China and its Discontents

Archive for March, 2012

The Irony of Bo Xilai

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Wen Jiabao sees Bo’s downfall as a pivotal opportunity to pin his reformist colors high while the Communist Party is too divided to rein him in. He is reaching out to the Chinese public because the party is losing its monopoly on truth and internal roads to reform have long been blocked. Ironically, he is doing so by leading the public purging of a victim who has no hope of transparent justice, because the party to which he has devoted his life has never known any other way.

That last sentence was really a great kicker to an amazing article by John Garnaut in Foreign Policy entitled, “The Revenge of Wen Jiabao.” It seems kind of sadly cruel that Bo Xilai was purged and is probably being detained in some black prison somewhere.

Written by Will

March 31st, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Is a Compulsory Contract Really an Oxymoron?

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GEORGE WILL’s Sunday column calls the Supreme Court health-reform case (three days of oral arguments begin Monday) “the last exit ramp on the road to unlimited government”: “[T]he Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, [argues that the] individual mandate is incompatible with centuries of contract law … because a compulsory contract is an oxymoron. … Under Obamacare, Congress asserted the improper power to compel commercial contracts.”

Libertarians may believe a compulsory contract is an oxymoron, but everyone is entered into all sorts of “compulsory contracts” by the virtue of being a citizen! Just by being born in the U.S., we are all compelled to pay taxes, abide by the criminal and civil legal codes, and sign ourselves up for Selective Service and possibly be drafted (if we are male), among other requirements that I am most certainly forgetting. Many political philosophers would also consider voting to be each citizen’s duty, and many countries make voting legally obligatory. Of course we wouldn’t even be having this argument if either single-payer insurance had been enacted or hospitals themselves had been socialized, making the individual mandate unnecessary. Those alternatives definitely would not have invited any legal challenges. At least, I don’t think so…

Via Friday’s Playbook

Written by Will

March 25th, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Incredible Michael Sandel Video

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This is why I’m going into graduate school for IR/China Studies/International Economics and where I see my career going into the future. This question of scientistic economics vs. moral and political economy has profound implications for China, where these questions cannot even really be asked by academics. And it of course also directly affects the United States, where we need this kind of thought to combat a growing culture of ignorance and Tea Party economics. I love Michael Sandel:

“Scientistic understandings of economics detached from traditional normative questions, traditional questions of value, has a kind of momentum of its own, as if economics were a science or discipline that had graduated from, risen above, connection with mere speculation, which is what philosophers are sometimes thought to do.

And there is something very heady about that idea, of economics as a science, even like physics, for example. But I think it’s a mistake, and I think it’s short-sighted. I think the most important and creative work in the social sciences in our lifetime and in the future will be done by people who are equipped with economic training and concepts and categories but who can see beyond it, and who can reconnect economics with what used to be called moral and political economy.

You know back in the days of Adam Smith, and David Hume, and John Stewart Mill, there was one subject, moral and political economy. There was not political philosophy on the one hand and economics, the science, on the other. And I think that some of the most exciting development and new work will consist in reconnecting the normative dimensions of moral and political theory with economic analysis.

And we see this beginning in debates about globalization, for example, where the role of markets and normative questions seem very hard to leave by the wayside. So that’s one area I think in which the established social science are in need of a kind of leavening and deepening that can come if they reconnect with questions not only of policy but also values and norms, and ideals.”

via the excellent blog Understanding Society.