Don’t confuse science fiction with reality

Niall Ferguson has a Bloomberg piece that suggests we should welcome the new Cold War with China. It’s full of questionable claims:

The Chinese Communist Party caused this disaster — first by covering up how dangerous the new virus SARS-CoV-2 was, then by delaying the measures that might have prevented its worldwide spread.

The Wuhan local government did initially hide the severity of the outbreak from the authorities in Beijing, and China paid a heavy price for that crime. But if you are going to advocate a new Cold War you need something bigger than malfeasance at the local level. I can’t emphasize enough that the Beijing government had no incentive to prevent effective measures to stop the crisis. None.

Once Beijing become aware of the severity of the problem they acted decisively (on January 23rd), and simultaneously told the world just how dangerous the virus was. That doesn’t absolve them of blame for the earlier screw-up. The local cover-up of the outbreak could occur precisely because the CCP has decided not to allow free speech in its scientific community. But this is very different from suggesting a grand conspiracy to harm the world (and China!) by covering up the epidemic.

The US and much of the rest of the world responded to China’s January 23rd announcement by twiddling our thumbs for 6 weeks, doing almost nothing. The idea that getting a warning a few weeks earlier would have made any difference to the US is not just wrong, it’s laughable.

BTW, this isn’t the first time that Ferguson spread misleading information about China’s role in the crisis.

Ferguson then argues that the famous sci-fi trilogy by Liu Cixin is the best way to understand the Chinese worldview:

Yet the book that has done the most to educate me about how China views America and the world today is, as I said, not a political text, but a work of science fiction. “The Dark Forest” was Liu Cixin’s 2008 sequel to the hugely successful “Three-Body Problem.” It would be hard to overstate Liu’s influence in contemporary China: He is revered by the Shenzhen and Hangzhou tech companies, and was officially endorsed as one of the faces of 21st-century Chinese creativity by none other than … Wang Huning.

“The Dark Forest,” which continues the story of the invasion of Earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarans, introduces Liu’s three axioms of “cosmic sociology.”

I enjoyed this trilogy as much as Ferguson. But however much fun it is to look for real world political insights in sci-fi novels, one needs to be cautious in drawing analogies. China knows that any attempt to destroy the West would be suicidal, and vice versa. This isn’t interstellar warfare.

In Liu’s book the two powers are engaged in a one period game. The side that shoots first is likely to win. In reality, we are engaged in a multi-period game, where the “winner” is likely to be the country most open to globalization.

I use scare quotes for “winner” because it’s not even clear what it means to win. Are Italy and Switzerland involved in a competition? Who won? The one with more military power and GDP, or the one with higher living standards and more financial resources?

I’m not so naive as to think there’ll be no military/technological rivalry between the US and China, but I worry that people forget about what the US/Soviet Cold War was actually all about. Contrary to the claims of leftist historians, both sides were not to blame. The Cold War was caused by Stalin’s expansionist policies—his decision to conquer many countries and forcibly turn them communist. We were hardly guilt free (consider the Allende coup, or Iran 1953) but without Stalin’s post-WWII expansionism there is no Cold War. In contrast, restraint on the part of the US would not have prevented a cold war. It wasn’t symmetrical. (And don’t waste your time; I’m not going to argue with tiresome Chomskyites in the comment section.)

Today, China is not expansionist in the sense the Soviet Union was expansionist. Most complaints about China’s military involve either domestic repression (Hong Kong, Xinjiang), uninhabited islands/mountain passes with no clear ownership, or a theoretical risk of attack that has not happened (Taiwan). Not to mention that the US officially considers Taiwan to be a province of China, as does Taiwan itself. That’s nothing like the Soviet empire. Heck, that’s not even anywhere near as bad as Putin’s expansionist Russia.

Nationalists often add Chinese economic warfare charges that are based on a lack of understanding of how international trade benefits both sides. Or they point to examples of (non-military) bullying that are truly objectionable, but are minor enough to call at most for a new cold skirmish, not a cold war.

In contrast, aggressive moves like Trump’s unprovoked trade war with China or attack on companies like Huawei are simply brushed aside. It’s all China’s fault.

I’m not trying to absolve China of the charges directed at it. But I don’t see how China bullying Australia over a call for a Covid-19 investigation is any different from the US bullying smaller countries over Iran, Huawei, or gas pipelines. Or even worse, bullying smaller countries because we don’t like their tax haven policies while we ignore foreign demands for records of the (far more numerous) tax evaders who hide their money in the US. We are both a bully and a hypocrite. There’s enough blame on both sides to refrain from a cold war over bullying charges.

The best argument against the Chinese government is that it’s highly repressive against its own people, far more repressive than the US government. With the support of President Trump, China has put large numbers of Muslims into concentration camps. I’m just as outraged by the Xi/Trump/Modi anti-Muslim policy preferences as other liberal-minded people, but how does launching a cold war help things? Are we also to launch a cold war against India over its brutal repression of Muslims?

In the end, this call for a cold war is a knee jerk reaction to a long series of resentments. I share the frustration with the CCP. But unless someone can clearly spell out the precise logic for why we should welcome a cold war with China, and the increased risk of nuclear holocaust that it implies, I’ll remain highly skeptical.

So do I favor doing nothing? No, I favor a policy that would be 100 times more effective are restoring American supremacy than anything the American nationalists propose:

Vox co-founder and editor Yglesias proposes that the only way to keep China at bay is to beat the Chinese at their own game, growing a population of 1 billion Americans. But how? One ingredient is a far more liberal immigration policy: “The solution to the illegal immigration crisis is to let more people come legally, not tie ourselves into knots trying to stop the flow.”

Polls show that huge numbers of Chinese people want to move here—disproportionately the most skilled. So lets bring in 100 million Chinese and 100 million Indians. China’s population is already set to fall sharply; let’s make it fall much faster, especially among the most skilled.

Instead, nationalists like Trump are stopping H1-b immigration. Our nationalists are the real enemies of America, which can only stay number one as a multiracial superpower.

PS. If you think that controlling islands in the South China Sea is “bullying”, then you may be interested in knowing that the largest such island is occupied by Taiwan. That’s right; Taiwan agrees that the Spratly Islands are Chinese territory. Is Taiwan a plucky underdog or a big bully?

PPS. Remember when most pundits (other than me) told you that China was losing the trade war? Funny how things turned out.



57 Responses to “Don’t confuse science fiction with reality”

  1. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    6. July 2020 at 10:36

    The US was in the enviable position of selecting the best and brightest people that the world has to offer, but Trump and his ilk have put a stop to that. American exceptionalism won’t last for very long while federal policy puts a stranglehold on immigration and myriad financial pressures prevent citizens from having children. We’re just going to be a bunch of old people yelling about an ascendant China and wondering where it all went wrong.

    The lesson of the Cold War, which seems to have been lost on just about everyone, is that Cold War militarism was a fool’s errand. The Korean War killed 5 million people, and for what? The U.S. in Vietnam, the Soviet-Afghan War, ah yes what military successes. The U.S. military hasn’t fired a shot in the defense of the nation since 1945, and yet we all pretend that militarism is going to lead us to a grand victory.

    If only these clowns would realize that immigration, social supports, cultural exchange, and trade aren’t philanthropic exercises. They’re core pillars of the American world order. A skilled immigrant coming to the U.S., is a brilliant mind that is now working for US. Supporting young mothers is an investment in OUR nation’s future. Cultural exchange (mockingly called multiculturalism) is how we’ve spread English and American culture all around the world, it’s why you can travel halfway around the world and make due speaking only English. Trade is how we won billions of people over to our side, nothing wins over hearts and minds like prosperity.

    We won the damn Cold War and the idiots in charge don’t even realize why we won.

  2. Gravatar of LC LC
    6. July 2020 at 11:00

    Good post. There is also one aspect of this attempted cold war that’s under-reported, that is criticism of CCP behavior from abroad is much harder now Xi can hide behind the patriotism facade. Criticisms on human rights issues (from Xingjiang situation to arrest of Xu Zhangrun) are much harder to stick in some Chinese minds and are brushed off as cold war propaganda. Potential of losing Western business presence makes this fight much harder.
    One off topic point on Niall Ferguson, I find his columns have a high words to useful insight ratio.

  3. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    6. July 2020 at 11:45

    I think the belt and road initiative is one of (maybe the) biggest concerns. I doubt a new cold war would do much to stop it though; taking a cold war mentality may in fact intensify developing countries willingness to ally with China against the US and the west in general. I think cold war enthusiasm is motivated by a visceral desire to punish China rather than a rational understanding of confrontation. Unless one side can totally dominate the other, confrontation usually exacerbates rather than resolves conflicts.

    And Bob: the Korean War arguably allowed South Korea to exist as what it is today rather than be a part of North Korea. If anything I’d say that, in retrospect, it’s one of the most defensible acts of intervention in American history.

  4. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    6. July 2020 at 12:32


    I think your analysis is incorrect.

    – To my knowledge, the USSR was not unusually expansionist after World War II. They tried to gain spheres of influence, as China and the United States have done.

    – It’s not quite clear what you find so calamitous about the Cold War compared to the alternative, which was simply a hot war back then.

    – It does not become clear why today’s strategy towards CCP China is so much better. The prophecies and hopes of the current China strategy have not come true in many areas; on the contrary, the opposite has happened in several areas: CCP China has become increasingly aggressive both internally and externally in recent years. The complete annexation of Hong Kong is almost complete. Taiwan will follow next. The persecution of dissidents at home and abroad has become more and not less in recent years. And so on. It is not at all obvious why “more of the same” should lead to improvement instead of more deterioration. This is how ideologists talk, not analysts.

    – In contrast, the Cold War has reached its goal, the USSR has collapsed. So the current Cold War theory is after all based on real experiences, while the current CCP-China strategy apparently relies mainly on ideologies and wishful thinking, in other words the worst strategic approach imaginable.

    – Of course, the new Cold War would not be one-to-one the Cold War of the past. It would probably be much colder, in the sense that there would be close to no proxy wars, or at least proxy wars with much less casualties. At the moment, the most important thing about the new Cold War idea is the realization that a simple “business as usual” most likely leads to further deterioration, for example in the sense that CCP China and its spheres of influence become more and more powerful, including all negative consequences.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. July 2020 at 13:21

    Bob, Hopefully Biden wins and removes the recent controls on immigration. We could use a lot more immigrants.

    LC, Good point.

    Christian, You said:

    “They tried to gain spheres of influence”

    That’s one way to sugarcoat reality! Did we try to machine gum people fleeing the West?

    You said:

    “It’s not quite clear what you find so calamitous about the Cold War”

    I thought it was clear that I supported the Cold War against the Soviets. Read my post again.

  6. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    6. July 2020 at 14:20

    Important issue. I must admit, that reasonable reader or observer, would define the post, as reasonable, and even more than reasonable. Yet, it is only seemingly so. Why? Just some few:

    First, the main problem with china, and even concerning war trade, is the issue of intellectual property. They put very heavy restrictions on foreign companies, doing business in China. In this regard, they demand unfair and illegal transfer of information as stipulation for stepping in to Chinese markets.

    Moreover, it is alleged, that, they steal information and intellectual properties, from the US ( and other countries) through hacking and breaking digital nets or sources. Here for example, titled:

    “Chinese Military Personnel Charged with Computer Fraud, Economic Espionage and Wire Fraud for Hacking into Credit Reporting Agency Equifax”


    So, how to let in, Chinese immigrants? In the eyes of DOJ, it is not laughable even with all due respect.The above, was negligible illustration.

    I am falling short, maybe later more. But:

    Not to forget, cold war, means also, that both sides, assume certain responsibility. They don’t want direct military confrontation, and they keep the war, rather “clean” and concealed, or under the radar.


  7. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    6. July 2020 at 14:29

    Here, an executive order of Trump (May 29, 2020) titled:

    “Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People’s Republic of China”

    Here I quote some:

    The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is engaged in a wide‑ranging and heavily resourced campaign to acquire sensitive United States technologies and intellectual property, in part to bolster the modernization and capability of its military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PRC’s acquisition of sensitive United States technologies and intellectual property to modernize its military is a threat to our Nation’s long-term economic vitality and the safety and security of the American people.


  8. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    6. July 2020 at 14:37

    Excellent analysis.
    One disagreement: I don’t think Stalin was all that expansionist. He was a mega-murderer but that’s a separate issue. I was a Cold Warrior from age 8 to about age 38, but in retrospect I think I shouldn’t have been.

  9. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    6. July 2020 at 14:48

    Christian, the USSR used military force to keep much of Eastern Europe under its thumb, including in East Germany 1953, Poland and Hungary 1956, and Prague in 1968. That goes way beyond “spheres of influence.” (And the US has plenty of military interventions under its belt too). In contrast to both the USSR and USA, China has not militarily intervened anywhere since the Korean War, not even in Hong Kong which is its own territory. Its influence comes primarily from voluntary economic transactions. Furthermore, I’d say China today is much less aggressive both internally and externally than Mao’s China so economic development was successful at making it a less violent and more productive society, especially with respect to the rest of the world.

    On Ferguson’s article, I have to question whether he read the whole series. The plot of the books makes clear that the Dark Forest scenario is bad and ought to be understood but avoided. In the second book, Earth defeats the Trisolarians not by shooting first, but by creating Mutually Assured Destruction. So long as said Mutually Assured Destruction is in place, the humans and Trisolarians live in peace and the Trisolarians aid the technological development of Earth. Then in the third book, there are many societies including humans that do not try to shoot first but instead try to resolve the Dark Forest dilemma peacefully such as through broadcasting that they are harmless or trying various isolationist tactics. And at the very end, when the Dark Forest motivated civilizations have destroyed the universe, the book shows that rebirth is only possible through altruism from the survivors. The main character of the third book is a soft-willed person who lets the Trisolarians conquer Earth but ultimately it is her weak and selfless nature that gives the whole universe a second chance.

    It is totally understandable given Chinese history why many people in China would believe in the Dark Forest theory, but that doesn’t mean they think it’s good or inevitable. The lesson of Three-Body is to be hard-headed that the Dark Forest theory may be real while still being idealistic about finding a way out.

  10. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    6. July 2020 at 16:22

    Due to property zoning and other restrictions, the US builds net about 1 million units a year of housing. Something to ponder when calling for increases in the US population.

    On several occasions Scott Sumner has advocated that the US build no new infrastructure, as the US is so bad at building infrastructure.


    In this particular post, Sumner glosses over the role of Beijing in obscuring the origins of the Wuhan C19 virus, through censorship, intimidation, and even the disappearance of certain individuals.

    All that said, if the US really wants prosperity for its citizens, it will probably withdraw from its role as a world power, which is fantastically expensive and usually engaged on behalf of multinationals. That is, the US military and foreign policy complex is a global guard service for multinationals.

    Trump is but a fleeting aberration. When Trump departs, look for US foreign policy establishment to again cozy up to Beijing, with some abject lip service to human rights. The BlackRocks, the Apples, the Walmarts, the GMs want good relations with the Communist Party of China.

    The globalists and the multinational communities have become enablers of the increasing repression that is Beijing for the last 20 years.

    I suspect that Scott Sumner’s orthodox interpretation of international trade and migration are terribly out of date, but it is a large topic subject to a wide range of opinions.

  11. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    6. July 2020 at 17:04

    Add on: if we really wanted to beat China using Scott Sumner’s population card, would not we invite 100 million Chinese to migrate to the US provided they were young fertile women?

  12. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    6. July 2020 at 18:44


    I am not sure how much planning goes into the transition between external enemies. But overall it seems to me that the US is in need of some kind of constant external threat, or at least, its military industrial complex is in need of one. The USSR played that role brilliantly until 1989. Then for a decade there was a vacuuum vividly decried by the PNAC group, and we all know they openly wrote they wished there was a new Pearl Harbor. Osama gave them that gift on 9/11. For the next nearly 2 decades “terrorism” played that role, which is really code for “militant Islam”. With that threat fading into less and less credibility, there needed to be a new enemy #1. It could have been Russia again, and militarily the Russian threat is much more sobering than China’s. But China is so obviously more powerful, economically, than Russia with its GDP barley above Spain levels, and what use is an enemy of they don’t seem overwhelming? So China became the enemy. I don’t think it goes any deeper than that, the visceral need to have an enemy to project one’s complaints about the world on. And just like the war on terror, an enemy is also a tool to keep the military-industrial complex busy with.

    China, and Russia too of course, are not genuine threats to US superiority because neither allows free production and flow of ideas (and people). They may be military threats alright, but cultural, technological, creative, political leadership, all depend on freedom of thought. When you’re only allowed to think in certain directions, you will always miss out on something. So while China had this amazing economic development, it’s still missing the creative edge that the US has. As long as that’s the case I don’t think the kind of threat Ferguson imagines is real. And if China does gain that creative edge one day… well then the West would surely lose a cold war too.

  13. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    6. July 2020 at 19:07

    Christian List,

    I had opportunity as a teenager to see what life under USSR influence was like, visiting Hungary (already the freest of the Eastern Bloc countries), Czechoslovakia, and later my parents worked in post 1989 Romania and saw the aftermath. The amount of sadness, poverty, monotony, and paranoid fear in, say, Budapest 1980, is unimaginable today. When I see pics of North Korea today, it looks better and almost cheerful by comparison. This was on a whole different planet from what China is today. For starters: the complete non existence of shops other than grovery stores, non existence of restaurants, inability to book a hotel (government would assign you to a few places Westerners were allowed to stay in), not to mention the empty shelves in the few utilitarian shops there were. No cars. No light. No joy of any kind.

    I haven’t visited much of China, I admit, but what I did see in the space of a few days worth of business trips these past years, and of Hong Kong too btw, is nearly indistinguishable from how Singapore feels like. Your experience will vary if you plant yourself in the middle of the street and call for the downfall of the CCP but see, as long as you don’t do that, I am pretty sure you can live in China and it feels pretty darn close to Germany. I can’t say that of Budapest 1980.

  14. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    6. July 2020 at 20:16

    It is a complicated topic, but some regions of the world have been defined for generations by population growth, and almost all of those regions are also defined by intense social stress, environmental degradation, persisten low per capita incomes, infrastructure congestion, and increasing political polarization and sectarianism.

    Look at the populations of Mideast nations in the 1960s compared to today and then look at pictures of Middle Easterners in the 1960s, who look like they wanted to be Italians.

    Iran had a population of about 20 million in 1960 and has more than 80 million today. Egypt much the same, Africa is a permanent mass, and Latin America is not far behind.

    The idea that national population growth is connected to national prosperity or the less-worthy goal of international influence is entirely outdated.

  15. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    6. July 2020 at 21:25

    There are 4 big differences between China and the Soviet Union that mean we cannot win a cold war against the former as we did the latter:

    1. China’s GDP is larger than ours. This wasn’t even close to being true of the Soviet Union. And we won’t get the help from Europe that we did against the Soviets, though India might help increasingly over time.

    2. China’s real GDP can reasonably be expected to grow much faster than ours for decades, making point number 1 even more of a problem over time.

    3. China has much freer trade and a freer economy generally, with much more innovation and high technology than the Soviet Union could muster.

    4. China has a hard currency which means they have and will continue to grow a softpower capability that the Soviets could never have begun to contemplate. Being mostly autarchic, the Soviets had do things like starve their people to sell wheat on the open market to industrialize, or in later decades, export obsolete cars to Western Europe to earn what little hard currency they could get their hands on to try to gain enough soft power to even bribe western spies.

    In general, the US and UK, and perhaps the West more broadly, is having a very hard time dealing with our inevitable relative decline in the world. But, all of the blind getting tough, nationalist posturing, and pyrrhic victories like Brexit will only accelerate our relative decline by slowing our absolute rise.

    In reality, we need the opposite of many of the policies nationalist populists want. We need some combination of higher immigration and birth rates. We need even closer cooperation, in some cases, with non-white, non-Christian countries. We need to develop international law even more highly, increasing incentives for participants. We need to address climate change, globally.

  16. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    6. July 2020 at 23:28

    Sumner makes questionable assumptions (backed by no evidence):

    (1) (Sumner) “Once Beijing become aware of the severity of the problem they acted decisively (on January 23rd),” – is Sumner ignorant that the Wuhan authorities were aware of an outbreak since the fall of 2019? Based on that recent Harvard paper that used Google satellite images of unusually crowded hospital parking lots? (Google this, and do keep up with the literature Dr. Sumner or you risk looking ignorant). So if the central government ignores the local government that’s excusable? No. Same with their inflated GDP figures actually.

    (2) Sumner claims that Taiwan is a big bully in the South China Seas (West Philippine Sea) in the Spratly Islands but he seems to be unaware that the UN/Hague has ruled against China and for the Philippines based on international law. See more on the various claims for the West Philippine Sea here:

    @Ben Cole- export fertile women from China to the USA, yea! But unfortunately as you know they have a deficit of women, based on infanticide and their failed One Child policy of the late 1970s, not to mention forced sterilization of Muslim Chinese women. Has our resident Panda Hugger ever blogged on this? I hear silence…

  17. Gravatar of Curious Catter Curious Catter
    6. July 2020 at 23:55

    So, how do you reckon to handle

    1 – China (or India or USSR or any source of immigration), seeding agents of state, 1% of 100m is 1m; even 0.1% is 100K, to sow discord within US and destroy from within. Its but genuine state craft. Russia has apparently used the US technology (social media) to sow discord on/tilt on US’s presidential elections. How many of the Chinese students currently enrolled in US universities are engaged in spy craft and siphoning off knowhow? Now you could call it paranoia; but aren’t these questions a nation-state should ask to safeguard itself? Even the paranoid are correct when they are paranoidal about the right things.

    2 – as a commenter has called out, just import fertile women to be child-birth-and-rearing factories and breed in country and grow your own citizens; instead of UBI provide Semen-Based-Income. Basically one could view immigration as, outsourcing the actual job of creating citizens to China (or India or XYZ). Really? As if the current outsourcing hasn’t created a single point of failure in supply chains and dependency on an adversary, for non-living things?

    3 – if you go by Shia on Sunni (or Ahmaddiya) or reverse, Turkic on Kurd or otherwise or any sectarian strife in ME wh predominantly Islamic nation-states, why would any nation-state has any good regard for Islamic population anywhere? Their concept of Umma is nation-state agnostic and wants them to unite to convert or vanquish infidels, everywhere. So why would any nation-state tolerate that except currently Islamic countries. Iran and Iraq are at each other’s throats. Same with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Right? Are Malaysia or Indonesia, in South East Asia, which are predominantly Islamic, calling out the atrocities on Uighur in China? If not, why not?

    4 – One could view BRI as nothing but economic serfdom – to extract future bounties out of those countries to the benefit of the current benefactor (China). So are those countries that are participating in BRI really aware of consequences, intended and unintended? How many infrastructure boondoggles in the making to the detriment of nature and global ecology?

    5 – as the commenter anon has called out on couple of occasions, Scott is calling out Modi’s repression of Muslims but not able to produce even one example/illustrations. What gives? Is he being e shill of CCP to create false equivalences where none exist?

  18. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    7. July 2020 at 00:29

    Dr. Ray Lopez:

    The Romans knew what an empire was for and imported women globally The Eternal City.

    The point of the US empire seems to be to saddle taxpayers with $1.3 trillion a year in global security outlays (that multinationals should pay), and move jobs overseas.

  19. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    7. July 2020 at 03:19

    I support your macro view as presented in this essay. In particular I have always believed that among all countries in the world we have by far the greatest ability to to successfully grow through immigration. And while your numbers are outsized ——without knowing your time frame ——I think we should attempt to grow at 3-4% per year.

    I know without question a non-cold war between US and China is the best of all circumstances. But I cannot think of a time in history where major powers are not distrustful of each other—-but one must work toward it.

    WSJ had an essay today on the various strains of Covid and actions taken and not taken. It is far more complex than I at least thought—-but their general conclusion leans toward more, or less, “herd” immunity.

    You never —-(I really do think never—-but let’s call it “not that often”) discuss the destructive nature of the left in America. And it does amaze me, that as much as you dislike Trump (which does not concern me in the least), your seeming unwillingness to condemn aggressively the actions taken to unseat him —-even if he sucks s a president—-is distresssing to me.

    In this essay, for example, Trump is mentioned as being anti immigration——as if that has not been a feature of the left for ever. No one in this country would support your view on 100 mil Chinese and Indian immigrants. You almost seem to forget that the last 4 GOP candidates for President were portrayed as racist, anti-women, liars, and even Nazis. Yes, the GOP likes to call Dems socialists——And all politics are nasty—-but you may see it that way, but I wish you would express it if you did.

    I do not believe we should target certain countries or even education levels for immigration. If we target anything it should be those with certain cultural traits—like married families for example. India, Africa, Asia, Europe are fine with me.

    But as I said, I support you overall view.

    7. July 2020 at 03:23

    “more, not less, herd immunity”

  21. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    7. July 2020 at 03:31

    Just to repeat———Trump did not invent “anti-immigration”. Remember all the canceled candidates for various positions under Clinton and GWB for employing “illegals” as housekeepers! Even Scott’s readers don’t know when the immigration laws were tightened in the 60’s and various times thereafter. Even Scott points out that immigration has not changed under Trump versus Obama. Everything is not about Trump. In fact, most things are not about Presidents.

  22. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    7. July 2020 at 03:39

    @Michael Rulle – you are right that the Democrats are also largely de facto against immigration, as I would know trying to get my PH girl into the USA (I have various people working on getting her in, I’m optimistic but I had to pull all the strings and still it’s tough). But keep in mind that the role of the US president is two-fold: (1) “National Father” aka ‘father figure’ and (2) foreign policy. On those two fronts Trump has failed miserably. I was optimistic at first that he might get tough with North Korea and Iran, but he’s been as lame as the other presidents. As for ‘father figure’ it’s comical how bad he’s failed. He keeps trying the tired Republican strategy of appealing to Southern Whites, which works during times of plenty but not now. I’d be surprised if he wins in November but then again he won last time after trailing throughout the contest. Sadly, there’s a fair chance we’ll have four more years of this Bozo.

  23. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    7. July 2020 at 04:10

    Ben, China’s population also tripled from 1950 to today and it is doing much better today than in 1950. Before that, China had a hundred years of no population growth and did very poorly. Additionally, places like Africa that are experiencing both fast population growth and poverty today are still much less densely populated than Europe or East Asia, even if only arable land is considered. So I don’t think poverty in modern times can be attributed to overpopulation at all.

  24. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    7. July 2020 at 04:35

    I’m pleased that the old Ray Lopez is back, reliably negative and boastful. The short-lived love fest Ray had with Sumner disappointed many readers of this blog, some of us fearing that Ray would reject his much younger girlfriend and profess his undying affection for Sumner. It was not to be. I’ve come to the conclusion that Ray is Donald Trump. Are there any two people more alike, highly critical of everybody else and possessing an exaggerated view of his own intelligence. Welcome back Ray. We missed you.

    As for Ferguson, his point about China, his point about most any subject he touches, isn’t to resolve differences or ease tensions but to emphasize and enflame them. What would folks like Ferguson do without enemies. He’s the Roy Cohn of historians. I’d suggest that Ferguson might also be Donald Trump, but we know that’s not true: unlike Ray Lopez, we have actually seen Ferguson. But like Trump, Ferguson is an imperialist at heart.

  25. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    7. July 2020 at 06:29

    You said

    China, and Russia too of course, are not genuine threats to US superiority because neither allows free production and flow of ideas (and people).

    I wish I could be so sanguine. America’s weaknesses are on full display right now: undisciplined responses to crises, high crime and violence, a lack of fiscal discipline, an incoherent foreign policy, inability to elect good leaders, increasing tribalism, sub-standard primary and secondary schools…
    I would say that China and Russia “should not” be genuine threats if we played to our greatest strengths–a belief in the virtues of freedom and individual accountability–but our weaknesses increasingly threaten to overwhelm our strengths.

  26. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    7. July 2020 at 08:02


    I’m not saying you’re wrong, but why are you matter of factly agreeing that the local government would have an incentive to cover up the outbreak, whereas you think it’s crazy to even suggest that Beijing might have an incentive to do so?

  27. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. July 2020 at 08:35

    El Roam, Why shouldn’t China demand the turnover of intellectual property in exchange for the right to invest in China?

    David, We’ll have to agree to disagree on the expansionism question.

    mbka, Very good point about how the US always needs an enemy.

    Ray, You said:

    “is Sumner ignorant that the Wuhan authorities were aware of an outbreak since the fall of 2019?”

    Given that in the post I said they were aware of it, it’s a good bet that I am.

    “Sumner claims that Taiwan is a big bully in the South China Seas (West Philippine Sea) in the Spratly Islands but he seems to be unaware that the UN/Hague has ruled against China and for the Philippines based on international law.”

    So you agree with me? The Hague views both the Chinese and the Taiwanese claims as invalid. So why aren’t they both bullies?

    Catter, Everything you say is wrong:

    1. Immigration is not a securty risk. Don’t be paranoid.

    2. Overseas supply chains are not a problem, and haven’t even even been a problem in this crisis. They’ve been a benefit.

    3. Muslim immigrants in American have fit in nicely.

    4. BRI helps countries to develop. There will be some boondoggles, which will cost China dearly.

    5. Compare the media coverage of China’s crackdown in HK with India’s even harsher crackdown in Kashmir. Or how about the concentration camps being built for Muslims in Assam? How about Modi giving tacit approval for the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat?

    Bob, Because the cover-up was obviously an economic and humanitarian disaster for China. As soon as they became aware of the problem they drastically changed course. They would have done the lockdown sooner if they had understood the nature of the problem.

    China had no way of protecting themselves while hiding the problem from the world.

    Just to be clear, I absolutely agree that the CCP is evil enough to do what you suggest, but it’s not in their interest.

  28. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    7. July 2020 at 08:59

    Ssumner, because there are International norms and agreements. They should by the way, but, not overwhelmingly as they do. Here, even the EU agrees with the US on that.

    I shall leave you links later.


  29. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    7. July 2020 at 09:28


    Here for example, in ” International Economic Law and Policy Blog”(very recommended blog by itself) titled:

    “Forced” technology transfer ”


    I shall leave more, later maybe……

  30. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    7. July 2020 at 09:46


    I quote from the:

    ” Statement by EU Trade Spokesman on the upcoming EU-China Joint Committee”


    “The infringement of intellectual property rights is a frequent issue for European companies on top of the general concerns about the business climate in China.”

    End of quotation:

    Although stated in 2013, yet, does illuminate, sever problem alleged so, by many states in the west.


  31. Gravatar of cbu cbu
    7. July 2020 at 10:40

    The propaganda war against China today is just as relentless as the one against the Soviet Union.

    Here is the truth about “Uyghur oppression”, considering Uyghur population doubled over the past 40 years:

    The Chinese immigrants in America probably will have the same birth rate as the white population in the U.S. at best. On the other hand, one third of American-born U.S. citizens are already considering living abroad. A large inflow of 100 million Chinese and 100 million Indians will compel more to do so, especially white Americans, I suspect.

  32. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    7. July 2020 at 11:21

    One may find by the way, great interest hereby:

    Index developed by the UN, measuring and ranking countries all over the world, by their success to handle the pandemic.

    Here in “UN dispatch” (very recommended blog by itself):

  33. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    7. July 2020 at 13:32

    What ‘cold war’?

    “Taken together, these four volumes constitute an extraordinary commentary on a basic weakness in the Soviet system.
    The Soviets are heavily dependent on Western technology and innovation not only in their civilian industries, but also in their military programs.
    An inevitable conclusion from the evidence in this book is that we have totally ignored a policy that would enable us to neutralize Soviet global ambitions while simultaneously reducing the defense budget and the tax load on American citizens.”
    “ His book tells at least part of the story of the Soviet Union’s reliance on Western technology, including the infamous Kama River truck plant, which was built by the Pullman-Swindell company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of M. W. Kellogg Co. Prof. Pipes remarks that the bulk of the Soviet merchant marine, the largest in the world, was built in foreign shipyards. He even tells the story (related in greater detail in this book) of the Bryant Chucking Grinder Company of Springfield, Vermont, which sold the Soviet Union the ball-bearing machines that alone made possible the targeting mechanism of Soviet MIRV’ed ballistic missiles. “

  34. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    7. July 2020 at 13:53

    cbu, I strongly suspect that almost no one cares about the Uighurs but are just using the issue to justify war with China. After all, where are the calls for open immigration for Uighurs, like we’ve seen for Hong Kong (who are seen as Westernized and are therefore able to attract genuine sympathy in the West)? Or see this Uighur activist who turned out to be a Guantanamo Bay interrogator who defended the detention of Uighurs at Guantanamo: And genocide is obviously a false and loaded term when applied to one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in China.

    Postkey, the West also benefitted from selling technology to the Soviets, and the Soviets could well have come up with their own technology if they were not able to buy Western technology. It’s completely speculative to say that the Soviets benefitted more from those trades or were more dependent on them. Before World War II, there was a lot of trade between Germany and the Soviet Union where Germany gave the Soviet Union technology in exchange for natural resources. Germany then had the same thought as the author of that article there and decided to stop trading with the Soviets but instead tried to take the Soviet resources by force. That backfired spectacularly—turns out Germany needed Soviet grain and oil more than Soviets needed German technology.

  35. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    7. July 2020 at 13:56


    You forgot the ‘war on drugs’?

  36. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    7. July 2020 at 14:03

    “Postkey, the West also benefitted from selling technology to the Soviets, . . .”
    It appears obvious that the businesses doing the selling benefitted.

    “the Soviets could well have come up with their own technology if they were not able to buy Western technology.” Pure speculation.
    ” . . . the evidence in this book is that we have totally ignored a policy that would enable us to neutralize Soviet global ambitions while simultaneously reducing the defense budget and the tax load on American citizens.”

  37. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    7. July 2020 at 14:23

    Businesses are a part of the West, are they not? More demand for their technology incentivizes them to produce more technology, which benefits everyone, and sales support jobs and incomes for people. Cutting trade with the USSR would have impoverished both sides, just like it did when the Germans tried it in 1941, and it’s speculation to guess which side it would have impoverished more.

  38. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    7. July 2020 at 14:40

    @Scott Sumner
    You asked

    Why shouldn’t China demand the turnover of intellectual property in exchange for the right to invest in China?

    China certainly has the right and the power to make the demand. And, I’d say that companies have the right to refuse to do business with China. But none of that changes the reason why China shouldn’t make the demand. China shouldn’t make the demand because doing so stifles innovation.

  39. Gravatar of Thomas Hutcheson Thomas Hutcheson
    7. July 2020 at 14:44

    While I agree that Immigration reform to attract millions of the world’s most productive and potentially productive people is the single most important step to level up US economic and technological power, I would add eliminating the structural deficit with a progressive consumption tax and reducing barriers to trade and investment starting with US participation in the TPP and working toward a North Atlantic free trade area.

  40. Gravatar of Bob OBrien Bob OBrien
    7. July 2020 at 19:01

    Scott mentions that we should have more immigration. I agree that more immigration is fine as long as it is legal. In the USA we have a congress that should be the decision maker on the amount of immigration. However, the issue is really about the rule of law concerning immigration. I support Trumps policy of preventing “illegal” immigration. If we want more immigration we should pressure our congress to enable this policy. We should not support the Dems who are actively encouraging illegal immigration.

  41. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    7. July 2020 at 20:28

    Bob O’Brien:

    Keep in mind that due to property zoning and other impediments, the US does not build much housing anymore, despite fantastic property values along the Wets Coast, NYC, Boston and several other markets.

    The US builds a net million units a year in a good year.

    MIT estimates that about 20 million illegal residents are in the US, most probably working. The US labor force is about 160 million.

    So, rough guess, one out of every eight workers in the US is an illegal resident.

    Given education, and other factors, a reasonable guess is that one of every four employees in the “bottom half” of the US labor force is an illegal.

    For the employer and upper managerial class, this may actually be a net positive. For the bottom half of the labor force, it is likely a chronic disaster.

    So…soft wages and economic rents in property markets. Somehow, America’s macroeconomists do not galvanize around these issues, but will go blue-faced explaining the dubious virtues of “free trade” or “tight money.”

    I agree with you, rule of law is necessary and advocates of arbitrary application of law are bereft of their senses, not only in practical terms, but in terms if principle.

    Unless the US can figure out how to keep labor markets tight and property markets loose, I do not see a good future for America.

  42. Gravatar of anon anon
    7. July 2020 at 23:03

    Scott, you are consistent, in repeating the same cliched Assam (Muslims? Thenright adjective is non-citizens camps) and J&K (disabling of internet connectivity to battle a Islamic terror campaign) points.

    As for immigration not being a security issue and Muslims assimilating: from your lips to God’s ears. Though articles on UK, France and European countries aren’t seeing much assimilation that doesn’t fill one with your level of optimism or rosy outlook

  43. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    8. July 2020 at 00:28

    I think Sumner is right in saying tech transfer (forced) by China is not a big deal. I do see that in 2019 efforts were made to stop this practice, by the WHO, but in any event companies voluntarily choose to enter China, and BTW the USA has on its books laws that mandate forced technology transfer (and mandatory maximum royalty rates) for patented technology (usually nuclear, but often drugs too) deemed in the US national interest. It’s routine for states to do this; India does it too for vital drugs. I’m against this practice, as I feel it inhibits long-term innovation, but that’s just my opinion.

    @rayward – I’m glad you’re glad I’m back. I will try and dial up my negativity and unpleasantness in the future, I trust you are not a snowflake and can take it, old boy.

  44. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    8. July 2020 at 00:37

    “mbka, Very good point about how the US always needs an enemy.”

    And those who don’t ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ {S.S.?} will find themselves on ‘the wrong side of history’?

  45. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    8. July 2020 at 04:42

    Scott, last one I promise: Are you saying that the local Wuhan officials didn’t yet have enough information about the virus when they initially covered it up, but by the time the national government officials learned about it, enough was known?

  46. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    8. July 2020 at 06:49

    Michael Sandifer wrote: “China’s real GDP can reasonably be expected to grow much faster than ours for decades,”

    Probably until 2030 but not decades.

  47. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    8. July 2020 at 07:24

    Here a fresh one (“The Hill”)titled:

    “FBI Director Wray warns of Chinese hacking, espionage threats against American companies”

    Some from it, I quote:

    ” FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday warned of ongoing Chinese counterintelligence threats to American companies and health care groups, saying that Chinese espionage cases had increased by 1,300 percent over the past decade.”


  48. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2020 at 07:26

    El Roam (And Carl), The US also violates international norms and agreements. Should other countries launch a cold war against the US?

    And no one has explained to me why “forced transfer” (a misleading term) of technology is so bad. Some say it discourages innovation, but I believe the positive effect on the Chinese economy outweighs the (trivial) negative effect on innovation.

    US companies also benefit from the faster growth in the Chinese economy, which provide a bigger market for our firms. It’s a positive sum game.

    Bob, You said:

    “I support Trumps policy of preventing “illegal” immigration.”

    Illegal immigration has increased under Trump, while legal immigration has declined.

    anon, I suggest you read something beyond Modi government propaganda, before forming your opinions on India. Everyone knows the Assam policy is aimed at Muslims, who often lack papers even if born in India.

    Bob, The local Wuhan officials had relatively little information when then silenced doctors on this issue. They probably thought it was something no worse than SARS. (Of course that doesn’t justify their evil action, it just means they weren’t being knowingly suicidal.) Each day that went by the information about the virus got more worrisome, and by January 23rd the national government reacted with dramatic steps.

  49. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    8. July 2020 at 08:02


    That is your view. But, not generally accepted or perceived so by relevant actors. One company, should take care of itself and its stake holders, not vague ideas like how things benefit the Chinese economy in macro terms.

    Firms are working very hard to develop innovative products. They register it. Pay hell amount of money for it. They expect their government to protect them while doing business abroad. That is why there are international conventions. Not rendering the world like jungle of thefts.

    Maybe the US, violates international norms, one can complains and settle it in the WTO. But, it is claimed by many, that the infringement of copyrights, is really deadly in China.


  50. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    8. July 2020 at 10:07

    @Scott Sumner
    I didn’t say it was worth triggering a cold war, nor did I say that the US had clean hands on this subject. I was simply saying that I think China is hurting long term innovation by the practice.

    You said

    …the positive effect on the Chinese economy outweighs the (trivial) negative effect on innovation.
    US companies also benefit from the faster growth in the Chinese economy, which provide a bigger market for our firms. It’s a positive sum game.

    If overall welfare increases when foreign governments confiscate intellectual property, why shouldn’t everyone inside a country benefit when their government confiscates their own companies’ intellectual property? I don’t see why the benefits of confiscating intellectual property would only accrue when its being done by a foreign government.

  51. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    9. July 2020 at 04:28

    “The Cold War was caused by Stalin’s expansionist policies—his decision to conquer many countries and forcibly turn them communist.”

    Usual US ‘simplistic analysis?

    “Churchill had no qualms in arming troops who had collaborated with the Nazis as long as it was advantageous to Britain’s imperial leverage, as the Greek resistance and those who played a significant role in the struggle against German occupation would discover in 1944. The Greek resistance, a key force in the region and ally of the British, were betrayed when the British Army switched allegiances after the Germans withdrew from the country. Churchill had no intention of enforcing democracy in Greece. Instead, the plan was to crush any communist resistance and reinstall the Greek King – a monarch previously aligned with the proto-fascist dictator Metaxas. This was a premeditated strategy to keep Greece as a “British sphere of influence”. Prior, Churchill had proposed to Stalin a “percentages agreement” which would divide Eastern Europe into two power bases: the plan allowed Greece to be accorded to Britain and in return Russia would take Romania and Bulgaria. Aware of its implications, Churchill called the paper on which the agreement rested, a “naughty document” (Rasor, 2000). When fighting broke out the soldiers fighting on behalf of the British were former Nazi collaborationists from the ‘Security Battalion’, a military group set up to support German soldiers during occupation.”

  52. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. July 2020 at 10:35

    Carl, You said:

    “why shouldn’t everyone inside a country benefit when their government confiscates their own companies’ intellectual property?”

    Suppose I have a big piece of land where Intel wants to build a chip factory. I say to Intel that they can build the factory on my land if they wish to, but in return they must share intellectual property with me. Of course they are free to go elsewhere.

    What’s wrong with that mutually beneficial trade?

  53. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. July 2020 at 10:37

    El Roam, You said:

    “Maybe the US, violates international norms, one can complains and settle it in the WTO.”

    You can do the same with China. They are just as likely to obey the court as the US.

  54. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    9. July 2020 at 14:35

    Let’s say Intel requires the landowner turn his land into a public park in exchange for letting Intel build on it. The US economy would benefit because Intel could sell chips more cheaply than it otherwise could and hundreds of people getting access to more hiking trails. Sure the landowner would lose all future rental income from his property but that’s a trivial price to pay.

  55. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    9. July 2020 at 20:26

    @Carl – you need to read about the Coase theorem of economics. Of Coase (pun intended) Sumner is right, I hate to say it (lol)

    Bonus trivia: was reading a 1962 history book on China and their western lands, the upshot being China has a history of ‘regulating’ the people there, kind of like the USA and the Monroe Doctrine. Be they Ughur or Tibetian. Not saying it’s right, but the USA did the same thing with Central America. Of course I’m against forced sterilization (which modern 1960s India and, 100 years ago, the USA have also done)

  56. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    10. July 2020 at 05:43

    @Ray Lopez
    I think i understand the counter argument. I’ve seen, for example, all the innovation that has resulted from the open sourcing of technology stacks. But I’ve also seen firsthand how those who contribute to open source are often large players in the market who benefit from property rights further up the stack(applications) or down the stack ( e.g. owning the hardware property rights, owning the data centers where the Hyperscalars apps run, ).
    The key point is that there must be property rights somewhere in the system for there to be sufficient incentives for innovation and investment. By confiscating the property rights of the inventor, you’re simply saying that the property rights of others in the stack are more important.

  57. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    14. July 2020 at 15:21

    Indeed Ssumner, it is just, that when it does reach intellectual property, The Chinese are considered as major problem for the west, as I have explained and clearly illustrated above.

    You wrote “courts”, but, those are not really courts by the way. They are more similar to arbitrators, over courts. Courts are rather associated with statutory and compelling procedures, while arbitration ,is rather voluntarily taken or chosen by states or other entities.


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