Monday, December 27, 2004

A little more for folks watching the ins and outs of the Rise of China:

Hernando de Soto is famous for suggesting that the most important thing third-world governments can do to try to improve the lives of their peasantry (having enough people to matter be honest-to-G-d, near-subsistence farming peasants is pretty much what makes you a third world country these days) is to give them property. De Soto justifies this strictly on economic grounds, but there are political aspects as well -- it makes even the poor feel that they are part of the same society as the rich, and not peons in a class structure that offers them no real power, and treats them as a nuisance.

So it's somewhat of interest that the Chinese instead are doing things like kicking some of their peasants off their land, so that real estate developers can install Chinese nouveaux riches in the Chateau Zhang Laffitte, a replica of a 1650s French noble's house, enhanced with gardens that dwarf the originals -- and a moat.

In short, one of the big new things in Communist China is overt echt-feudalism. Needless to say, this raises the prospect of class resentment, if not class warfare. The New York Times article notes that the government there is worried about this, but says nothing about what they're planning to do about it. But I imagine they are planning. I have no idea what those plans might be, though. For there are at least two classic strategies that autocratic governments with an imperial tinge have used to distract the plebs. One is bread and circuses. Another is war.

But as counterpoint: China is big. Spectacularly big. Big enough that it has entire large cities specialized enough that the major industry is, say, socks. And some of the socks millionaires now were working out of their houses for spare change a decade or two ago. It may make a difference that the nouveaux riches are genuinely nouveau...


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