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Tilting at Windmills

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September 7, 2010

THE GOP HEARTS CHINA.... In Wisconsin, far-right Senate candidate Ron Johnson (R) is perhaps best known for his bizarre ideas about global warming, and the embarrassing instances in which he's sought and received federal aid for his business enterprises, despite basing his campaign on opposition to government intervention in private industry.

But Johnson is also raising eyebrows for suggesting communist China is better for businesses than the United States.

U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson was on the Wisconsin Radio Network Monday, chatting about jobs and the economy. But after the host asked him about his free market philosophy, Johnson ended up kind-of praising communist China instead.

Johnson talked about creating an attractive environment for business and job creation. And he talked about how more Wisconsin youths could benefit from getting out there and working on farms.

But then Johnson veered onto the topic of China, and how casino entrepreneur Steve Wynn has already started building businesses in Macau.

"He's also creating resorts in Macau in China, communist China. And his point is, the level of uncertainty, the climate for business investment is far more certain in communist China then it is in the U.S. here," Johnson said.

The "uncertainty" is lazy nonsense, without foundation in reality. Those who repeat the talking point should generally be considered tired hacks.

But putting that aside, it's truly strange to have reached a point at which far-right statewide candidates criticize the United States while praising China. I knew Johnson was out there, but I didn't expect him to argue publicly that a communist country might be better for business than his own country.

Also note, we've been hearing quite a bit of this from the right lately. National Review recently ran an item arguing that China is setting a fine economic model to be emulated. And that came on the heelsof disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich telling the Young Americans for Freedom, "You want to create jobs as rapidly as China? The Chinese pay zero capital-gains tax. If we had zero capital-gains tax in the United States ... we'd be dramatically better off."

As Jon Stewart recently explained, "So that's the Republican plan -- to fight socialism, we must become communists."

I shudder to think what would happen in the political discourse if prominent Democrats ran around urging Republicans to adopt policies more in line with China's.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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As I observed after hearing about the anarchists' angry flailing about at the G20 summit in Toronto and noting how much they resembled the Teabaggers:

The Republicans have moved so far to the right that pretty soon they're going to end up circling all the way around to the left.

I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

Posted by: SteveT on September 7, 2010 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

"The "uncertainty" is lazy nonsense, without foundation in reality. Those who repeat the talking point should generally be considered tired hacks."

More specifically, my response to the "uncertainty" talking point is, "Oh. You want certainty? OK. The Bush tax cuts will expire, and the top tax rate will go back to what it was in 2000, which you've known about since the tax cuts were passed in 2001. There. That's as certain as it gets. Oh, you don't like that? But it's CERTAIN! I guess when you say 'certainty,' you mean 'I want lower taxes.' That's a little bit different, don't you think?"

Posted by: Rick Massimo on September 7, 2010 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Chinese don't pay capital gains because they're treated as ordinary income. If Gingrich would really want the US to do the same, I can get behind him.

Posted by: Ken on September 7, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

It is terrifying when you realize how truly dumb the cons are and that they may be running the asylum for the next two years.

Plus to Ken @2:56: Good point!

Posted by: CDW on September 7, 2010 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

If you leave aside political freedom (how much of this do republicans want anyway )China is a conservative businessman's dream. Lax safety and environmental regulation, little worker protection, government subsidies, low wages and taxes, political corruption......all in the name of business expansion. If you don't mind shoddy construction, poison food, and sweat shops, China is the place for you

Posted by: bob kagan on September 7, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Low wages, no unions, weak environmental laws, endemic corruption, what's for a scum ball crony capitalist not to love?

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on September 7, 2010 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

The capital gains argument is BS because the government either directly or indirectly owns most of the large corporations (and a sizable number of the mid-size and smaller ones). In other words, China doesn't need to tax what they already earn through dividends.

And for all the talk of 'free market' reforms China stills retains very top down ecnomic policies. Look at what happened during the Olympics. The government mandated factory shutdowns for weeks prior and during the Olympics to clean up the air quality ahead of the games (and hide its crappy environmental record). And that's a relatively minor example.

Posted by: thorin-1 on September 7, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Why aren't republicans talking about the progressive income tax rates in China?

Income tax in China is already nominally more progressive than in most countries, with the top marginal rate around 45%, compared to 35% in the U.S.


Posted by: flyonthewall on September 7, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK


I suggest you look up the review of the Barbara Boxer/Carly Fiorina debate by the Sacramento Bee's stellar political reporter, Dan Morain. In it, Morain points out the irony of Fiorina praising the 'command and control' Chinese economic incentive model, while at the same time claiming to be staunch advocate of the 'free market'.

Posted by: OtterBill on September 7, 2010 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Well, 'red', in a great fit of irony, has become the color of the Rethugs. Red China and the red GOP. Perhaps they are merely showing their true colors. And we never knew they were communists from the start... All that 'red' baiting in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, it was just a front. Golly.

Posted by: rrk1 on September 7, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

It's not like China is a true communist society anymore, it's a lot closer to what the U.S.A. was in the 1800's. A vast unregulated capitalist economy with expansive natural resources and a huge underclass.

China is a paradise for rich, well-connected businessmen. You can buy all the "certainty" you need, take your profits, and ignore any regulatory issues that might crimp your style. Yup, that is precisely what a lot of GOP folks really want these days.

Posted by: GP on September 7, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

So does their admiration extend to the huge fiscal stimulus that kept China out of recession?

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on September 7, 2010 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

I just wish that here in Wisconsin Johnson was getting the negative press that I see here. I live in the Madison area and can tell you that the Senate race is barely on the public's radar screen right now. We have an open seat for governor, with two truly nutty guys running in the GOP primary next week. That race is getting the lion's share of press attention. Hopefully, once we're past that, the media focus will turn more to the Senate.

Posted by: wihntr on September 7, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

"China is a conservative businessman's dream. Lax safety and environmental regulation, little worker protection, government subsidies, low wages and taxes, political corruption......all in the name of business expansion. If you don't mind shoddy construction, poison food, and sweat shops, China is the place for you."

To expand on bob kagan's point, it is well past the time that we should still be refering to China as 'communist'. They have gradually transformed their country into a fascist state. 'They the people' have no rights and corporations can do whatever they like. Like here, money calls the shots only more so. i.e., a conservatives wet dream.

Posted by: gocart mozart on September 7, 2010 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of thoughts. Like Steve L., I wonder wether the GOP admiration extends to the huge investment Chin made in infastructure to kee-p its economy humming. Not only did it manage to keep aggregate demand up when the market for its exports declined, but it is positioning itself to be an even more potent economy in the future. The U.S. not so much. Second, while their are undoubtedly opportunities for guys like Steve Wynn, I am aware of wisconsin businesses who have been taken to the cleaners doing business with China. China does not have the same well developed sense of contract law that these folks have gotten used to in the good old U.S.of A.--you know a court and justice system which has to be paid for with tax dollars--and they end up holding the bag with regularity.

Posted by: Terry on September 7, 2010 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not the one to do it, but someone really needs to set up a website (or heck, just a blog post) with the theme "If you think China's so great..." and then itemize all the things Americans wouldn't like about China: Government-controlled economy, lax environmental regulations, no individual rights, no established justice system, horrible traffic, repressive one-child policy, etc. Shouldn't be too hard to come up with a very long list.

Would you take this in exchange for elimination of the capital gains tax?

Posted by: Dave Munger on September 7, 2010 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Iff only American workers would just get used to working in sweat shops for $.50/hr, 60hrs./wk and big business didn't have to worry about its effects on the environment or pay substantial taxes...then America could bloom just like freedom loving, christian hating China.

Just go back and read the Chinese constitution and bill of rights...oh,that's right.

Far right candidates are all ready to sell the country out for more profits. I can just hear McCain saying, "We are all Chinese now". (every member of the governing council is a billionaire and so are their family members.)

Posted by: bjobotts on September 7, 2010 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, business in China is great, if you don't mind your executives arrested, convicted in kangaroo courts, and gaoled for long periods.

Google "Stern Hu" if you want a sense of the joys of doing business in the joint.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on September 7, 2010 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Ahh, yes. China. The source in recent years of lead-tainted toys, poisonous food and drywall that sickens household residents and corrodes the electrical fixtures.

Thanks to Bush, U.S. regulators weren't conducting ANY of the inspections and screening that might have kept such products out of our country, but it is still China whose corruption and lax enforcement allowed them to be produced and exported. Of course, the GOP (and the rest of us) might want to keep in mind that some of the company executives responsible for these incidents were executed when their poisonous products became embarassing to the Chinese government.

Posted by: tanstaafl on September 7, 2010 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

They aren't necessarily praising communism. Any type of dictatorship would do, which is the point Republicans are really trying to make.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on September 7, 2010 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Wynn is in Macau because Macau is now the biggest gambling center in the world. He's getting in on the boom while the getting is still good.

With gambling illegal in mainland China, but permitted in Macau, Wynn is now looking to fleece the people who received America's outsourced jobs.

This has nothing to do with the superiority of any system or the advantages of more lax regulation, and everything to do with pent-up demand by a huge portion of the world's population desperate to improve their lot by the original get rich quick scheme of gambling.

Posted by: petorado on September 7, 2010 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK

So how do Republicans feel about China's stance on private ownership of guns? Possession or sale of firearms will get you a minimum of 3 years in jail, with the maximum being the death penalty.

China's not looking so good now, eh, wingers?

Posted by: josef on September 7, 2010 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

And what does China's ruling party do with it's politcal enemies? They put a bullet in their head. Hmm, maybe this has a future.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on September 7, 2010 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

Dang. I've been saying for years that Republicans secretly admire the Communists. They love torture and want to secure the border, just like the North Koreans. They manage their corporations as centrally planned dictatorships, whose leadership is sanctified by undemocratic sham elections. Just like the USSR.

So the only surprise for me is that they are now doing it openly.

Posted by: FGS on September 7, 2010 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

Will anyone in the MSM ask Ron Johnson and other China-admirers if they think the US should become like China (specifying the fine points made by readers, above)? Or just let it pass?

Wait, let me guess...

Posted by: Hannah on September 7, 2010 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

The PRC and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau are different things. The former European colonies of Hong Kong and Macau were never part of "Communist China" - they were colonies and they were allowed to be "special administrative regions" after they were handed back to China in the 1990s. They're basically like separate countries. This is such an obvious error on Ron Johnson's, Steve Benen and the newspaper's part, it's funny. Take 2 minutes to read about Macau and Hong Kong on Wikipedia.

Posted by: LALaw on September 8, 2010 at 3:50 AM | PERMALINK

I am sorry but as far as casinos are concerned he is right on the money. The United States is a place full of unexpected dangers for casinos and China has a much more predictable regulatory outlook, that is until China gets it's own Jack Abrahamof.

Posted by: wasd on September 8, 2010 at 3:54 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many of the politicians bringing up China have ever spent a significant amount of time in the country? For that matter, I wonder how many of the commenters on this blog have either.

I've been married to a Beijing native for eleven years, have travelled to China more times than I can count, and am living in Beijing right now (this post is being typed at a local Starbucks), and am constantly amazed by how little people know about what the country really is like.

To start with, there is very little crime of the type that you hear about every day in the US. Almost no robberies, murders, rapes, etc. China has a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving (first offense = one month in jail), and no private gun ownership (so no gun violence). I feel a zillion times safer in Beijing than I do in the US. People here are so polite and friendly that nobody would even dream of pickpocketing you on the subway.

Is the air pollution bad? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Today the sky is just as blue and visibility is just as good as it usually is at home in Seattle, and most days the air pollution isn't any worse than Los Angeles. In fact, due to all the trees planted before the Olympics, Beijing is probably just as green as most American cities. The subway system is soon to be on par with New York, Paris, and London (there will be fifteen lines by 2013), and people are a lot healthier because everyone walks and bicycles (despite the increase in the number of cars).

With regards to politics and government, China is a lot freer than most people think. In private, you can say/write/do pretty much anything you want, and publically criticizing specific government decisions or actions is pretty much tolerated, as long as you do not criticize the Communist Party itself.

Although the government has a huge role in the economy through it's ownership of many large companies, China is an excellent place for entrepenuers. In fact, the main source of the country's economic growth has been the millions of small businesses that people have started. Some are simple food stands than make a few dollars a day, some are companies like Baidu and SOHO that have made their owners billionaires, but without a doubt they are responsible for increasing the quality of life for millions of Chinese. Even working for what Westerners would consider to be paltry wages are earning much more than the could farming in their villages.

The two main business problems in China are the rapant corruption and the use of the legal system to settle political scores. Although bribery is not required, greasing palms does make it easier to get things done, and the inconsistent application of laws, especially with regards to contract law and anti-corruption laws makes things much more complicated than necessary.

Stern Hu, for example, whom somebody mentioned upthread, is a perfect encapsulation of all that is good and bad about modern China. For those who do not know, he is someone who worked his way up from being a poor nobody working at a food stall to the richest man in China, only to be taken down by a politically motivated prosecution for the type of bribery that is a routine part of doing business in China.

Anyway, the bottom line is that China is not what most Westerners think it is...something that it would behoove them to remember when passing judgement on it.

Posted by: mfw13 on September 8, 2010 at 5:44 AM | PERMALINK

In response to the first commenter - say what you like about the G20 protests, but I was there and watched people out at restaurants with their families get herded into the street and assaulted by police officers. I spoke with students who had been sitting on the ground when they got blasted by tear gas grenades from 15 feet away. I watched unmarked vans haul up out of nowhere and drag protestors away with no arrest and no warrant.

I was there that weekend for a bbq with my fiancee, and I had no real interest in the G20 meeting. I started the weekend frustrated with the annoying protestors who were stopping traffic with their "angry flailing" and generally predisposed to support the work the G20 was doing. By the time the weekend was over, I was shocked, stunned, and terrified of the rampant and senseless brutality I witnessed or heard about nearly every time I had to walk past any of the major protest sites, and much of the formerly peaceful city felt the same way.

You want to turn the population of a peaceful country against its own government? That's the way to do it - stamp your citizens into the ground with a billion dollars worth of unanswered violence.

Oh wait, there was that one kid with a brick. I guess we're even.

Posted by: Timothy Ellis on September 8, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK



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