Over-generalizing from Our Recent Experience

Rosenberg and Birdzell (1986) mention that Marx over-emphasized the centrality of factories to capitalism, because of the prominence of factories in the period of capitalism during Marx’s adulthood. They suggest that factories are only one phase, albeit an important one, in the development of capitalism.
And Schumpeter and Rosenberg may have done the same in his believe that large corporate labs would be able to routinize innovative entrepreneurial activity.
One relevant passage:

It is understandable that Marx, writing in 1848, should speak of modern industry as already a century old, for many of the institutions of industry in 1848 were already that old. Yet the greatest advances in the output of the capitalist engine of production, and the greatest changes in its modes of organization, still lay ahead. (1986, p. 184.)

Also relevant is the earlier:

In all Western countries, the inventory of physical facilities for economic production changes. The inventory at any given moment is unquestionably important, but it is like a single frame of a movie; taken alone, it misses all the action, and it is the action that we need to understand and that holds the promise of economic advance to non-Western countries. (1986, p. 144.)

Source:
Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

Stark Artistic Depiction of Chinese Communism

BloodlineTheBigFamily.jpg “Zhang Xiaogang’s “Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3.”” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) BEIJING — Sotheby’s sold $51.77 million worth of Chinese contemporary art in three auctions in Hong Kong on Wednesday, allaying concerns that the global economic slowdown would depress the prices.
. . .
The star of that auction was a 1995 painting by Zhang Xiaogang, one of China’s most prominent artists, which sold for just over $6 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a Chinese contemporary artist.
That oil on canvas, “Bloodline: Big Family No. 3,” depicts a family of three during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution in China, when children were sometimes led to denounce their parents. Three collectors bid feverishly for the piece, which sold for far above its high estimate, about $3.4 million.

For the full story, see:
DAVID BARBOZA. “Chinese Art Continues To Soar at Sotheby’s.” The New York Times (Thurs., April 10, 2008): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Which Economic System Protects Us from ‘Natural’ Disasters?

CommunistPartyBossOnKnees.jpg “Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss of Mianzhu, knelt Sunday to ask parents of earthquake victims to abandon their protest.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) One man shouted, “Was this a natural disaster or a man-made disaster?” In unison, the parents shouted back: “Man-made!”

For the full story, see:
JAMES T. AREDDY. “Reporter’s Notebook; Tears and Anger Flow as Parents Cast Blame in Children’s Deaths.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 20, 2008): A10.

(p. A1) DUJIANGYAN, China — Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.
Parents of the estimated 10,000 children who lost their lives in the quake have grown so enraged about collapsed schools that they have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials. Many say they are especially upset that some schools for poor students crumbled into rubble even though government offices and more elite schools not far away survived the May 12 quake largely intact.
On Tuesday, an informal gathering of parents at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan to commemorate their children gave way to unbridled fury. One of the fathers in attendance, a quarry worker named Liu Lifu, grabbed the microphone and began calling for justice. His 15-year-old daughter, Liu Li, was killed along with her entire class during a biology lesson.
“We demand that the government severely punish the killers who caused the collapse of the school building,” he shouted. “Please, everyone sign the petition so we can find out the truth.”
The crowd grew more agitated. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume the search until 9 a.m. the next day.
Although there is no official casualty count, only 13 of the school’s 900 students came out alive, parents said. “The people responsible for this should be brought here and have a bullet put in their head,” said Luo Guanmin, a farmer who was cradling a photo of his 16-year-old daughter, Luo Dan.
Sharp confrontations between protesters and officials began over the weekend in several towns in northern Sichuan. Hundreds of parents whose children died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the city of Mianzhu staged an impromptu rally on Saturday. They surrounded an official who tried to assure them that their complaints were being taken seriously, screaming and yelling in her face until she fainted.
The next day, the Communist (p. A10) Party’s top official in Mianzhu came out to talk with the parents and to try to stop them from marching to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities to investigate. The local party boss, Jiang Guohua, dropped to his knees and pleaded with them to abandon the protest, but the parents shouted in his face and continued their march.
Later, as the crowd surged into the hundreds, some parents clashed with the police, leaving several bleeding and trembling with emotion.
The protests threaten to undermine the government’s attempts to promote its response to the quake as effective and to highlight heroic rescue efforts by the People’s Liberation Army, which has dispatched 150,000 soldiers to the region. Censors have blocked detailed reporting of the schools controversy by the state-run media, but a photo of Mr. Jiang kneeling before protesters has become a sensation on some Web forums, bringing national attention to the incident.
. . .
. . . all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of sons and daughters who, because of China’s population control policy, were their only children. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.

For the full story, see:
ANDREW JACOBS. “Parents’ Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials.” The New York Times (Weds., May 28, 2008): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)

ChinaMotherSon.jpg
“A memorial service for hundreds of students of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, where a mother held a picture of her son, turned into an angry protest.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Putin’s Russia Portrays Stalin, Not as Monster, But as Strong Ruler

(p. 5)  STALIN has undergone a number of transformations of his historical image in Russia, interpretations that say as much about the country’s current leaders as about the dictator himself.

In the West, Stalin is remembered for the numbers of his victims, about 20 million, largely his own citizens, executed or allowed to die in famines or the gulag. They included a generation of peasant farmers in Ukraine, former Bolsheviks and other political figures who were purged in the show trials of the 1930s, Polish officers executed at Katyn Forest, and Russians who died in the slave labor economy. Stalin’s crimes have been tied to his personality, cruelty and paranoia as well as to the circumstances of Russian and Soviet history.

While not denying that Stalin committed the crimes, a new study guide in Russia for high school teachers views his cruelty through a particular, if familiar, lens. It portrays Stalin not as an extraordinary monster who came to power because of the unique evil of Communism, but as a strong ruler in a long line of autocrats going back to the czars. Russian history, in this view, at times demands tyranny to build a great nation.

The text reinforces this idea by comparing Stalin to Bismarck, who united Germany, and comparing Russia in the 1930s under the threat of Nazism to the United States after 9/11 in attitudes toward liberties.

The history guide — titled “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006” — was presented at a conference for high school teachers where President Vladimir V. Putin spoke; the author, Aleksandr Filippov, is a deputy director of a Kremlin-connected think tank.

 

For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "WORD FOR WORD | NEW RUSSIAN HISTORY; Yes, a Lot of People Died, but …"  The New York Times , Week in Review section  (Sun., August 12, 2007):  5.

(Note:  ellipsis in title in original.)

 

Cuba’s Best Doctors Not Blind to Incentives Offered by “Communist” Government

 

   "Patients at the Ramón Pando Ferrer eye hospital in Havana."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4)  Cuban doctors abroad receive much better pay than in Cuba, along with other benefits from the state, like the right to buy a car and get a relatively luxurious house when they return. As a result, many of the finest physicians have taken posts abroad.

The doctors and nurses left in Cuba are stretched thin and overworked, resulting in a decline in the quality of care for Cubans, some doctors and patients said.

 

For the full story, see:   

JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.  "Havana Journal;  A Health System’s ‘Miracles’ Come With Hidden Costs."  The New York Times   (Tues., November 20, 2007):  A4. 

 

Communist China’s “Greatest Folly”: Renewable Energy Dam

 

  "Liu Jun leaving his home in Miaohe, China, near the Three Gorges Dam.  All of the village’s residents are being relocated."  Source of caption:  p. A1 of print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  JIANMIN VILLAGE, China — Last year, Chinese officials celebrated the completion of the Three Gorges Dam by releasing a list of 10 world records. As in: The Three Gorges is the world’s biggest dam, biggest power plant and biggest consumer of dirt, stone, concrete and steel. Ever. Even the project’s official tally of 1.13 million displaced people made the list as record No. 10.

Today, the Communist Party is hoping the dam does not become China’s biggest folly. In recent weeks, Chinese officials have admitted that the dam was spawning environmental problems like water pollution and landslides that could become severe. Equally startling, officials want to begin a new relocation program that would be bigger than the first.

The rising controversy makes it easy to overlook what could have been listed as world record No. 11: The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s biggest man-made producer of electricity from renewable energy.

. . .

(p. A12)  The Communist Party leaders who broke ground on the Three Gorges project in 1994 had promised that China could build the world’s biggest dam, manage the world’s biggest human resettlement and also protect the environment.

. . .

(p. A13)  In the isolated mountain villages above the reservoir, farmers have heard nothing about a new resettlement plan. For many farmers, the immediate concern is the land beneath their feet. Landslides are striking different hillsides as the rising water places more pressure on the shoreline, local officials say.  . . .

. . .

Around daybreak on June 22, Lu Youbing awoke to the screams of her brother-in-law and the sickening sensation of the earth collapsing. Her mountain farmhouse in Jianmin Village buckled as a landslide swept it downhill. In all, 20 homes were demolished. Five months later, Ms. Lu is living in a tent, fending off rats and wondering where her family can go.

“We have nothing left,” she said. “Not a single thing.”

Winter is approaching, and she is trying to block out cold air — and rats — by pinning down the tent flaps with rocks. Villagers have been told that more landslides are possible. Ms. Lu lives with her second husband and their two children. They are too poor to buy an apartment in the city or to build a new home on higher ground. Local officials gave them the tent. Villagers have donated clothes.

The tents are pitched on the only available flat land — a terrace with a monument celebrating efforts by local officials to improve the environment.

“We don’t know about winter,” she said. “This is the only option we have. What else can we do?”

 

For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY.  "At China’s Dams, Problems Rise With Water."   The New York Times  (Mon., November 19, 2007):  A1, A12-A13. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  online the title of the article is "Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for Their Human Costs.")

 

   "The Three Gorges Dam is projected as an anchor in a string of hydropower “mega-bases” planned for the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 

Pulling Teeth Slowly

 

   Source of book image:  http://mitpress.mit.edu/images/products/books/0262113023-f30.jpg

 

Many years ago, I read János Kornai’s The Road to the Free Market, which gave Kornai’s advice on how Eastern Europe could best make the transition from communism to the free market.  What I remember most from the book, is his discussion of whether it is more humane for the transition to be quick or gradual.  He answers the question by asking another:  if you need to have a tooth pulled, is it more humane for it to be pulled quickly or gradually?

 

(p. B15) . . .,  Mr. Kornai’s books and lectures in Europe, North America and Asia established him as one of the leading scholars of socialist economics and an expert on the difficult transitions that many countries face when they move from socialism to a more democratic and capitalist system.   . . .

At one point in 1974, under the more relaxed rule of János Kádár, when Hungary was the "most cheerful barrack in the camp," Mr. Kornai and his wife decided to build their own home. Over the course of several months, they personally confronted the corruption, endemic shortages and shoddy construction materials that were so common in Eastern Europe. A year later, on a trip to India, Mr. Kornai was faced by idealistic young Maoists whose concern for the desperately poor reinforced their support for socialism. Mr. Kornai responded to them by arguing, as he puts it here, that "rationing systems that spread misery equally may assuage feelings of injustice for a while, but they will not solve anything."

 

For the full review, see:

JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN.  "BOOKS; Critic Behind the Curtain."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., January 30, 2007):  B15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 

The book reviewed, is: 

János Kornai.  By Force of Thought.  (MIT Press, 461 pages, $40)

 

The earlier book by Kornai, that I read and liked, is:

Kornai, Janos. The Road to a Free Economy: Shifting from a Socialist System, the Example of Hungary. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.