Joel Kotkin on the Chinese dystopia

Joel Kotkin has a piece in Quillete that discusses the way that recent Chinese science fiction portray’s the dark side of the Chinese government.

This caught my eye:

Some prominent Westerners even see China’s rise as the product of a system that is in some respects superior. As two law professors recently argued in the Atlantic:

“In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong. Significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with a society’s norms and values.”

The New York Times’s journalist Thomas Friedman, meanwhile, embraces the Chinese notion of granting more power to credentialed “experts” for societal problems, arguing that they are too complex for elected representatives to address. The similarly minded economist Jeffrey Sachs denounces what he calls “an evangelical crusade” against the Chinese regime, pointing out that America’s own repressions disqualify any presumption of superiority.

I went to the original sources, and the Atlantic piece is every bit as bad as the quotation suggests. It’s pretty appalling that Ivy League professors are apologizing for Chinese government censorship. The Friedman piece is almost as bad.

But the comments on Jeffrey Sachs are completely unfair, at least based on the two links provided. I don’t agree with Sachs’ analysis in the first link (from 2007), but they have nothing to do with moral equivalence. I fully agree with his comments in the second link, where he does not suggest that repression in America is as bad as in China. Rather he criticizes the current administration’s foolish attempt to start a cold war with China, and also points out that America’s military has been far more aggressive than China’s military.

PS. Matt Yglesias directed me to this tweet:

Funny, I had thought that HK was simple—the CCP crushing freedom of speech. I never knew that Xi was saving us lots of money.



16 Responses to “Joel Kotkin on the Chinese dystopia”

  1. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    15. August 2020 at 14:29

    An important point that gets lost in all the nationalism is that it’s the people who want to have an evangelical crusade against China who are pushing for the US to be more like China in terms of having state capitalism instead of free market capitalism, whereas it’s the people like Sachs who are dovish on China who want the US to not be like China..

    (Another thing I found interesting—isn’t Quilette’s whole thing being against cancel culture? Sachs was an early victim of cancel culture when he was hounded off Twitter after writing an article against US persecution of Huawei. I would’ve thought Quilette would’ve mentioned it at least.)

  2. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    15. August 2020 at 15:27

    Did Twitter suspend his account or delete his (Sachs’s) tweets?

  3. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    15. August 2020 at 16:10

    Jeffrey Sachs is a little too tight with Huawei for comfort.

    Odd fact, as far as I can tell: The only US television network to interview HK publisher Jimmy Lai upon his release from jail was…Fox.

    ABC is owned by Disney, so I guess we can rule that one out. But CBS? NBC? No interviews with the Washington Post, the New York Times?

    I am not waiting for Jimmy Lai to be the guest of honor at an NBA game either.

  4. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    15. August 2020 at 17:36

    OK, Disney owns ABC, and Disney heavily exposed to China though parks and entertainment contents

    Comcast runs NBC, and Comcast-Universal heavily exposed to China through parks and entertainment content.

    “Universal Parks and Resorts chairman and CEO Tom Williams said in September: ‘Part of the key to doing business in China,’ he said, ‘is to avoid talking politics. You don’t start talking about the leadership in China. You would be crazy to bring up Hong Kong, Taiwan. You would never start talking that way. You just focus on what you are trying to do.'”


    Then we have CBS, owned by Viacom, which is exposed to China through children’s programming.

    So…ABC, NBC and CBS have not interviewed Jimmy Lai, the HK publisher thrown in jail for being a publisher.

    Fox News did.

    How has it come to this?

    Fox News has become the beacon of hope? Fox?

    Nobody at the NY Times or WaPo thinks Jimmy Lai is an interesting interview? How is this possible?

    The two Ivy League professors Scott Sumner mentions above must be thrilled. Content is being controlled.

    I wonder if Jeffrey Sachs thinks Jimmy Lai would be an interesting interview. Sachs is eager to criticize a “Cold War” against China. But mute on Jimmy Lai.

    I congratulate Scott Sumner for mentioning the crushing of free speech in HK, in this post. Say what you will about Sumner, he does not cater to intellectual fashions, paid for or otherwise.

    I also oppose the large US military presence in the Asian Pacific, which is fantastically expensive, unnecessarily provocative, yet largely ineffective. If time comes (and pray it never does), Japan, Taiwan and S Korea, possibly Australia and Thailand have plenty of skill and money to do what they have to do.

  5. Gravatar of daniel daniel
    15. August 2020 at 20:26

    President Modi seems to be taking the lead here, and I think his decisions are the right one’s. UK and US are starting to follow in those footsteps.

    But keep in mind, that this all started with DJT. Without DJT, the west would be on it’s knees right now. And India would not have had the courage to use its market as leverage.

    Biden, now that he see’s the results, is jumping onto the DJT train to get elected. Yet Biden used his political power to secure his retirement from China (hedge fund money for his incompetent son). If anyone really believes he has the courage to stand up for democracy, you are sadly mistaken.

    We can go back to Obama/Biden – the all talk and no action ticket, and continue to let Nazi Germany 2.0 rise, or we can vote for the combative and unlikeable DJT, and actually get results.

    China had it’s worst economic year since 1991. The economy is saddled with debt, and will implode — toppling the govt and saving the Uighurs, Jimmy Lai, and democracy everywhere. If Biden get’s elected, we might as well start reading the communique international. Say good bye to your freedoms.

  6. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    16. August 2020 at 00:19

    Mark has a good post upstream. Sumner’s post is nothing more than “holier than thou” moralizing. As any law school student can tell you, the First Amendment right to free speech in the USA is the weakest constitutional protection you have. An employer can and often does restrict it, even off-hours. Anyway, aside from tenured professors like Sumner used to be, or retirees, or anonymous nyms, or both, who in their right mind wants to risk backlash from trolls by posting something unpopular? The first rule of business is to be as bland as possible to attract the widest possible audience. When a friend once did a soundtrack for a restaurant, I helped him put together the playlist, and when I introduced a controversial rap song, a family almost broke the electronic jukebox since they didn’t like the song. A family! The whole freaking family was involved. Needless to say we replaced that song with mild elevator mood music, repeated on a loop, and last I heard business was (pre-Covid) doing nicely. That’s business in capitalist America. So what exactly is Sumner complaining about?

    Bring back the old Sumner discussing his kooky monetarist theories, who nobody gets right, he’s always misunderstood, and trying to get such theories to work in practice is like those magic act spinning plates, almost impossible to do.

  7. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    16. August 2020 at 01:34

    ” . . . more like China in terms of having state capitalism . . . ”

    Is ‘this’ state capitalism?

    ” . . . China initially had a soviet-style
    40:48 economy but in 1978 a new leader came to
    40:53 power in China Deng Xiaoping and he
    40:56 analyzed the situation and he concluded
    40:58 that the Soviet system is doomed to
    41:01 failure and that’s of course dangerous
    41:04 he concluded for you know for the
    41:08 country and it’s better to abandon this
    41:10 system and instead he looked at other
    41:14 countries that had a more successful
    41:16 monetary system such as Japan and
    41:19 Germany and the US and he concluded well
    41:23 we need to decentralize banking and so
    41:26 when he came to power 1978 what what was
    41:28 the key one of the key things he
    41:30 introduced was he found it thousands of
    41:34 banks thousands of new banks local banks
    41:36 small banks regional banks specialized
    41:40 banks all across China and the rest is
    41:43 history that’s how you get high economic
    41:44 growth . . . ”

  8. Gravatar of Alex Mazur Alex Mazur
    16. August 2020 at 02:09

    Former Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposals to “make Britain the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet” have lead to this reaction from Beijing government’s propaganda outlets:

  9. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    16. August 2020 at 05:49

    The Atlantic ?!——-and Quilette? The Atlantic is the ultimate example of Washington DC at its worst. Owned by David Bradley, it will back anything which increases “elite” control.

    I love the 2 choices the “law professors” lay out——-control by either the “non-credentialed” or control by the “credentialed”. Two jerks. Friedman is still around? Jeez.

    In theory, they are doing analysis, but in reality they are spreading propaganda. Control being the key requirement. And people wonder why pitchfork owners voted for Trump? Look who the Bradley’s of the world want “running the country”. It is shocking in fact. They are not even pretending it matters who they are.

    By the way—-if it really is true AOC only gets some 60 second virtual reality gig at the convention, that is informative. While she is too immature and foolish…I dislike “them” much more. She and her supporters are getting screwed. They are trying to “never Trump” her.

    The “used to believe in freedom” neo Colonialist crowd of never Trumpers had their feelings hurt because this crude and rude guy actually had a clue and their chosen one never got over losing his favored son position. Even the Clintons were hard to control, I kind of miss them. They should team with Trump.

    Obama, on the other hand, was a sleek, easy to drive smooth operator. Now they will get rid of the middleman with these two mediocrities.

    It has become very difficult for me to watch what is happening. It is depressing. Fox is owned by an old man of the sea tough guy——when the loser kids get full control it will become like “The Atlantic” (talk about cultural appropriation) in a decade or less.

    Scott—-who is part of one of the last pro freedom academic institutions (the George Mason version of Scott), still can’t get over the crudeness of Trump——even as he chipped away at a couple of percent of our over regulated deep state which see him as a Dangerous threat.

    Scott thinks HK is not complex? When the head of a huge power declares himself the next Mao, we should take that guy seriously. So we have a self declared ruler philosopher king for life who just big footed HK and Scott thinks that is a big nothing—or was he being sarcastic? Who knows. . All Trump needed to say is “I am for freedom”? What world is that?

    Trump has to let big foot do it’s thing in HK—and he will fight on other fronts—like Taiwan—-who Scott loves to remind us thinks it is part of China—-as if that is not the problem. South Korea and West Germany also think/thought there was one Korea and one Germany. The question is which one.

    I don’t get the hate Trump thing—really. He does not like war, he wants trade rules to be equalized, he wants teachers’ unions to transfer power to parents, he wants our history to be respected, he wants less regulation, and he wants to be allowed to exist without being rampaged by Congress and the media. He wants growth. He wants us to not relent on power—and no—-he is not a globalist is the modern framing of that word. Which does not make him an early 20th century “nationalist”.

    You know, as to the topic of this essay by Scott, I do not know Trump’s view on how “social media” should be controlled. The “credentialed” or the “non credentialed”? Hmmm—let me think about it some more. These idiots call it “the great debate”.

    Scott—Trump is not a “cat”. You think he is a hollow man (TS Elliott style). I think he is a guy who can smell trouble and opportunity. Barr sees something in him he wants to protect. I trust Barr. You know, he really did fix Wollman Rink—in the 1980s no less. Too bad you have no clue about NYC. His Atlantic City Gambit failed—-but his escape was genius.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. August 2020 at 08:10

    Mark, Good point.

    Daniel, You said:

    “President Modi seems to be taking the lead here”

    The lead at what? Murdering Muslims?

    As far as the Nazis, have you forgotten that they were nationalists?

    Ray, You said:

    “he’s always misunderstood”

    By you. Others get what I’m saying.

    Michael, You said:

    “So we have a self declared ruler philosopher king for life who just big footed HK and Scott thinks that is a big nothing—or was he being sarcastic?”

    Do you know how to read? It’s Trump who thinks it’s no big deal. Trump is the fan of authoritarianism.

  11. Gravatar of bill bill
    16. August 2020 at 08:25

    To amplify:
    Nazi is even the short way of saying National. The “ti” changes to “zi” for pronunciation reason.

  12. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    16. August 2020 at 14:06


    The article in The Atlantic is appalling indeed. I’m speechless. Certain elites have gone mad.

    I find Zuckerberg’s years of fighting back kind of impressive. He has been fighting for so long, against the media, against politicians, against his own staff. Now he is slowly giving in, the poor guy, the pressure must be extreme.


    It’s correct, in this case “ti” is spoken “tsi” in German, there is an “s” that is not written down. I haven’t realized this before, but it’s true.

    The abbreviation Nazi is more likely to come from “National Socialist” though. An obvious analogy to the abbreviation “Sozi”, a term that existed long before “Nazi” and denoted a socialist, still does.

  13. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    17. August 2020 at 03:15


    I’m not too surprised that the “elites” support rule by “experts”, it’s basically about putting themselves into regulatory power. China is a technocracy just as the original model of “scientific socialism” had implied, except that in terms of economics, there is little socialism left. But the whole project of improving society, indeed humanity, through expert leadership, is alive and well. And boy wouldn’t Western experts love to have a go at the same thing.


    what Christian said: NAtional soZIalistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei was their name. The national socialist German workers party.

  14. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    17. August 2020 at 03:31

    Scott——I obviously meant you thought it was No “big deal for Trump”——hence “were you being sarcastic”?. It should have been clear from my Taiwan point that my view is it is very complex issue——but you were right—-my wording was awkward

  15. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    17. August 2020 at 08:22

    Why is it that I enjoy watching the Twitter and Facebook fact checkers tear apart misinformation but am absolutely horrified by that quote on Chinese censorship being necessary for a healthy internet? Is the line between private censorship and government censorship really that significant?

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. August 2020 at 15:15

    Randomize, Why do you enjoy private “fact checkers”? Why do we need them?

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