April 2009 Archives
An old Jewish joke says that modern society is based on the ideas of three old men: Marx said "Everything is about Money". Freud said "Everything is about Sex". Then, Einstein arrived and concluded that "Everything is Relative".
The Chinese economy has slowed down dramatically over the past six months and demand for real estate in China's major cities declined sharply. Concurrently, new data has been published about the disparity between China's male and female citizens and the subsequent troubles Chinese men face when trying to find a wife. Now, a local Real Estate Developer is trying to strike a new balance between Marx and Freud in order to get the market going again.
"The first stage of the economy's domination of social life brought about an evident degradation of being into having -- human fulfillment was no longer equated with what one was, but with what one possessed. The present stage, in which social life has become completely dominated by the accumulated productions of the economy, is bringing about a general shift from having to appearing -- all "having" must now derive its immediate prestige and its ultimate purpose from appearances. At the same time all individual reality has become social, in the sense that it is shaped by social forces and is directly dependent on them. Individual reality is allowed to appear only if it is not actually real."
This gap between subjective and objective reality is one of the most destructive factors in China's modern history. It prevented the country from pursuing proper reforms after its first contact with the western powers, and led it (proudly) into a century of humiliation and defeat. Since then, the Qing dynasty has been replaced by the CCP, but the perception gap remains wide, and seems to be expanding.
Still, a quick look at internet traffic over the past twelve months reveals an interesting trend: traffic for the web sites of some of the world's most popular economists - Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, and Nuriel Roubini - has grown by an average of more than 160%. Krugman's blog on the New York Times web site enjoyed a growth of more than 260%, while the site's overall growth stood at slightly more than 22%. The bulk of the growth has been during the past six months. One could argue that at times of crisis, people consume more news. However, traffic for the world's most popular news web sites - CNN, International Herlad Times, and the BBC - has grown by an average of less than 6% during the same period.
"The white-collar people slipped quietly into modern society. Whatever history they have had is a history without events; whatever common interests they have do not lead to unity; whatever future they have will not be of their own making. If they aspire at all it is to a middle course, at a time when no middle course is available, and hence to an illusory course in an imaginary society. Internally, they are split, fragmented; externally, they are dependent on larger forces. Even if they gained the will to act, their actions, being unorganized, would be less a movement than a tangle of unconnected contests. As a group, they do not threaten anyone; as individuals, they do not practice an independent way of life."
The academy was established by the KMT (China's Nationalist Party) in 1924 in Guangdong province, and served as the breeding ground for China's leading revolutionaries. Nationalist and Communist figures such as Chiang Kai Shek, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, and even Vietnam's Ho Chi Min were among the academy's instructors and graduates. Mao Zedong, the son of a well to do farmer, was never a student at the academy, but served as the Director of Propaganda for the KMT between 1925 and 1927.
At times like these, it is especially important to remember that China's revolutions were almost always instigated and managed by people from the country's small middle class. So, while today - as before - the country's farmers don't have the means to bring about political change, it is their rich compatriots in the cities that the government shoud be more worried about. And it is.
While US commentators differ widely in their analysis of the causes for the crisis and their proposed solutions, most of them have one thing in common: a reluctance to accept the fact that the crisis was caused by anyone other than the US and that the prevention of the next crisis requires more than just regulatory and political change in the US. In a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of sorts, Americans blame themselves for the crisis, and seem to enjoy describing the fall of their own empire and the invalidity of their own values.
And so, I was pleasantly surprised to read Paul Krugman's article in yesterday's New York Times. Krugman seems to be America's new economic oracle, and has been an ardent critic of Bush and Obama's response to the current crisis. In the article, Krugman is finally pointing his analytical skills towards China and stating a few important facts:
For those not familiar with China: The text - 为人民服务 - means "Serve the People", an old Communist maxim. The image is based on the signature look of Chinese government officials.