Sunday, November 27, 2011

Liberal Education

The education of Bo Guagua (son of Chongqing mayor and rising star in the CCP Bo Xilai):

At age 12, he attended the British prep school Papplewick;
followed by several years of secondary education at the Harrow School (Winston Churchill is an alumnus);
matriculated from Oxford University;
and is now studying at the Kennedy School at Harvard.

We'd better get a liberal out of this kid. It's scary to think, but one must pose the question: if an open-minded, broad-based liberal education doesn't work, then what will?

I mean, it's possible his privileged upbringing and early childhood development can outweigh all of that. But hopefully the British and American education systems have something to offer. (Otherwise is political outlook determined by age 12?)

From an article in The Wall Street Journal about the rise of the "princelings" -- the sons and daughters of leaders of the Communist political class in P.R. China. Interesting quote:

"there is a widespread perception in China that they [the princelings] have an unfair advantage in an economic system that, despite the country's embrace of capitalism, is still dominated by the state and allows no meaningful public scrutiny of decision making."

Some of this might resonate with Occupiers; it's just a much grosser extreme in China. The direction of influence is also different: in the United States, there are worries that plutocratic monied interests (personified by Wall Street and Goldman Sachs types) have captured the government and are undermining the democratic system by using their wealth to buy politicians and legislation.

In China, it's the opposite: officials and political leaders are extracting most of the surplus of the country's rapid economic expansion, and they are using government powers to protect those gains. But they were in a position to capitalize on growth and rake in the dough because they held political power in the first place. They have access to/can force through preferential treatment. Something smacks of unfairness, of exploitative or fraudulent ascension.

At least in the US, most rich people rose through a competitive capitalist system. Whatever you think of the social contribution of investment bankers, their outsize remuneration, or society's misplaced priorities in elevating these individuals, these bankers got where they were through their hard work and smarts at providing the skills desired in this (flawed) system. They weren't necessarily born with entre to the banking world; for instance, cue former New Jersey Governor Corzine, who came from a Midwest farming community and worked his way up the ladder at Goldman Sachs. (By the way, as someone who took excessive risk, lost billions, and now currently under investigation, he is still not a good poster child for the financial industry).

Though these financial elites are now perceived as attempting to rig the system to prop themselves up and give themselves special protections, they didn't get exceptionally favorable bank loans/tax breaks/policies via pre-existing political connections by virtue of their birth to propel them to the top. Indeed, that may be what's at issue today: now that Wall Street investment bankers are on top, they are pushing on the levers of government to cement in what many consider to be unfair practices, in order to tilt the playing field and insulate themselves, while the ordinary American suffers the effects of their risky (sometimes fraudulent) actions.

It's possible that in recent years (starting from the last decade), financial firms and Wall Street already started the rigging, but at least it's not inborn: they have to gain economic clout before they can seize government power. In China, it's precisely the opposite: this class is born with political advantage, and can wield it to capture  economic wealth, and defend this privileged position with political power and money. No one else even had a chance.

It's the problem of an entrenched elite getting to the top of the hill and keeping others out. But one of these situations is just even more egregious than the other.

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