including China, where, in a reminder what a strange and politically-mixed place it’s becoming, the book has reportedly sold well.


Another tale of a plucky female overcoming communism is finally out on DVD today, as it happens: the movie of Ayn Rand’s We the Living. And in other Randian media news, I got an e-mail recently from the leader of an Afro-Celtic Yiddish libertarian ska band called the Fenwicks whose songs include an Objectivist anthem and this number, “You, Me, and Heresy” (I’m guessing the band’s name comes from The Mouse That Roared, the Peter Sellers comedy about the tiny Grand Duchy of Fenwick accidentally conquering the U.S.).

Meanwhile, though, the U.S. continues to move in a more-socialist direction, so it’s encouraging to see moderate Republican Lindsey Graham forced to insist that libertarian Ron Paul is not the new leader of the GOP. That’s true, obviously, but it’s healthy to have the GOP haunted by the idea (not to mention by the prospect of Paul’s son, Rand Paul, running for Senate).

Even one of Paul’s frequent targets, Paul Bernanke, is now sounding the alarm about the government’s out-of-control deficit spending — which is great, though a bit hypocritical coming from a man who’s been overseeing massive bank bailouts. Also unfortunate is his mixture of the warning with nonsense about trade deficits and trying to offset the dollar’s decline by badgering other countries to increase their domestic consumption. Stop fighting supply and demand. Foreigners, just like Americans, should consume — or export — whatever the hell they want to.

And should we even care about national boundaries? That’s a question that divides market adherents not only here but in Europe, alas, where my two favorite Vaclavs are now feuding over the Czech Republic’s participation in the EU. Long term, of course, I continue rooting for more trade, less government. Shouldn’t be so hard to do both.


Todd Seavey said...

Another pro-market female novelist in a land full of socialists is reading tonight in L.A., by the way:


Steven Schub said...

Gratitude! From “the band that roared” to the Blog that roars!

Todd Seavey Uber Alles!


Steven Schub and The Freedom Fighting Fenwicks