The Long View 2005-03-11: Chinese Green; Blogosphere Backlash; Never Mind

China has only continued to get more polluted since 2005. So far, it shows no signs of getting better.

Chinese Green; Blogosphere Backlash; Never Mind

If you believe Der Spiegel, "The Chinese Miracle Will End Soon." At any rate, so says Pan Yue, China's Deputy Minister of the Environment, in an interview in that magazine. At the risk of parodying a serious assessment of the situation, it seems to me that the gist of the deputy minister's argument is that China's rivers are becoming poisonous, while the landscape is dissolving in acid rain. The amount of arable land decreases hourly, and the peasants crowd into the cities, where they contract cancer.

Well, maybe, but that's what I thought in the 1970s about the United States. I grew up in Toxic Avenger country, and I fully expected the climate by this time would be the perpetual New York summer of Soylent Green. (I was precocious.) So, though the deputy minister knows more about conditions in China than I do, I am inclined to take that part of the interview with a grain of salt. Much more interesting are his remarks about the political situation:

But we are also making another mistake: We are convinced that a prospering economy automatically goes hand in hand with political stability. And I think that's a major blunder. The faster the economy grows, the more quickly we will run the risk of a political crisis if the political reforms cannot keep pace...There won't be enough money, and we are simply running out of time. Developed countries with a per capita gross national product of $8,000 to $10,000 can afford [environmental reform], but we cannot. Before we reach $4,000 per person, different crises in all shapes and forms will hit us. Economically we won't be strong enough to overcome them.

Again, this is a commonplace of development theory. The model is that destitute societies are stable; developing societies are prone to revolution; societies with some critical proportion of middle class are stable again. It is hard to say how this model will play out in China. I suspect that the environment will not be a major cause of what happens, but that environmentalism will provide a significant part of the ideological justification for it.

* * *

This is not an issue on which I am eager to say, "I told you so," but it does seem that the passage of the vampire-friendly bankruptcy bill is going to be a catastrophe for the Republicans. The problem is not their enemies, but their friends. Instapundit posts links about it that, for the most part, are critical. The very Freepers say the bill is unfair and overreaching.

This is not the embarrassment for President Bush that the Social Security fiasco is turning out to be; his name is associated with the privatization scheme, but not with bankruptcy reform. Indeed, the president is getting a great deal of credit, both at home and abroad, for the regional thaw in the Middle East. He may keep that credit, but his party will keep the blame for these other matters.

The Internet now is working against the Republicans on more issues than not. The party establishment has not taken this on board. The president goes on speaking tours to promote his Social Security agenda, and the partisan talkshow hosts have been given new scripts. The notion seems to be that they can energize the new media to repeat the reversal of fortune that allowed them to win last year's election. This is a grave misunderstanding of how the new-media environment works.

It is possible for political and journalistic institutions to introduce issues for new-media debate. Just look at the gay-marriage question last year, which was completely a creation of the liberal judiciary and progressive-media outlets. What cannot be controlled these days is what the blogosphere and other new media will do with these issues. Only quite late last year did the proponents of gay marriage realize that every judicial decision in favor of their program actually served to energize opposition to it. Much the same thing seems to be happening now in connection with Social Security privatization, aided by such insult-to-injury blunders as the bankruptcy bill. Presently, the effect will spread to the attempts in Congress to make permanent the president's last round of tax cuts.

Yes, it is possible to lose an election for refusing to raise taxes.

* * *

And what do I think should be done about consumer debt? I think there should be less of it. There should be a low cap on how much a consumer can be liable for in credit card debt, including interest and fees. Creditors might, if they choose, extend credit beyond the cap, but under the condition that their only recourse in the event of default is the denial of credit to the consumer for some extended period of time. Under this system, junk credit would still be possible, but debt peonage would not.

* * *

The rule in journalism is that three incidents make a trend, but I have only two examples of incidents where horrible crimes that were supposed to be ideologically motivated actually turned out to have more prosaic explanations.

One was the murder of the husband and mother of Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. The instigator was supposed to be a fascist with a religious bent, who bore a grudge against the judge for an unfavorable ruling. The media loved this story. The attribution of guilt was plausible, and the suspects were wonderfully articulate about their appalling views. It now seems pretty clear, though, that the killer was just an ordinary mad plaintiff. In a way, this resolution is even scarier for the judiciary, but less likely to serve as the theme for outraged editorials.

Locally, the murder of the Armanious family here in Jersey City (sometimes spelled "Armonious" and "Armanious" in the same story) seems not to have been committed by Muslim radicals intent on keeping the dhimmis in their place, but by ordinary thieves. Again, this incident had created its own literature, to which I helped contribute in a small way.

There is no such thing as a happy outcome in a case like this, but some people seem intent on ensuring that the rancor never quite goes away:

Muslim leaders in northern Jersey asked the state to determine whether comments made by Coptic Christians implicating Muslims in the killings of a Jersey City family in January should be prosecuted as bias crimes.

Hate-crime laws are even more loathsome than the new bankruptcy bill, but don't get me started.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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