Category Archives: philosophy

Is China the future or the past?

The New York Times asks, Does New York Need to Dream Big Again? Some have pointed to Shenzen as a model for frenetic growth with livable outcomes. It seems to me that the United States doesn’t have much to learn from China’s impressive economic growth.

That would be like present-day WalMart re-adopting the aggressive growth strategy that saw it spread across the country (and beyond). There are only so many cities big enough to support a WalMart. In the same way, there is only so far a country can be modernized with today’s institutions and technology. Once you reach saturation (the United States being pretty much at the limit of WalMarts and modernity), you have to settle for more cautious, measured growth.

China is still racing headfirst toward “a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.” Americans, for the most part, have all the chickens they can eat, and a car to drive to KFC.

The kinds of mega-projects that became possible with American prosperity in the 20th century and the government powers that followed a depression and two wars will not return to the United States. Today’s economic troubles will pass, but the days of double-digit growth have been over for decades. Similarly, the age when people trusted government passed with the youth rebellions of the sixties and Ronald Reagan’s anti-government administration.

Compare that to the situation in China, where the economy is strong and the government is powerful. On a grand scale, anything is possible.

Is this the difference between a Modern nation and a Postmodern nation? I may be abusing those therms. China pours concrete and erects steel while the United States tinkers with what it already has. China believes it can build a utopia with conviction and effort, while America is less sure of itself.

This isn’t necessarily a bad development for the United States. I doubt, however, that you can go back to operating with a modern philosophy (regardless of economic realities) once you’ve moved on – it’s a bit like religious faith that way.

And why should anyone want a return to the past anyway? It’s pretty well accepted that a lot of the things built in the last century were a mistake. Look at the (I think, partly undeserved) legacy of Robert Moses or the reconstruction of the Regent Park public housing complex in Toronto. Aiming for quality over quantity has its advantages.

Sunday Selections

Capitalism Shrugged

We all know communism is not an ideal form of government. The USSR and North Korea have more than proven that.

At the same time, Randian individualism and strictly laissez-faire economics also lead to distasteful results. Case in point:

American children in districts with the lowest taxes tend to be sicker, more often sexually abused, and more likely to run afoul of the law, according to a major study conducted by the U.S.-based Every Child Matters Education Fund. Such children are also likely to be less employable as adults, the researchers found.

There is a balance to be found between individual liberty and social equity, but neither the Americans nor the Koreans have found it. We in Canada haven’t found it either, and that we are not as badly off as the Americans should come as cold-comfort.

[photo credit]

It Feels Good

We are all selfish.

There is no such thing as a truly altruistic person, someone who gives and really expects nothing in return. I am not, and neither are you.

When you give a donation for a ribbon, you aren’t “raising awareness” of the cause. You’re saying, “Look at me! I gave money to something worthy!” When you give the Girl Scouts money, you expect delicious cookies in return. When you buy a charity lottery ticket, you expect a dream home.

On October 28, I am giving blood. And I can guarantee you, on that day my MSN name will be declaring it to all my friends. Because it feels good if people think you are a decent person. As an added bonus, I expect there will be delicious cookies and maybe even a sticker or ribbon to advertise my good deed to the world.

But, to paraphrase my favourite TV doctor, “If the end doesn’t justify the means, what does?” It doesn’t matter if I’m actually trading blood for a cookie. What matters is that the Red Cross has my blood. It means I’m less of a saint than you might have been led to believe, but no less than any of you schmucks.