Ben Casnocha on China

After a three-week trip to China, Ben Casnocha wrote a long post about it. His main point I very much agree with:

Flush toilets and clean water matter more than abstract rights such as a free press.

Sure, the Chinese government censors all sorts of stuff. I find it hard to read anything on, for example (because the free blogs on that site could be used by Chinese bloggers). But, as Ben emphasizes, freedom in China — the freedom to do all sorts of things, including travel and make a living — has vastly increased over the last 10 years. Simply because of the economic growth. How much has American freedom increased over the last 10 years?

I fail to see any substantial America-specific increase. Due to the Internet, free speech has certainly increased but that has almost nothing to do with how America is governed. Free speech has increased everywhere with Internet access. Due to the increased cost of health care in America (an increased percentage of per capita income), worsening health (e.g., the obesity epidemic), and stagnation in the development of better treatments (e.g., for bipolar disorder) and better prevention, I’d say freedom in America has declined because poor health is imprisoning. Obesity, for example, is profoundly imprisoning. Cross-national comparisons show that America has a uniquely poor health-care system given American wealth. Given the concentration in America of support for health research (money and prestige), America is especially responsible for the lack of progress. And when people as smart as Atul Gawande fail to see the great stagnation in health care, it’s hard to imagine those in power doing something about it. So which country is better governed?

12 Replies to “Ben Casnocha on China”

  1. They still (attempt to) censor the Internet. Do they still have have that 1 child per family law where you can elect to abort girls?

    I’ll give them the prize for most improved while on the UN security council, but I wont give them better than the usa. usa usa usa…

    Also apparently their private sector still thinks that they need the right to waste and pollute or else they can’t compete, just like us. That’s a sure sign they are just riding a wave and are about to get owned by the Japanese, just like us.

  2. If you have freedom, you can probably get flush toilets and clean water. If you don’t have freedom, someone else will be deciding if you get flush toilets and clean water.

  3. If you have freedom, you can probably get flush toilets and clean water.

    Zimbabwe has freedom (at least from the evil grip of white men).

  4. Freedom in the U.S. has plummeted in recent years, as cops are encouraged to torture with electric shocks anybody who doesn’t jump to do anything they say, or just because they like to. Freedom in the U.S. has plummeted in recent years, as various police and other agencies are free to eavesdrop secretly on all kinds of communication without a warrant. Freedom in the U.S. has plummeted in recent years, as it’s much, much easier to monitor, electronically, what people are doing, and where they are, than ever before. Freedom in the U.S. has plummeted in recent years, as you cannot travel, or even visit the courthouse, without having your personal belongings rifled through. I could go on.

  5. @JLD: Reminds me of the joke from the old Soviet Union:

    Q: What is the difference between capitalism and communism?

    A: Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s the other way around.


  6. How can you say that the existence of the internet has nothing to do with how the US is governed? It did not appear by magic, it is based on a vast infrastructure which had to be built according to state, local and federal laws. It was originally created as part of government research. In many countries the legal system would not support such an endeavor. This is regarding both the physical infrastructure/hardware and the software, both of which are constantly being developed and improved by people with a vast array of skills. It is supported by private industry as well as public research.

    It is not by chance that the internet was created in one country as opposed to another. It could not have been invented in just any country.

  7. How much does the existence of companies like Google and Amazon, and the innovation that they drive, contribute to human freedom? Is having an incredible level of accessibility to media and ideas a contribution to human freedom? Could these companies exist in a country governed like China? Is it simply by chance that things like, the internet, Google and Amazon all originate from the same country? How does technological information and increased information affect freedom?

    I think you need to define “freedom” very narrowly if you want to think that freedom is decreasing or stagnant in the US. I think you also need to have a very narrow view of how laws and government affect things in order to pursue this argument.

  8. With laws like the patriotic act, political freedom didn’t rose in the US but decreased.

    China is governed by engineering and science people while the US is governed by liberal arts folks and one of those groups is able to making better decisions.
    It’s no accident that China is better governed.
    You shouldn’t trust people who go to study political science and believe it with political decisions.

  9. @CCS: The internet was invented in multiple country at the same time. It wasn’t a pure US thing.
    US also has a pretty bad broadband penetration, so part of the US haven’t even arrived at the real internet.

    While Google and Amazon both originate in the US, a lot of hardware is made in China (either People’s Republic of China or Republic of China).

  10. You are confusing freedom with constraints caused by irresponsible use of freedom. If obesity constrains me, to say that my freedom is reduced as a political statement, you would have to blame some government law for my obesity – a law to the effect that I must eat more calories than I need to maintain a given weight. It is not enough to say that they have promoted or recommended things that have been ill-advised with respect to health, so long as they don’t force me to abide. Where’s the law?

    Running water and flushing toilets are great, but man also has higher needs and aspirations, and being denied those by government edict can be particularly gauling, even if those aspirations are not held by your everyday peasant. China is not very good on that score.

  11. “You would have to blame some government law for my obesity.” NIH — government run — has done a terrible job of fighting obesity. I don’t expect fat people to lose weight without help. I expect research to help them. That research hasn’t happened. And obesity is just one example of terrible American health. We get less for our health care dollars than any other country.

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