Tag: economic progress

New York Times “Celebrates” the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Slavok ZizekIn a way, I always knew it would happen. I knew that, come November 9, the left-leaning NYT would publish an article focusing on the supposed crisis of capitalism rather than the end of communist dictatorship. Still, I was not prepared for Slavoj Zizek’s op-ed entitled “20 Years of Collapse.”

First, a few words about the author – a Marxist philosopher from Slovenia. Generally ignored or ridiculed in Slovenia, Zizek is considered (by some) to be the new messiah of leftist thought in the West. Why did the NYT chose to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism with Zizek’s call for “socialism with a human face,” rather than an op-ed by someone like Vladimir Bukovsky, a former Soviet political prisoner tormented for years by the communists, is anyone’s guess.

But, it is the substance of Zizek’s article that is so misleading. The article makes absolutely no mention of the economic progress made in Central and Eastern Europe. Yet, as the World Bank and even the United Nations tell us, incomes in the region have substantially increased and so has school enrollment. People live longer and healthier lives; environmental quality has much improved.

Zizek mentions communist oppression, but nowhere does he mention that 100 million people have died in the pursuit of communist utopia. Contemporary Marxists either ignore the astonishingly high number of victims of communism or try to minimize it. That is understandable. No matter what the (real or imagined) problems with capitalism are today, no sane person would be willing to embrace an alternative to capitalism that has a habit of resulting in a mountain of corpses.

The second – and equally risible tactic of contemporary communists (as Paul Hollander mentions in his just released Cato study) – is to try to draw a moral equivalence between socialism and market democracy. Zizek attempts to do exactly that by telling a story of a Soviet defector who became an outspoken critic of McCarthyism in the United States. The idea that there is any but the most superficial similarity between Soviet totalitarianism and the United States in the 1950s is preposterous – unless, of course, you are a modern-day leftist trying to salvage whatever remains of your philosophy from the dustbin of history.

Zizek is right to point out that there is growing disenchantment with capitalism and democracy. But, the recently released Pew and BBC polls have surely been influenced by the current (and likely temporary) economic environment, which, we are told, is the worst since the Great Depression. There are other psychological factors at work. Current problems feature more prominently in the minds of today’s Central and Eastern Europeans than shortages of 20 years ago and the old tend to remember their youth fondly – no matter what the actual political and economic circumstances.

Last, but not least, young people in the region know very little about communism. Learning about communism is by-and-large superficial, because the level of collaboration with communist regimes was very high among the general public. A thorough investigation of communist crimes would open too many wounds, it is claimed. Unfortunately, this collective amnesia means that instead of appreciating the great advances that their societies have made over the past 20 years, young people focus on their societies’ shortcomings vis-à-vis the contemporary West.

I have lived under communism. Although I have never personally experienced its true horrors, I had family members who did. The NYT’s choice of a lead op-ed on the day of an almost miraculous deliverance of hundreds of millions of people from communist slavery is shameful and sickening.

Reflections on China’s 1949 “Liberation”

During a speaking trip to China three years ago, the young tour guide in Beijing kept referring to “the liberation.” I soon realized that she meant the October Revolution of 1949, in which Mao Tse Tung and the communists seized power and began their rule 60 years ago today.

Far from liberating China, the reign of Mao represents one of the worst tyrannies in the history of mankind. Opposition parties, free speech and freedom of religion were quickly eliminated. The Great Leap Forward of 1958-61 forced the collectivization of agriculture, resulting in a famine that killed tens of millions. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, while not as deadly, unleashed chaos that crippled the economy and scarred a generation. As Gordon Chang writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, the celebration by the Chinese people will be understandably muted.

China’s real liberation began not 60 years ago, but 30 years ago, with the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. While China remains an oppressive, one-party state politically, its economy has taken a true great leap forward in the past three decades because of market reforms in agriculture, industry, and trade. China’s liberation has far to go, but the Chinese people today are much more free of government interference in their personal, daily lives than they were in the time of Mao.

When I point to China’s economic progress as an example of what trade liberalization can deliver, my debate opponents will sometimes counter that China is a communist country. But China’s dramatic growth has not occurred because of its residual communism. For 30 years now, its government has been in the process of abandoning the communist economic policies of Mao and his fellow “liberators,” much to the benefit of the Chinese people and the world.

Walking Is Controlled Falling Forward

People walk by propelling themselves forward in a way that would cause them to fall, then swinging a leg ahead to prevent the collapse.

So it is with innovation and economic progress. Change comes in a way that threatens to land us on our faces, but we swing a leg forward and find ourselves further advanced than before.

I was reminded of this today when I saw the Washington Post headline about the digital television transition: “Digital TV Ready to Rule the Tube, Leaving Some Viewers in the Dark.”

If it’s true that 3,000,000 homes in the U.S. will find their TV screens blank on Saturday — and if the people in those homes care — they’ll swing a leg forward by getting a digital TV converter, and the march to progress will continue.

If you think about falling forward in isolation, it looks like a bad idea, and earlier this year Congress delayed the DTV transition. Thank goodness we’ll get to take that step now.