Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99
News Opinion

Obama needs to get over his China envy

Up to 40 million Chinese people still live in caves. That's more than the populations of Texas and Illinois, combined. In fairness, a fraction of these caves are apparently pretty nice, complete with electricity and well-compacted dirt floors. But that's grading on a curve because, well, they're still caves.

Meanwhile, 21 million Chinese live below what the Communist Party calls the "absolute poverty" line. That sounds pretty good if you have in mind our poverty line, which is just under $11,000 per year for an individual and roughly $22,000 for a family of four. The absolute poverty rate in China is $90 a year, or $7.50 per month. And 35 million live on less than $125 per year. Hundreds of millions of Chinese live on $1 or $2 a day.

Michael Levy, who recently wrote a book on his stint as a Peace Corps worker in rural China (yes, China still asks for Peace Corps help) put it well in an interview with NPR: "Imagine that there's a country exactly like the United States. Exactly the same size. It's got the same cities. It's got the same number of rich people and poor people. It's just like us. And now add 1 billion peasants. That's China."

And yet that's the country President Obama insists we need to emulate. "Everybody's watching what's going on in Beijing right now with the Olympics," then-candidate Obama told an audience in Virginia in 2008. "Think about the amount of money that China has spent on infrastructure. Their ports, their train systems, their airports are vastly superior to us now, which means if you are a corporation deciding where to do business you're starting to think, Beijing looks like a pretty good option."

Mr. Obama has returned to campaign mode and his fear-China refrain. To listen to President Obama, China's beating us in some sort of infrastructure race. "Folks in Congress are also going to get a chance to decide ... whether our construction workers should sit around doing nothing while China builds the best railroads, the best schools, the best airports in the world."

Now maybe we could use more infrastructure spending, but China's got nothing to do with it. The reason China has invested massively in infrastructure is simply that it has relatively little of it. America has 5,194 airports with paved runways (the only kind I use, how about you?). That's more than 11 times China's 442. In fact, you can add up the paved airports of the next 10 countries combined, and America beats them with more than a thousand airports to spare. We have nearly twice the roadways China does and almost three times the railways.

Ah, but China is investing in high-speed rail! Which, we are told, will help us win the future. Except China has, in the words of the London Financial Times, "slammed the brakes" on its high-speed rail program for a slew of safety and economic reasons.

What people don't often mention is that we have the best freight system in the world (in Europe, they move people on rails and cargo on roads; we mostly do the opposite because we're so much more spread out). That's why Warren Buffett -- the president's favorite billionaire -- has invested massively in freight rail. Alas, switching to high-speed rail in the U.S. would seriously threaten the efficiency of our system.

Obviously, China's a formidable economic player and a growing military and diplomatic power. But only a fool would trade our problems for theirs (even though Mr. Obama has reportedly told friends he envies the president of China for having an easier job). China's health and safety standards are abysmal compared with America's. China's air is crunchy, its rivers often flammable. Their housing bubble could make ours look like a minor correction. Demographically, China is still on target to get old before it gets rich.

Moreover, China's social fabric is in dire need of repair. Just consider the recent horrifying footage of a 2-year-old toddler who was struck by two vehicles and was left to die in agony in the middle of a busy street as passersby ignored her. The New York Times reported this summer that in some regions, it is common for officials to snatch newborn babies from parents -- and sell them. Indeed, China has a thriving market in children. And do you really think our problems with income inequality are worse than China's?

Oh, and let's not forget: It's still an autocratic police state.

President Obama is hardly alone in his effort to mythologize China in order to justify expansion of government. Times columnist Tom Friedman -- who has written often of his envy for China's authoritarian system -- begins his new book comparing the unreliable escalators at his neighborhood subway station with a glitzy convention center in China, in order to suggest that China is winning the future. It's as instructive as comparing his mansion in Bethesda, Md., to a Chinese cave.

Jonah Goldberg is a syndicated columnist. His email is JonahsColumn@aol.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Indiana learns discrimination is bad business
    Indiana learns discrimination is bad business

    The leaders of large corporations have not generally been at the vanguard of civil rights movements in this country. The average CEO is usually more concerned about stock valuations and quarterly dividends than about fighting discrimination. And when was the last time you saw the money-hungry...

  • Respect the office, if not the man
    Respect the office, if not the man

    I am no fan of President Barack Obama. I have been openly critical of him, particularly of his foreign policy. I think he has led this country in the wrong direction, both when he could reign unopposed during his first two years backed by a full Democratic majority and when we, Republicans, let...

  • What lurks in the shadowy corners of the Internet
    What lurks in the shadowy corners of the Internet

    Ever heard of "doxxing" or "revenge porn"? How about the names Violentacrez or Craig Brittain?

  • Parent parking fines [Poll]
    Parent parking fines [Poll]
  • Time for CitiStat-Stat
    Time for CitiStat-Stat

    Perhaps Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ascribes to the theory that if you want to get a job done, you should ask a busy person. The man she hired to revamp Baltimore's vaunted CitiStat program, as it turns out, is awfully busy. In addition to his cabinet-level position in city government,...

  • Health insurance exchanges need an upgrade
    Health insurance exchanges need an upgrade

    Established by the Affordable Care Act, the Healthcare.gov exchange and its 14 state-run counterparts have enrolled more than 11 million people — 800,000 of whom were sent incorrect tax information, the Obama administration admitted last month.

Comments
Loading