Matters Column

A Chinese viewpoint on welfare, education and health care

January 17, 2014
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Every once in a while you stumble into a very informative conversation. The path to enlightenment can meander through some strange turns.

My wife and I were visiting my daughter in Costa Mesa, just south of Los Angeles. At breakfast, a man asked me a few questions on some news reports and, shortly, he was joined by his wife. He had worked for La-Z-Boy in China. His wife was Chinese and had worked for Holiday Inn.

We were watching Fox News (we were in Orange County, so that's allowed). They asked me what I thought of Obamacare. I gave them a brief answer and that led to a flood of comments from the woman.

She had grown up in China under the rule of Mao Tse Tung. She experienced life under a communist dictator whom she frankly admired. He broke the power of Chiang Kai-shek and the other war lords and foreign interest oppressing the Chinese peasants. She experienced the Gang of Four, the Great Leap Forward and Tiananmen Square.

It was amazing listening to her because she had a totally different view of China than most Americans. She viewed her country favorably, hated the Japanese and thought we were all nuts. The “nuts” part was what caught my attention.

According to her, the Chinese were shocked at President Obama's “you didn't build that” speech. The Chinese are just discovering the power of ownership and the dysfunction of government collectivism. Why are we going where they have been while they are trying to get where we are or were before Obama?

Certain areas of China have turned into enterprise zones that allow citizens to own and operate a business. The success has been amazing. 

One of the really amazing things to her is American philanthropy. The Chinese people, in general, have traditionally hated rich people. They have been abused horribly by the western world and by Japan. Their own wealthy people were imperialistic war lords. Wealth to the Chinese people was evil because it benefitted only a very few people — and most of them were not Chinese.

I told her about Grand Rapids and the DeVos, Meijer, Van Andel, Secchia families and others who have done such marvelous things in Grand Rapids. She said China is just beginning to understand benevolent capitalism.

There were three areas she mentioned about which she was emphatic: She did not think much of welfare, American education or socialized medicine.

She described to me the world of socialism that we seem hell bent on duplicating as the Chinese desperately try to extricate themselves from its ravages. Hard-working people had, over a few generations, lost their initiative.

I can remember that, at the end of World War II, we viewed the Chinese favorably, in particular because of their work ethic. As time went on and people realized work was optional, many took to the dole as their option. The burden became overwhelming, and the cost threatened to crush the economy. Being a centralized government, they were able to enact reforms and stick to them.

I told her of a joke I heard in the 1950s. A man asked a Russian the difference between capitalism and socialism. The Russian answered that under capitalism one man takes advantage of another. He continued to explain that under socialism, it is vice versa. She felt that was pretty accurate.

Under capitalism, you have rich business owners and executives. Under socialism, you have rich government operatives. The only reason I can think of that bureaucrats are superior to businessmen is that bureaucrats don't excel with superior talent and work, so therefore they don't embarrass the less able.

Our education system puzzled her. She said we spend billions of dollars trying to get low-capability, unmotivated, talentless kids prepared for Harvard. We should be spending our money enhancing the value of our most gifted pupils and training our working-class students in useful trades.

I can remember when the Flint schools dropped their accelerated programs for exceptional students because there were not enough minority participants. In that situation, what is the natural response by families who are capable of leaving a bad education system? Have you been to Flint lately?

Ah, Obamacare: health care for everyone, so eventually only the rich will have decent health care and the middle class will have diminished health care at an inflated price, and the poor will be subsidized by the middle class. The Chinese lady pointed out that socialized medicine makes for shared suffering. Because so many people draw on the system who do not contribute adequately, nobody but the rich receive good care. So much of socialism is shared suffering instead of shared bounty.

We all had to eventually get on with our day, but I think we talked for about two hours. We were right across the street from Huntington Beach with its surfers and dolphins on a 75-degree December day. I don't know how my wife stands it — I could have spent all day asking the Chinese lady questions.

The beach will be there tomorrow but you never know when you’re going to meet an interesting Chinese lady again.

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