A Short And Bewildering Study In Conservative Economics

The other day the Joplin Globe published a column by Jay Ambrose (apparently the paper can afford him!) that included this perplexing sentence:

The Communist Party is still running things and is still autocratic and cruel even as it has allowed relatively free markets enough wiggle room to make China a major economic power.

Now, I find that statement perplexing because it actually says:

1. The Communist Party is autocratic and cruel.

2. The autocratic and cruel Communist Party is nevertheless making “China a major economic power.”

Get it? I don’t either because the following commentary is what I usually hear from conservatives, a critique objecting to the expansion of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause in our own Constitution:

The movement from rule of law to ridiculous rigmarole gave us a regulatory state stifling our economy and our freedoms…It will thus endanger our economic future while already keeping businesses from hiring because of expensive obligations to come.

The American “regulatory state” will “endanger our economic future“? Who could have written that? Oh, yeah, the same guy who said the “autocratic and cruel” Communists were nevertheless making China “a major economic power.”

Ambrose also wrote this last year:

The Heritage Foundation says we’re now only the ninth-freest world economy and points out that excessive spending and increased federal intrusiveness have sapped business confidence while hurting competitiveness, slowing expansion and diminishing entrepreneurial energy. You don’t get jobs that way.

Increased federal intrusiveness” is a big problem for America, you see, but apparently not much of a problem for “a major economic power” like China, where this year’s Heritage Foundation ranking put China as the 138th freest economy—right above Syria!

You gotta love comparative conservative economics.



  1. I once proposed a law that would require that the qualifier “Communist” be added in front of China. As in, “Hey I heard the economy in Comminist China is booming.” Or, Communist China seems to understand capitalism as well as we do.” Or, “What’s Communist China doing about that blind guy?” Anyway, you get my drift.


    • I like this for its delicious irony: “Communist China seems to understand capitalism as well as we do.”


  2. Prior to Nixon’s opening with China in the early 70’s and I think even for some years after wards, the PRC typically was called ‘Communist China’ wasn’t it? Or has my memory gone haywire.


  3. It does seem to me that the modern ‘conservative’ movement supposedly advocates freedom, but seems to have little or no confidence in its ability to compete with tyranny. The only way to do so is to become much less free.


    • I am amazed at those conservatives who babble about liberty night and day, even as they are voting to stick probes in women seeking abortions and/or forcing doctors to read to them from a state-prepared text and/or to so regulate Planned Parenthood that it is forced to pack up and leave women to fend for themselves in some states.


  4. China understands capitalism very well.
    The best business plan:
    Subsidize one commodity’s production until you bankrupt other producers, thus being the sole producer/supplier. Along with subsidies, having the cheapest labor in the world and the government’s bank account to support your ‘tooling up’ and expansions, other companies cannot compete.
    The USA’s former steel industry is a perfect example.


    • I would quibble with you on one thing, Sekan, and that is the cheap labor:

      …while China’s industrial subsidies, trade policies, undervalued currency and lack of enforcement for intellectual property rights all remain sticking points for the United States, there is at least one area in which the playing field seems to be slowly leveling: the cheap labor that has made China’s factories nearly unbeatable is not so cheap anymore…

      Numerous factors underlie China’s mounting labor woes. Until now the country has been able to achieve its stunning economic growth by shifting large numbers of farmers into nonagricultural jobs. Over the past several years economists have warned that China may be reaching the so-called Lewis Turning Point — the stage at which the rural surplus labor pool effectively runs dry and wages begin to rapidly increase.

      At the same time, China’s population has been steadily aging, and by 2020 the nation will have more than 200 million people over age 60. Furthermore, rising living costs in urban China coupled with markedly improved conditions in rural areas are encouraging many would-be migrant workers to look for opportunities closer to home.

      In addition to a shortage in the sheer number of available workers, China’s labor problems are further exacerbated by a shift in the quality and character of its work force. For the older generation, there is very little that a factory or foreman can dish out that seems too difficult to deal with, given that they witnessed, or grew up with parents who had witnessed, the nation’s rocky ride through the Communist Revolution, collectivization, the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. These are the people who pioneered the model of migrant labor on which Chinese manufacturing has come to depend: long hours in substandard conditions, all for a fraction of what United States workers earn.

      As illustrated by the recent headlines over working conditions at Foxconn, which makes components for Apple, there are plenty of migrant workers still living and working under that model. But by and large China’s younger generation is no longer willing to endure hardship without clear expectations that it is a temporary means to a more comfortable end.


  5. Actually, I believe the meaning of the word “communist” has been distorted in popular discourse from its original meaning. My dictionary defines it as Karl Marx’s political theory advocating class war that leads to a society in which all property is publicly owned and and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.

    Communist China doesn’t fit that definition, obviously, although I think Chairman Mao tried to make it do so, and I think the current Chinese government pretends that it does as a form of justification. I think I would call it a totalitarian oligarchy. But “communist” rolls off the tongue much more easily, doesn’t it?


  6. ansonburlingame

     /  May 5, 2012

    To all,

    I have blogged on this subject and referenced a book named “No One’s World”. It would almost be “required reading” to do justice to this discussion. For about 4 millenia China has ALWAYS been an autocratic society, the book describes it as a “Communal Autocracy”.

    China sampled almost pure communism and since the late 70’s has moved far from such a form of government. But however far it moves from Communism, and we can debate how far that is today, China will always be autocratic, not democratic. It is simply NOT in their DNA as a nation, in my view.

    So forget “communism”. The argument today is can a free market capitalistic society compete effectively against an autocratic society?

    China, over the last ten years has achieved economic growth on the order of 10% or so while we have grown economically at a much slower pace as well as enduring the GR, which had little immediate effect on China, some maybe, but certainly not the effect felt in Europe and America.

    Most economists predict that China will surpass the size of the American economy within 10 years. That does not mean however that the Chinese standard of living will be better than ours. They after all have to feed over a billion people while we struggle with caring for about 300 million, at a much higher standard of living.

    But if you want to only compare GDP then China is soon going to surpass us, it seems.

    My view is that a free market capitatist society can always beat the pants off of autocracy, simply because the free market inspires more inovation and creativity. But the Obama administration through over regulation and calls for higher taxation retards such free market principles.

    Unleash and I mean really unleash free market capitalism and we will remain the best and most wealth country in world, on a per capita basis, in my view. But tie the hands of free market capitalism, even a “little” then the more autocratic a society becomes to more wealth it will produce simply by ORDERING the next right thing, to hell with freedom.

    Look at it this way. In a free market, we have 300 million different decisions as to what is the next right thing to do. In an autocracy, only a few make such decisions and the bigger the autocracy to smaller the decision makers numbers become. And when such decision makers make bad decisions, all hell breaks loose. In a free market bad decisions only punish a few, that make bad decisions.



    • Sedate Me

       /  May 6, 2012

      “In an autocracy, only a few make such decisions and the bigger the autocracy to smaller the decision makers numbers become. And when such decision makers make bad decisions, all hell breaks loose. In a free market bad decisions only punish a few, that make bad decisions.”

      Yeah. Like the Sub-Prime Mortgage fiasco and the minor little problem on Wall Street. Those things only effected mere handfuls of people on this planet. The suffering was entirely contained to those directly responsible.

      These days, both Communism and Free Markets are little more than unicorns & dodo birds. Mythical beasts that are long extinct or never really existed in the first place. What is left of them exists purely for the convenience of their respective ruling classes. (“Our nation believes in X and anything else is disloyal.”) The reality is that “Capitalist” and “Communist” poster boys share the same bed every night. They are as thick as the thieves they are.

      Ultimately, it is all about those at the top imposing their will and worldview on everyone else. Any stylistic difference is a result of the personal preferences of the ruling class if their respective societies.


      • Your sarcastic point about the effects of the financial crisis is a good one in terms of the myth of free markets, which could never work on a large scale anyway. There has to be some regulating authority to ensure markets work and the moneyed class will use its influence to its advantage and gain some control of that regulating authority, thus there isn’t anything really “free” about free markets.

        Likewise, an authentic widespread socialism is not possible because it ignores the human instinct of self-interest, which will always be with us. Black markets thwart the best intentions of true socialists.

        And while they make much use of the negative memes about Communism and the like, the moneyed or ruling class uses more positive-sounding memes like The American Dream to convince us all that we are only a great idea away from being Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. That is one important way of population control. Musn’t threaten the legitimacy of that and similar memes or else the rabble might rise up and demand more.

        The point is for us all to realize that the many tribal myths we tell ourselves can be valuable in terms of social stability, but the number one way to destabilize society is by outrageously unequal income distribution, something that our contemporary right-wing intelligentsia can’t or won’t see.



        • To All,

          This discussion thread reminds me of a couple of quotes that I think are pertinent here:

          “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under socialism, the reverse is true.” – Polish Proverb

          “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings;
          the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” – Winston Churchill



        • I think Duane’s summarization is worth repeating:

          The point is for us all to realize that the many tribal myths we tell ourselves can be valuable in terms of social stability, but the number one way to destabilize society is by outrageously unequal income distribution, something that our contemporary right-wing intelligentsia can’t or won’t see.

          That is happening here. However, the reverse can also have catastrophic consequences and that now appears to be unfolding in France and Greece. As Herb’s quotes attest, there is a fine line of dynamic tension between the two competing philosophies to get to the sweet spot. Seems like we never attain it, just pass through to the opposite extreme.


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