Jeremiah Keenan: What Life In China Taught Me About Bernie Sanders’ Guaranteed JobsPosted: April 30, 2018 | |
No government can equitably divide what it does not first control. And controlling the economy also requires controlling the rest of society.
My family was better off than that, but we still lived along the U.S. poverty line. We didn’t own a house, car, or TV. My parents rented a three-bedroom apartment in a ramshackle compound, made us kids a big bookshelf out of plywood, and taught us how to type on a used Mac with a 1995 facing-smile logo that spent a lot of time looking at me above progress bars on the screen.
That life wasn’t bad. Or, at least, most of the bad parts weren’t caused by “poverty.” You see, we lived in a socialist country where the government allowed enough free enterprise to fuel economic growth but maintained firm control to ensure economic equality. President Xi Jinping described our government’s strategy: “We want to continuously enlarge the pie, while also making sure we divide the pie correctly. Chinese society has long held the value of ‘Don’t worry about the amount, worry that all have the same amount.’”
Previous instantiations of this long-held value meant pretty much everybody (except powerful Communist Party members) did not have enough to eat. But 1980s reforms aimed at enlarging the pie had improved matters a great deal, so the common people lived better every day. Kids of my generation had soft little jaws and even chubby tummies. We did not eat the leaves off trees. We lived in apartments with electricity and, in the cities, running water.
The bad part of life was that the government maintained such a firm control of everything. This meant no freedom of speech or of religion. A couple million innocents were ground through the labor camps while I grew up, and one or two family acquaintances subjected to physical torture, but it was the only way government could firmly control everything. Without this control, they could not ensure that the pie, instead of simply growing larger, would be correctly divided. No government can equitably divide what it does not first control.
From Poverty to People’s Ideas of Poverty
From this environment, I was grafted, at the age of 18, into the American Ivy League. I became interested in U.S. politics: wrote for the newspaper, attended debates, tickled my brain with honors classes and the popular books of the American elites.
Young American elites love to talk about income inequality. Last spring, a great lecture hall was filled with them, debating a proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to fight poverty in America. The Left side of the room gave impassioned speeches on the moral necessity of fighting poverty.
One had a relative who earned only $10 an hour. This relative suffered greatly from her wage, and the speaker doubted she could survive if she weren’t living with her parents. There was a tremor in the speaker’s voice: “It’s immoral; it’s ridiculous,” she said, to have such immiseration in a country of so much wealth. We have a moral obligation to raise taxes on corporations and the top 10 percent.
These arguments are mainstream leftist. If you do not want the government to take rich people’s money for the poor, you are very selfish … (read more)