Now, for a few words about China, free-market capitalism, and the human heart.
Recently, I attended a conference on a subject of great interest to me: U.S.-China trade, especially in intellectual property such as film and television. The volume of such trade is large and growing, and the interest of the Chinese consumer in the glossy, high-quality U.S.-made entertainment product is intense.
But after a morning of volumes of trade and copyright law discussions, a young Chinese woman came by my table and wanted to know what I thought about how business is portrayed in U.S. movies and TV shows.
She knew that I had written extensively about the negative treatment that business and the free-market system receive in American mass culture, and she wanted to know how the Chinese people should comprehend that.
“We in China have seen the miracles that the free-enterprise system has created,” she said. “We have seen how fine the effects of that system are compared with the effects of state control and master planning by the ruling circles. We wonder why your culture portrays that system so critically.”
She had teed it up perfectly for me, and this is what I told her: "We have in this country the most successful example of all time of an economic system that runs according to the desires of the people in that system.
"We have in America by far the most prosperous large, multiracial industrial society that has ever existed. We got it by allowing individuals to be innovators, to start farms, to start businesses, to use technology to respond to human wants. With that system, we have created a standard of life beyond what would have been thought possible before the 20th century, and we are still growing and improving upon that system.
"But there are people in the United States who dislike that system. They note that under free-market capitalism, industrious, creative, entrepreneurial people get to be rich, have glamorous lives, and exert considerable political power within both the Republican and Democratic parties. The critics are envious of the good life that successful people have under free-market capitalism.
"Therefore, they call capitalism evil, and they revile the people who are capitalists and have become successful at it as exploiters and persons without souls. They have succeeded in capturing large sections of the media and almost all of academic life. That is because the powers that be in those sectors are intelligent, capable men and women, and they wish they had the riches and power that the high-end capitalists have.
"Even if they, the critics of capitalism, are extremely well off materially, they want to paint themselves as victims of capitalism along with impoverished coal miners or farm laborers. It gives them a feeling that they should be admired and pitied at the same time . . . and allows them to express their envy in terms more noble than just plain envy.
"The media and academic powers don’t say, We’re envious. They say, 'We are morally superior to the capitalists, so give us control over the nation.'
"Thus we see a nonstop stream of hatred of business and profit in modern American (and British ) media. Villains are not terrorists from Mecca. They are terrorists from Wall Street, even if they do use Islamists to make their blood money. [See the villain, Javier Bardem, in my favorite movie, "Skyfall."]
"This is something the people of China should be careful about," I continued to this young woman. "We in America have only a slender tradition of government control of economic life. If full control is to come, it will have to make its way across some weighty native-born opposition.
"But China has seen massive government control of the economy quite recently. The results were poor, not to say extremely poor. Yet there remain in power in China groups that would say that the continuing problems of China — extreme income inequality, rural unemployment, looming demographic crises, pollution — can only be solved by the government retaking full control of the economy, or at least much more control than it now has.
"If the elite circles that create Chinese media and import American media can use the tools of propaganda to stimulate the idea that business is inherently evil and government is inherently good, they can possibly gain traction in growing regulation of the economy.
"That could lead to choking off the Chinese miracle of growth that has seen almost 30 years of roughly 10 percent per annum growth in the economy.
"Government reasserting control over the economy could lead to a reversal — or at least a stalling — of the astonishing economic revolution that has led 600 million men, women, and children to escape from poverty in the world’s oldest continuing civilization in one place — China.
"This should be guarded against, and the Chinese people should be aware that a media class hostile to free markets could lead back to slower growth and immiseration.
"Already in the USA, a virulent anti-business climate in the media has helped to lead to regulations that have hobbled growth in many areas — and now is about to launch socialized medicine and set it in motion upon a nation that does not want it.
"Hatred of the free-enterprise system in the media is not a joke. It is not trivial, and the people of China should know that it has consequences."
That’s what I told her, and that’s what I believe.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, and lawyer, who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes cast him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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