The Hon. Richard Neal
U.S. House of Representatives
2309 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC. 20515
Dr. Mr. Chairman,
Your recent comments about the need to investigate criminal wrongdoing by public officials and the importance of transparency to American government have not gone unnoticed.
As you know, allegations of just such wrongdoing and the lack of transparency have arisen over the last two months based on emails found on a personal computer belonging to Hunter Biden — the son of Vice President Joseph Biden — a computer whose authenticity has been established by the FBI.
As you also know, public record has established beyond doubt that vice President Biden repeatedly took his son on official trips to foreign nations and that soon after such trips his son’s companies we’re receiving millions in contracts from government related entities in those nations. Additionally, it is also public record that when one of those companies came under investigation for corrupt practices by a foreign government vice president Biden intervened and forced that government to shut down the corruption probe and fire the prosecutor by threatening to deny the country and its people US foreign aid. This, as you know, is indisputable since Vice President Biden openly boasted on camera about his effectiveness in getting the corruption prosecutor fired.
Now, however, graver questions have arisen about the suspect activities of the vice president and his son. Disclosure of the emails from Hunter Biden’s computer show him speaking openly about paying out money to the rest of the family including his father who was apparently referred to — and these are just two examples— as “the big guy” or someone entitled to his ten percent.
Already, of course, Vice President Biden has a serious credibility problem on this issue, having said flatly that he never discussed such business matters with his son. Evidence from the computer emails as well as testimony from one of his son’s former business colleagues who attended meetings with Vice President Biden show his emphatic denial is now one of the boldest falsehoods ever told an American public life.
In any case, we hope that you would welcome the chance to assist Vice President Biden in laying to rest any allegations that he was using his office and official travel to influence foreign governments or entities to benefit his son’s businesses. And to answer this question: Was any of that income received by Vice President Biden or other family members?
Thus, we hope that in view of your strong demand for transparency and disclosure you will endorse our suggestion that your committee ask for vice President Biden’s bank records and those of the rest of his family over the period of his vice presidency and immediately thereafter. In this way he can put to rest any allegations including concerns about how he acquired his extensive personal wealth and his large estate.
If members of the committee from both sides as well as their legal counsel could be permitted to examine the records and then report to the Congress this would do much to clear the air. Moreover, if you took this initiative as a member of the Democratic House leadership this would do much to show that your interest in full disclosure and investigating corruption extends to members of your own party.
As you know, when these allegations arose during the presidential campaign, media organizations – some of whom still claim they are serious news organizations – rushed to protect Vice President Joe Biden who was their chosen candidate by imposing a news blackout on this information.
But that won’t last now – the public is going to want to know the truth. This is your chance to serve the cause of integrity and transparency in public office as you’ve talked so much about the past few years.
The American people have a right to this information and we are hopeful that you and the Vice President will see the advantage of the full disclosure suggested by our proposal before demands for a special counsel become deafening.
Frontiers of Freedom
Americans for Limited Government
Institute for Liberty
American Business Defense Council
cc: Rep. Kevin Brady
Rep. Lloyd Doggett
Rep. Devin Nunes
Rep. Bill Pascrell
Rep. Mike Kelly
Rep. Mike Thompson
Rep. Adrian Smith
Rep. John Larson
Rep. Tom Reed
Rep. Earl Blumenauer
Rep. Vern Buchanan
Rep. Danny Davis
Rep. Jackie Warlorski
By Ernest Istook • KOH AM Newstalk
President Trump is making a post-election push of his MAGA agenda.
An executive order of Nov. 12 cuts off American investments in Chinese “military-controlled” companies, banning them from American stock and investment markets, and from being held in pension fund portfolios, effective in January.
Americans have subsequently been told to divest themselves within a year of their holdings in those stocks and securities as well.
In the wake of this executive order and to little surprise, prices quickly plunged in China and Hong Kong’s stock market.
The ban is a follow-up to this summer’s Pentagon report that listed 31 major Chinese companies doing business in the United States while assisting the Chinese military — which controls those corporations. Congress ordered the list — which is heavy with companies involved in electronics, space and aviation, communications, construction and shipbuilding — to be compiled.
The Defense Department additionally determined that each company “supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise acquired and developed by even those PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities.”
Trump’s executive order is a blow to two major initiatives of China’s Communist Party:
1. Its “Made in China 2025” strategic plan to expand the manufacturing sector of the PRC (People’s Republic of China), and
2. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plan to control global trade and transportation infrastructure
The Belt and Road Initiative, with a presence in over 100 countries, involves $1.3-trillion dollars spent by China to build or buy control of the transportation and logistics facilities that are critical to global trade.
That dollar figure comes from Australian conglomerate BHP, which says the BRI is seven times larger than the Marshall Plan funded by America to rebuild Europe after World War 2.
As Forbes puts it, China has been on a “seaport shopping spree” buying control of major port facilities worldwide. Furthermore, another Department of Defense report says the BRI is “leveraging civilian construction for military purposes; and . . . logistics . . . for military purposes.”
A new assessment by the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that China’s state funding is building over a third of the world’s ocean-going merchant ships, producing 96 percent of the world’s shipping containers, and controlling the largest port and logistics company in the world, all to serve as “the maritime supply arm of the People’s Liberation Army.”
The result is that China builds about 1,200 merchant ships a year, while the United States only builds eight.
With regards to combat ships, an October report from the Congressional Research Service warns Congress that China’s fast-growing navy is now “a major challenge to the U.S. Navy . . . in the Western Pacific — the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War.”
Since 90% of global trade travels by ship, China is developing a chokehold that it could apply to threaten the economies of every nation, including the United States, in order to enforce its Communist will.
Sadly, there are some who want to invite China to expand its grip on America by repealing the Jones Act a, law prevents any vessel from conducting internal trade within American waters unless it’s American-built, American-owned and American-crewed.
This applies to cargoes carried on our waterways, along the intercoastal canals, and between American ports.
It would require a major U.S. commitment to reverse the trend of Chinese dominance of global trade. But keeping the Jones Act prevents China from accelerating the trend by taking control over our internal waters. Homeland security would be at risk if any foreign power infiltrated into the American economy in that way.
Keeping the Jones Act by itself will not remedy the problem of China’s militant expansionism. Cutting off U.S. funds from China’s commercial/military complex may help.
However, to develop real solutions, a first step is that the American people must be better-informed about what China is doing.
By George Landrith • WBAP
Large unexpected expenses are never welcome. No one likes a costly surprise. That may explain why Congress is talking about government imposing a “fix” to “protect” patients from surprise medical bills.
That may sound good, but healthy skepticism is warranted. One only needs to remember how the Obama-Biden administration repeatedly promised to save us all thousands of dollars every year and allow us to keep our health insurance and our doctor. None of that turned out to be true.
We need a solution to surprise medical bills that rescues consumers from being caught in between the doctor’s or hospital’s bill and the insurance company’s refusal to pay it. But we also need a solution that empowers consumers, not government bureaucrats, and that promotes innovation and harnesses the power of the marketplace to ensure high quality care at the lowest prices.
We must be 100% sure that we avoid government mandated procedures that effectively impose price controls because they also reduce the likelihood of future healthcare innovations and slow the development of promising medicines and procedures. Government mandates almost invariably shift power to government bureaucrats and health insurance companies, rather than giving consumers more control over their own healthcare.
The most common cause of a surprise medical bill is when a person uses a healthcare provider that is not in their insurance plan’s network of providers. While it doesn’t happen often, it is a real challenge for consumers when it does happen. Insurance companies have contracts with healthcare providers to provide medical services at discounted rates. That makes them “in-network.” The “out-of-network” providers charge a price without any pre-negotiated discounted rates. The problem arises when consumers get stuck between the insurance company that doesn’t want to pay and the doctor who should be paid.
The best way to solve the nation’s surprise medical bill problem is to implement a fair and open independent dispute resolution (IDR) process. A fair IDR process simply means that both sides of the out-of-network bill dispute, the physician and the health insurer, are allowed to submit all relevant information to make their case. Then the arbitrator or decision-maker can weigh the evidence and provide a fact specific resolution to what the insurance company should pay and what the doctor should accept.
This would relieve the patient of worrying about the bill, and it would make sure that difficult or complex medical procedures and treatments don’t become devalued or more difficult to find.
Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bill Cassidy are rumored to be working on a “compromise” that purports to use a form of IDR. But we should be on high alert because all indications are that the “compromise” will include a rigged or sham IDR process that puts the heavy hand of government on one side of the scales of fairness and justice. There is no reason to use a process that from the start tips the scales in favor of either the doctor or the insurance company.
This “compromise” will favor insurance companies over doctors. If the government-imposed process ends up being a price control system, it will simply be a step toward socialized medicine and will make finding doctors to treat you more difficult. What we should all want is a fair and balanced process.
A fair and impartial IDR process that resolves the pricing dispute would prevent the consumer from getting caught in the middle. It would also empower consumers, not government.
Additionally, it would harness the power of the marketplace to keep quality up and prices down. It is important to remember that government regulations don’t have a track record of reducing costs. Moreover, government mandates will do nothing to reward innovation, or to empower consumers.
Regardless of what their true motives were or are, the results we have witnessed in the last 50 years from politicians promising “fixes” has been that things end up costing a lot more than promised, and government gets more and more control. Those who can afford lobbying efforts may escape the costly impact of these government mandates. But rarely do these promised fixes on balance help the average citizen.
Instead of continuing to empower government, insurance companies, and those who can afford lobbyists to protect their interests, let’s try reforms that put economic power back in the hands of healthcare consumers. Let’s trust the marketplace to do what it does so well — boost quality and keep prices comparatively low. We trust the marketplace to provide us with food, housing, technology, and thousands of other very important things. Why not our healthcare, as well?
We can do all of this with a fair and balanced IDR process that allows both sides of the out-of-network bill dispute to submit all relevant information to make their case. If this happens, we protect consumers from surprise medical bills and we keep burdensome government mandates out of our healthcare choices. That’s a win-win!
The following is adapted from an online lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on November 6, 2020.
By Christopher Flannery • Imprimus - Hillsdale College
Every generation of Americans, from the beginning, has had to answer for itself the question: how should we live? Our answers, generation after generation, in war and in peace, in good times and bad times, in small things and in great things through the whole range of human affairs, are the essential threads of the larger American story. There is an infinite variety of these smaller American stories that shed light on the moral and political reality of American life—and we keep creating them. These fundamental experiences, known to all human beings but known to us in an American way, create the mystic chords of memory that bind us together as a people and are the necessary beginnings of any human wisdom we might hope to find.
These mystic chords stretch not only from battlefields and patriot graves, but from back roads, schoolyards, bar stools, city halls, blues joints, summer afternoons, old neighborhoods, ballparks, and deserted beaches—from wherever you find Americans being and becoming American. A story may be tragic, complicated, or hilarious, but if it is a true American story, it will be impossible to read or listen to it attentively without awakening the better angels of our nature.
Here’s one, about the beautiful friendship of two remarkable Americans.
Helen Keller was 14 years old when she first met the world-famous Mark Twain in 1894. They became fast friends. He helped arrange for her to go to college at Radcliffe where she graduated in 1904, the first deaf and blind person in the world to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She learned to read English, French, German, and Latin in braille and went on to become practically as world-famous as her dear friend, writing prolifically and lecturing across the country and around the world. Twain, with his usual understatement, called her “one of the two most remarkable people in the 19th century.” The other candidate was Napoleon.
Keller lived into the 1960s and shared some of her fond memories of Twain in an autobiographical book she published in 1929. In particular, she records recollections from her last visit to her friend in his “Stormfield” home in Redding, Connecticut, which she thought of as a “land of enchantment.” She preserves for us a vivid image not only of Mark Twain—Mr. Clemens, as she called him—but of her own vivacious mind. About Twain she writes,
There are writers who belong to the history of their nation’s literature. Mark Twain is one of them. When we think of great Americans we think of him. He incorporated the age he lived in. To me he symbolizes the pioneer qualities—the large, free, unconventional, humorous point of view of men who sail new seas and blaze new trails through the wilderness.
As they gathered around the hearth one night after dinner at Stormfield, she records,
Mr. Clemens stood with his back to the fire talking to us. There he stood—our Mark Twain, our American, our humorist, the embodiment of our country. He seemed to have absorbed all America into himself. The great Mississippi River seemed forever flowing, flowing through his speech.
When Twain took her to her room to say goodnight, he said “that I would find cigars and a thermos bottle with Scotch whiskey, or Bourbon if I preferred it, in the bathroom.”
One evening, Twain offered to read to her from his short story, “Eve’s Diary.” She was delighted, and he asked, “How shall we manage it?” She said, “Oh, you will read aloud, and my teacher will spell your words into my hand.” He murmured, “I had thought you would read my lips.” And so that is what she did. Upon request, and as promised, Twain put on his “Oxford robe,” the “gorgeous scarlet robe” he had worn when Oxford University “conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Letters.”
Here is Keller’s recollection of the evening:
Mr. Clemens sat in his great armchair, dressed in his white serge suit, the flaming scarlet robe draping his shoulders, and his white hair gleaming and glistening in the light of the lamp which shone down on his head. In one hand he held “Eve’s Diary” in a glorious red cover. In the other hand he held his pipe. . . . I sat down near him in a low chair, my elbow on the arm of his chair, so that my fingers could rest lightly on his lips.
“Everything went smoothly for a time,” she wrote. But Twain’s gesticulations soon began to confuse things, so “a new setting was arranged. Mrs. Macy came and sat beside me and spelled the words into my right hand, while I looked at Mr. Clemens with my left, touching his face and hands and the book, following his gestures and every changing expression.”
Keller reflected that,
To one hampered and circumscribed as I am it was a wonderful experience to have a friend like Mr. Clemens. I recall many talks with him about human affairs. He never made me feel that my opinions were worthless. . . . He knew that we do not think with eyes and ears, and that our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses. He kept me always in mind while he talked, and he treated me like a competent human being. That is why I loved him. . . . There was about him the air of one who had suffered greatly.
Whenever I touched his face his expression was sad, even when he was telling a funny story. He smiled, not with the mouth but with his mind—a gesture of the soul rather than of the face. His voice was truly wonderful. To my touch, it was deep, resonant. He had the power of modulating it so as to suggest the most delicate shades of meaning and he spoke so deliberately that I could get almost every word with my fingers on his lips. Ah, how sweet and poignant the memory of his soft slow speech playing over my listening fingers. His words seemed to take strange lovely shapes on my hands. His own hands were wonderfully mobile and changeable under the influence of emotion. It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of human experience have been withheld from me, but when I recollect the treasure of friendship that has been bestowed upon me I withdraw all charges against life. If much has been denied me, much, very much has been given me. So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart I shall say that life is good.
When Helen Keller left the enchanted land of Stormfield on that visit, she wondered if she would ever see her friend again, and she didn’t. It was 1909, and Clemens would live just one more year. But, she writes for us, “In my fingertips was graven the image of his dear face with its halo of shining white hair, and in my memory his drawling, marvelous voice will always vibrate.”
Here’s another story about an American whose name the whole world knows.
Twenty-two-year-old Marion Morrison, known to his friends as Duke, was carrying a table on his head across the soundstage of a John Ford movie. He was working as a prop man at the Fox Studio in Los Angeles early in 1930. Director Raoul Walsh was looking for a leading man for an epic western film he was developing about a great wagon train journeying across vast deserts and mountains to California. Walsh didn’t want a known star to play the lead. He was looking for someone who would “be a true replica of the pioneer type.” He didn’t want the audience to see a part being acted; he wanted them to see the real thing—“someone to get out there and act natural . . . be himself.” Then he happened upon the young Duke Morrison lugging a table across a soundstage.
“He was in his early 20s,” Walsh recalled, “[and] laughing. . . . [T]he expression on his face was so warm and wholesome that I stopped and watched. I noticed the fine physique of the boy, his careless strength, the grace of his movement. . . . What I needed was a feeling of honesty, of sincerity, and [he] had it.” Within a few weeks, after a quick screen test, Duke would be signed up for the part of Breck Coleman, the fearless young scout in an ambitious film to be called The Big Trail; he would more than double his income, from $35 to $75 a week. He had to let his hair grow long and learn to throw a knife—and he would have a new name: John Wayne.
Already, as the young frontiersman in The Big Trail, the man the world would come to know as John Wayne is recognizable. He is more athletic and beautiful than we remember him from his later pictures, and he has a sweetness and shyness of youth that recedes over time, but he is “tough and in charge”; he has “a natural air of command.” The widescreen film is still visually stunning and interesting to watch, but it was an epic flop and left Wayne languishing in B-movie purgatory for almost a decade before John Ford decided to make him a star as the Ringo Kid in the great western Stagecoach.
Ford was inspired by something similar to what Raoul Walsh had seen in Duke Morrison. “It isn’t enough for an actor to look the part and say his lines well,” said Ford. “Something else has to come across to audiences—something which no director can instill or create—the quality of being a real man.” Ford added that Wayne “was the only person I could think of at the time who could personify great strength and determination without talking much. That sounds easy, perhaps. But it’s not. Either you have it or you don’t.” John Wayne had it. As James Baldwin wrote, “One does not go to see [Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne] act: one goes to watch them be.”
And Duke Morrison decided that John Wayne would be the kind of man he—and the audience—wanted to believe in. Whatever his flaws, and Wayne’s characters had many, he would present on screen a character that had something admirable in it. This character took on added dimensions in his greatest films like Red River and The Searchers. But its essence was discernable from the earliest days. He had courage and self-reliance, obstinacy and even ruthlessness; but also generosity of soul and spirit. As his biographer Scott Eyman put it, he had the kind of “spirit that makes firemen rush into a burning building . . . because it’s the right thing to do.” He had “humor, gusto, irascibility”; he was “bold, defiant, ambitious, heedless of consequences, occasionally mistaken, primarily alone—larger than life.” As one of Wayne’s colleagues said, “John Wayne was what every young boy wants to be like, and what every old man wishes he had been.”
Wayne was 32 when he made Stagecoach and 69 when he made his last film, The Shootist, in which he plays the dying gunfighter, John Bernard Books. His oft-quoted line from that film would have been right at home in The Big Trail: “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” For 25 years, from 1949 to 1974, he was among the top ten box office stars every year but one. And he was more than a star for his time. Well into the 21st century, 35 years after his death, he was still listed as one of America’s five favorite movie stars; he became “indivisibly associated with America itself.”
On his 72nd birthday, May 26, 1979, as Wayne lay dying of cancer in UCLA Medical Center, the United States Congress, in a unanimous bipartisan vote, approved an order signed by President Jimmy Carter for striking a Congressional Gold Medal in his honor. Wayne would be the 85th recipient of the Medal. The first recipient was George Washington. Winston Churchill was awarded the Medal just a few years before John Wayne. As President Carter said, Wayne’s “ruggedness, the tough independence, the sense of personal conviction and courage—on and off the screen—reflected the best of our national character.” Wayne’s friend, actress Maureen O’Hara, testifying before Congress, said: “To the people of the world, John Wayne is not just an actor, and a very ﬁne actor, John Wayne is the United States of America. He is what they believe it to be. He is what they hope it will be. And he is what they hope it will always be.”
And finally, here’s a story about an American whose name you may not know, but will want to.
“We Are All Americans”
Ely Parker was born in 1828 to Elizabeth and William Parker of the Tonawanda Seneca tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy in western New York. Parker became a leader in his tribe at a very young age. Trained as a civil engineer, he earned a reputation in that field. In 1857, when he was 29 years old, he moved to Galena, Illinois, as a civil engineer working for the Treasury Department, and there his life took a fateful turn.
He became friends with a fellow named Ulysses S. Grant. In these years, Grant was an ex-Army officer working as a clerk in his father’s store. Parker later liked to tell the story of coming to Grant’s aid in a barroom fight in Galena, the two of them back to back, fighting their way out against practically all the other patrons. At about five feet eight inches and 200 pounds, the robust Parker referred to himself as a “Savage Jack Falstaff.”
When the Civil War came on, Parker tried several times to join the Union Army as an engineer but was turned down because he was not a citizen. When he approached Secretary of State William Seward about a commission, he was told that the war was “an affair between white men,” that he should go home, and “we will settle our own troubles among ourselves without any Indian aid.”
Eventually, with Grant’s endorsement, Parker received a commission, with the rank of captain, as Assistant Adjutant General for Volunteers. By late 1863, he had been transferred to Grant’s staff as Military Secretary. He soon became familiarly known as “the Indian at headquarters” and was promoted to lieutenant colonel and later to brigadier general. He may have saved Grant’s life or at least prevented his capture one dark night during the Wilderness Campaign in 1864, when Grant and his staff, unbeknownst to themselves, were riding into enemy lines.
But Parker is rightly most remembered for something that happened in the parlor of a private residence in the village of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
In the days preceding, Union armies had captured the city of Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond. Grant and the Federal Army of the Potomac had put Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in such a position that in the late afternoon of April 7, Grant, sitting on the verandah of his hotel headquarters in Farmville, said to a couple of his generals, “I have a great mind to summon Lee, to surrender.” He immediately wrote a letter respectfully inviting Lee to surrender and had it sent to him under a flag of truce. It took Lee a couple of days of desperate failed maneuvers to come around to the idea. But by the morning of April 9, Lee had concluded that “there is nothing left me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”
They agreed to meet in the village of Appomattox Court House to discuss terms.
Grant had been riding hard for days on rough roads in rough weather. When he met Lee in the parlor of the brick house where they had arranged to meet, he had on dirty boots, “an old suit, without [his] sword, and without any distinguishing mark of rank, except the shoulder straps of a lieutenant general on a woolen blouse.” Lee was decked out from head to toe in all the military finery he had at his disposal.
After introductions, and not much small talk, Lee asked Grant on what terms he would receive the surrender of Lee’s army. Grant told him that all officers and men would be “paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition, and supplies were to be delivered up as captured property.” Lee said those were the terms he expected, and he asked Grant to commit them to writing, which Grant did, on the spot, and showed them to Lee.
With minor revisions, Lee accepted, and Grant handed the document to his senior adjutant general, Theodore Bowers, to “put into ink.” This was a document that would effectively put an end to four years of devastating civil war. Bowers’ hands were so unsteady from nerves that he had to start over three or four times, going through several sheets of paper, in a failed effort to prepare a fair copy for the signatures of the generals.
So Grant asked Ely Parker to do it, which he did, without trouble. This gave occasion for Lee and Parker to be introduced. When Lee recognized that Parker was an American Indian, he said, “I am glad to see one real American here.”
Parker shook his hand and replied, “We are all Americans.”
The American story, still young, is already the greatest story ever written by human hands and minds. It is a story of freedom the likes of which the world has never seen. It is endlessly interesting and instructive and will continue unfolding in word and deed as long as there are Americans. The stories that I think are most important are those about what it is that makes America beautiful, what it is that makes America good and therefore worthy of love. Only in this light can we see clearly what it is that might make America better and more beautiful.
By David R. Henderson • Hoover Institution
How do you make a case against capitalism while appearing to defend consumers’ rights and values? You make a movie called The Social Dilemma.
The movie is cleverly done. It purports to oppose manipulation by Big Tech of social media users, calling out advertisers who manipulate people for profit. At the same time, the movie engages in its own manipulation. How does it do so? To quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “let me count the ways.”
State the credentials only of the people on your side
Throughout the ninety-four-minute movie, various commentators argue that social media have done great harm. In every case but one, the commentators criticize social media, warning us of its many harms. The movie states quite prominently, without exception, the credentials for all the negative commentators, and the credentials are impressive. The main commentator throughout is Tristan Harris, identified as a former design ethicist at Google and also as president of the Center for Humane Technology. Another commentator is Sandy Parakilas, identified as a former platform operations manager at Facebook and a former product manager at Uber. Yet another is Justin Rosenstein, whom the movie identifies as a major player at Google and then Facebook. A fourth is Shoshana Zuboff, an emeritus professor at Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. That’s not a complete list.
In the whole movie, only one person expresses skepticism about the idea that manipulation by social media is sui generis. He expresses this view at a panel in which he challenges the aforementioned Tristan Harris. This skeptic points out that newspapers and print media also played on people’s addictions and ability to be influenced. He notes that when television came along, it did so as well, but in different ways. This, according to the skeptic, is just the next thing.
Here’s what’s most interesting about this skeptic. Only because I’m an economist do I know who he is. “That’s Kevin Murphy,” I said to my wife, who was watching the movie with me. Who’s Kevin Murphy? You wouldn’t know from watching the movie. You had to pay close attention even to know it was Kevin Murphy. I had to pause and rewind and only then did I notice that he had a name card in front of him. Probably not one viewer in fifty notices that, and probably not one viewer in a thousand knows who he is. So let me tell you. Kevin M. Murphy is a star economist at the University of Chicago. He won the John Bates Clark Medal in 1997, given in those days only once every two years to the most outstanding American economist under age forty. He’s the only business school professor ever to win a MacArthur genius award. But the movie tells you none of that.
That’s how the movie deals with controversy: allow only one person to challenge the narrative and don’t even tell the viewer who he is. The basic narrative is that Facebook, Google, and other social media manipulate us. But when it comes to manipulation, those media have nothing on the makers of The Social Dilemma.
Hint at the problem without ever showing the problem
The bad actors in the movie’s narrative are advertisers and the wealthy social media firms. At one point in the movie, Parakilas states, “It’s not like they’re [the social media companies] trying to benefit us. Right? We’re just zombies and they want us to look at more ads so they can make more money.” What’s the problem with that? You might think in a standard-length movie, the critics would try to say why. Here’s the amazing thing: they don’t.
So let’s fill in the missing reasoning. Think about why companies would pay social media firms to advertise. It’s to get people to buy their products. If advertising on social media were seen as completely ineffective, companies would pay precisely zero for advertising. The fact that they keep paying and that social media companies get rich by selling advertising, month in, month out, means that advertising is effective.
Wouldn’t you want the critics in the movie to then point to how advertising manipulates our tastes for products, causing us to buy things we don’t “really” want? Amazingly, they don’t.
The closest the movie comes to making a case is near the end of the movie, when Rosenstein states:
Corporations are using powerful artificial intelligence to outsmart us and figure out how to pull our attention to what they want us to look at, rather than the things that are most consistent with our goals and our values and our lives.
But why would they do that? Isn’t it easier to sell us things that are consistent with our goals, our values, and our lives?
The critics point out numerous times that the companies are continuously refining their algorithms to learn more and more about you. They imply that that’s bad without ever saying why. There’s an old saying whose origin is unknown that goes as follows: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
I think we can all agree that waste is bad. So isn’t it good rather than bad that advertisers and social media are continually honing their tools to put in front of your eyes items that you really have a high probability of buying? They aren’t there yet. Sometimes when I Google an item I’m thinking of buying, within what seems to be minutes an ad for that item shows up on my Facebook page. It’s almost always mildly annoying, either because the advertised item is a brand I don’t want or because I was just exploring and have decided that I don’t want that item at all. Which means that not half, but perhaps 90 percent, of that advertising was wasted on me.
Some people find it creepy that advertisers know so much about us. I don’t, although I understand the feeling. But think back to how advertisers tried to reach us before social media existed. Imagine that you live in a Jewish household. Which kind of advertising by mail would you dislike more: mailers premised on the assumption that you’re Jewish or mailers premised on the assumption that your household is Muslim, Catholic, or Buddhist?
Make up history
In one segment of the movie, Harris contrasts social media with previous innovations, claiming that no one objected to bicycles on the grounds that those who used them would spend less time with their families. Neither he nor the movie presents any evidence for his claim. But here’s what I found with just a little search (on Google, by the way) about early attitudes toward the bicycle. In a 2001 book titled The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869–1900, author Glen Norcliffe quotes an essay by Heather Watts on early cycling in Nova Scotia. Watts writes:
At a time when higher education, women’s suffrage, and the movement for dress reform were all topics of heated discussion, the bicycle became one more liberating influence on the restricted lifestyle of Victorian women. . . . This element of freedom and independence greatly appealed to women. They were no longer left at home, but could go on outings with their women friends or accompany their young man on an equal basis. Once tasted, the new freedom was hard to abandon.
If bicycling was a liberating force for women, and if women were able to ride with their women friends, is there much doubt about whether some critics at the time claimed that bicycling women would spend less time with their families?
Play up the downside of social media with little attention to the upside
I do think the movie scored a direct hit on a huge downside of social media: the purported effects on people between the ages of ten and nineteen. It presented some disturbing data about the effects on young girls, especially those ages ten to fourteen, of media such as Instagram that encourage them to compare their faces and bodies with what seem to be regarded as ideal body types. Here are two shocking statistics about what has happened since 2011, when Facebook and other social media had become widespread: the number of girls aged ten to fourteen per 100,000 who are admitted to hospitals for cutting themselves or harming themselves in other ways has risen 189 percent, and the number of girls aged ten to fourteen per 100,000 who have committed suicide has risen 151 percent.
One critic, Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, gives a straightforward solution: set an age below which your child is not allowed to use social media and limit your child’s use of such media. To say it’s straightforward is not to say it’s easy. It’s probably hard, but parenting is hard.
To their credit, the critics do mention some upsides to social media. Harris says you can get on your smartphone and have a car show up quickly. Critic Tim Kendall, identified as the former president of Pinterest, notes that social media have helped people find long-lost relatives and organ donors. That’s pretty big.
But there are many more upsides. I can find some half-forgotten poem from high school when I remember only one sentence. That happened just last month with this poem. We can check a fact, we can follow friends, not just family, with whom we had lost touch, and we can compare airfares and make airline reservations in minutes, without either the use of a travel agent or even a phone call. I’ve just scratched the surface.
Discuss the upside as if it’s the downside
Critic Bailey Richardson, an early team member of Instagram, says that when the Internet first started, it was a weird, wacky place with lots of creativity. She recognizes that creative things still happen on the Internet, but now, she says, it feels like a “giant mall.”
That’s bad? Some people whom I’m close to have restricted diets because of various ailments. For them, shopping online has been wonderful. One person in particular needs to keep gluten out of her diet. And she is able to find appealing, tasteful, gluten-free items online much more easily than if she had to shop in her semi-urban, semi-rural part of the country. Imagine if she lived in, say, rural Nevada. Shopping online could be a godsend.
Attack wealth when it’s not that of your allies
At many points in the movie, the critics point out disdainfully how wealthy the social media companies are. That raises two questions. First, is there some chance they got that way by making things we want more available? Answer: yes. Second, how wealthy are these critics? Answer: very. Critic and investor Roger McNamee, for example, is a billionaire. Justin Rosenstein’s net worth is $150 million. The other critics are multimillionaires. Honestly earned wealth is not a mark against the wealthy, whether the wealthy be social media critics or social media firms.
Lay out your real agenda, with no evidence, at the end
Near the end of the movie, probably many viewers are hooked. Then we get to what seems to be the agenda of the critics and the movie makers: to end, or highly regulate, free markets.
Zuboff states, “These markets undermine democracy and undermine freedom and they should be outlawed.” The movie director possibly forgot to insert a sentence or two telling us which markets Zuboff is referring to. Whatever markets she wants to end, that would be a major hit on capitalism.
Rosenstein complains that social media corporations go unregulated “as if somehow magically each corporation acting in its selfish interest is going to produce the best result.” One gets the idea that he’s never read Adam Smith, who indeed did arguein The Wealth of Nations that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”
Rosenstein also says mining the earth and pulling oil out of the ground are bad for humans. He claims as evidence of a warped, for-profit system that trees and whales are worth more dead than alive. And then he jumps the shark, or maybe I should say the whale, by saying “we’re the tree; we’re the whale.” How exactly social media companies kill us and how exactly they gain from dead consumers he leaves as an exercise for the viewer.
Various friends told me that The Social Dilemma would upset me. It did. As noted, I found the facts about young girls very disturbing. The biggest upset, though, is that a bunch of critics and a movie director manipulate viewers into not knowing that there is another side to this debate, understate the benefits of social media, and use the movie as a vehicle for a rant against capitalism. Other than that, the movie was great.
You'll be grateful that you made the change (and you'll sleep better).
By Amy Morin • Psychology Today
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” we are often told. And while it can be hard to avoid self-pity entirely, mentally strong people choose to exchange self-pity for gratitude. Whether you choose to write a few sentences in a gratitude journal or simply take a moment to silently acknowledge all that you have, giving thanks can transform your life.
Here are 7 scientifically proven benefits:
We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Rather than complain about the things you think you deserve, take a few moments to focus on all that you have. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.
The Democrats included huge cash handouts for wealthy constituents in predominantly liberal areas in their emergency response package.
By Brad Polumbo • Foundation for Economic Education
At some point, when the election chaos is finally settled, Congress will likely turn to passing another COVID-19 stimulus/relief bill. (Despite the last one being plagued by rampant fraud and dysfunction). One starting point for negotiations will be the “HEROES Act,” a $2.2 trillion bill the House passed in October on a party-line vote by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats.
One of the most significant aspects of the HEROES Act is that it allocates nearly $700 billion in federal money for state, local, and tribal governments.
Proponents say this gives localities the funds they need to pay emergency responders and fund programs necessary to protect their communities. Critics point out that much of this money is used to “bail out” blue states that were already mismanaging their budgets and running up large unfunded pension programs before the pandemic.
Indeed, the left-leaning Brookings Institution has projected that “state and local government revenues will decline $155 billion in 2020, $167 billion in 2021, and $145 billion in 2022.” Simple math shows us that the CARES Act gives states and localities hundreds of billions more in federal money than they are actually projected to lose due to pandemic-related decreases in revenue.
This alone should be a red flag. Yet a new analysis also reveals that Pelosi and her fellow “progressives” snuck millions of dollars in cash for some of the nation’s wealthiest zip codes into their emergency COVID-19 package.
Watchdogs from OpenTheBooks.com inspected the fine print of the HEROES Act and found that it allocates $350 million to the 50 richest communities in America. The average annual income in these areas ranged from $262,988 to $525,324.
“It’s unclear why such wealthy neighborhoods need so much money to weather the storm,” Adam Andrzejewski of OpenTheBooks.com wrote.“Should American taxpayers from lower-income areas be subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous?
Some might reasonably look at a figure like $350 million and conclude that, in the context of a $2.2 trillion bill, it is a relatively small amount of money. But we mustn’t forget that this figure is only looking at a tiny sample size. It is not all the money this bill allocates to wealthy zip codes, just a snapshot.
We can extrapolate from this figure that the HEROES Act would dole out many hundreds of millions if not billions more to other wealthy towns and cities.
It’s not even the only provision of the bill that can be fairly characterized as a handout for the rich. The package also includes items such as student debt relief, which further burdens cash-strapped taxpayers yet only helps a relatively well-educated and well-off subset of society.
But wait: Aren’t Democrats supposed to be the progressive party fighting for the working class? That’s certainly what their rhetoric would suggest. Yet the Democrats included cash handouts for wealthy constituents in predominantly liberal areas such as Wellesley, Mass., Malibu, California, and Old Greenwich, Conn. in their emergency response package nonetheless.
This offers another painful reminder that government officials—no matter their professed partisan or ideological principles—will always and inevitably end up wielding their power in a manner prone to favoritism and clientelism.
“There is no such thing as a just and fair method of exercising the tremendous power that interventionism puts into the hands of the legislature and the executive,” Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote. “In many fields of the administration of interventionist measures, favoritism simply cannot be avoided.”
Humans are fallible beings—and power corrupts. This is why, from tax loopholes to crony regulations to spending bills, sweeping government interventions will always end up skewing in favor of powerful constituencies. However, when power is left to the individual level rather than government, that decentralization helps limit abuses.
It’s not a matter of electing the right people. Fundamentally, progressive and conservative government officials alike face the same incentive structures.
The only way to really prevent the abuse of government power and expenditure of taxpayer resources in favor of the well-off and well-connected is to limit the scope of the government itself.
By Peter Roff • Newsweek
If news writers had any integrity, the headlines following the 2020 election would have read like the one on this column. Instead, the media gods who helped put Joe Biden over the top expound on why Donald Trump‘s protests are without merit and just another example of Republican sore-loserism.
The former vice president’s apparent margin of victory is not all that large. At the time this was written it was about 6 million votes out of about 150 million cast. That works out to about 4 percent and could, depending on recounts, slip lower.
In the states that appear to be making the difference—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin—Biden’s lead is extremely narrow, much as Trump’s was when he defeated former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton to win the White House in the first place. It’s hard to argue the man most of the media anointed the new American chief executive before all the votes were cast has a mandate to do much of anything.
Nonetheless, if he eventually becomes president, the calls for him to act swiftly and decisively will be frequent, loud, and—from his point of view—problematic. In the Thursday, November 19 edition of The Wall Street Journal author and political cartoonist Ted Rall argues forcefully that, without the support of progressives who held their nose and voted for him anyway, Biden wouldn’t be going back to Washington and instead would be headed back to Delaware.
Progressives who would have preferred Vermont senator Bernie Sanders may have pushed Biden past Trump in the popular vote and in the states that will determine the outcome in the electoral college, but on almost every other measure they were defeated. By a small majority, the nation indicated it may not want four more years of Trump, but it’s clearly repudiated the progressive agenda.
The GOP may have lost seats in the U.S. Senate but it’s most likely maintained control. The outcome hangs on two runoffs in Georgia—both of which the Republicans are favored to win—unless an audit of the votes pushes incumbent GOP senator David Perdue back up over 50 percent of the vote, where he was for most of election night. Right now, he’s at 49.71 percent, and the 0.3 percent he needs to avoid a runoff might be overcome just by the uncounted votes being discovered across the state.
The Republicans were also projected to lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, they won all the top targeted races, lost no incumbents seeking reelection, and gained enough seats not only to get above 200—a crucial barrier in the battle for the majority—but to put Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s ability to control events on the floor in doubt. Enough moderate Democrats are saying privately (and thanks to some propitious leaks, publicly) that they’re not willing to walk the plank for her and the “The Squad” is in for a rough going.
Looking around the country, the Republicans picked up one governorship in 2020 (Montana) and the New Hampshire state legislature. This gives the GOP the prized “trifecta” in each state which, when added to the dozens they already had, means that while Washington is gridlocked the GOP can use states to pass the reforms they’ll take national the next time they have the White House.
At the same time the Democrats, who enlisted the substantial fundraising support of former president Barack Obama and former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder in an attempt to flip legislative chambers to Democratic control, failed everywhere they tried. They may have spent tens of millions or more in pursuit of this goal with nothing to show for it. Contrary to late predictions, the GOP held on to state legislatures in Texas and Arizona comfortably when the battle for control was expected to be a close-run thing. And they held the legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and enough other key states that predictions are already being made that, based solely on the upcoming reapportionment of U.S. House seats among the states, the Republicans are headed to a decade-long majority. No wonder Mrs. Pelosi is saying this is her last term as speaker.
Even at the lawmaking level, progressivism was crushed. Voters in California, who went for Biden over Trump by about two to one, rejected an effort to repeal the 1996 Proposition 209 that prohibits the state from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education and contracting. At the same, in progressive Colorado, voters said “Yes” to a cut in the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent. In Illinois, voters rejected a measure to establish a graduated income tax and in Montana voters limited the ability of local governments to interfere with issuing of “concealed carry” firearms permits.
If there’s one takeaway from the 2020 election, it’s that, despite the aggressive support it received from donors, elected officials, candidates for office and the mainstream media, progressivism is on the decline. Heck, Joe “I am the Democratic Party” Biden even rejected it while debating Donald Trump. The course is set and if the new president—whoever it is—is smart enough to follow it then the sailing should be smooth. If not, it’s stormy weather ahead.
By Lee Ohanian • The Hoover Institution
Progressive Democrats have dominated San Francisco’s city government for the last 20 years, a time during which homelessness, drug abuse, the cost of living, and the city budget have skyrocketed. San Francisco is becoming an increasingly obvious problem for the national Democratic party, with vice president-elect Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Dianne Feinstein all from the Bay Area.
As a succession of city governments have tacitly tolerated drug abuse and the crimes that go with that, a de facto thriving drug-based economy tragically plays out in the open on city streets every day. The city spends a small fortune each year collecting millions of used hypodermic needles from city streets and pays city workers about $185,000 annually to clean up feces from the sidewalks.
This is why $8 million in campaign money was poured into local elections earlier this month to convince San Francisco voters to replace progressive Democrats with more moderate Democrats on the city’s Board of Supervisors, and to vote down a number of local tax initiatives that would make San Francisco even more expensive and less desirable as a business location than it presently is.
The party strongly backed more moderate candidates with the view that San Francisco could make progress if a moderate majority board was elected who would in turn work productively with San Francisco mayor London Breed, who has a much better understanding of the city’s problems than the current board.
The party’s investment in bringing about more responsible governance and policies didn’t work. It wasn’t even close. The most progressive Board of Supervisors candidates won, which means that the board’s majority remains highly progressive, and thus likely will continue to block many housing proposals. Why? Because most developments would gentrify neighborhoods by replacing very old, low-density housing with new, high-density housing. And for progressives, gentrification is not an option.
Blocking new development means constraining supply, which in turn means San Francisco housing costs remain ridiculously high. How high? How about $1.1 million for about 1,000 square feet in the city’s Mission District, San Francisco’s highest crime neighborhood? For comparison, a similarly sized home in in a low-crime Atlanta neighborhood is yours for $174,900. In rapidly growing Denver, a similar home costs about $250,000.
The blocked housing developments in San Francisco would be so valuable that those residents who might be displaced could be substantially compensated. The devil is always in the details, but the status quo of keeping the economic pie much smaller than it could be is never the solution.
For decades, San Francisco’s politicians have blocked new housing to prevent highly aid tech and finance workers from moving in and changing old-school neighborhoods. Yes, the 1950s-era Italian American diner serving spaghetti with red sauce and sausage, as delicious as it is, would be gone, and would be replaced by a higher-priced restaurant with a menu tailored to serve new residents. But times and people change, and so will neighborhoods.
It is grossly expensive to prevent new development, because new development helps everyone by expanding the city’s housing stock. Build it, no matter what it is, and supply expands. As more housing opportunities open, people move, freeing up existing homes for others to move into. California grew from about 7 million people in 1940 to about 20 million by 1970, but home prices, adjusted for inflation, did not skyrocket, because new construction kept up with demand. Prices did not enter the stratosphere until local government began to block development.
Local progressives have drawn a line in the sand: no new housing unless it is new housing that they personally find acceptable. Meanwhile, about 17,000 homeless people live in the streets, according to the National Homeless Information Project, roughly twice as many as the official count. And there are now more drug users within the city than there are high school students.
San Francisco’s failure to effectively govern is a growing problem for the national Democratic party, and for reasons that go beyond the human tragedies that unfold every day in plain view, and which remind everyone that the Democrats own this.
Former San Francisco mayor and old-school Democratic politician Willie Brown knows this as well as anyone. Brown recently was interviewed and argued very candidly that the Democratic party has lost its way, and that it provides little of interest to voters outside of Sunday morning political talk shows. He openly worries about the fate of San Francisco and his party, a political party that is increasingly being dominated by wealthy elites and one that is moving far from the ideas that he represented.
Brown knows that San Francisco and, more broadly, California have run the experiment of very liberal governance, and that experiment has clearly failed. He also knows that California voters made a right turn two weeks ago by voting down tax increases and the restoration of affirmative action, and by voting to restore the right of gig workers to work as independent contractors by passing Proposition 22. By passing this proposition, voters told elite Democratic lawmakers they didn’t approve of the legislature stealing economic freedom and making it illegal for many to work as independent contractors.
California’s failure to effectively govern is a teaching moment for the rest of the Democratic party. The progressive agenda failed in California, and it will fail nationally. Without the perfect foil of Trump to hide behind, Democrats must now deliver without the benefit of simply saying that they are working 24/7 to fight against everything Trump.
Willie Brown and other old-school Democrats know that if Biden and Harris are to succeed, the party must move against its progressive wing that includes Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, all of whom favor policies that would sharply reduce economic freedom, economic growth, and our quality of life.
The national Democratic party has plenty of problems to address. The global pandemic remains. China is China. Iran is Iran. Russia is Russia. And 70 million voters remain skeptical that the party even knows they exist. What has happened in San Francisco scares the national party, because they understand San Francisco’s fate can happen anywhere if the old guard can’t find a way to take control of the party and implement moderate policies.
It is good that the national party is worried about what has happened in San Francisco. Sadly, San Francisco’s plight will continue for the time being. But we can hope that its lessons will help promote better national policies in the Biden-Harris administration.
By Michael Auslin • National Review
Whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, or thanks to Beijing’s increasingly intimidating, if not aggressive, behavior in recent years, one of the more dramatic shifts in global opinion has started a long-overdue reconsideration of the liberal world’s relationship to the People’s Republic of China. In addition to a raft of high-level policy statements from the Trump administration, including the 2017 National Security Strategy, the 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy report, and the 2020 “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China,” a number of independent reports have been tracking Beijing’s predatory and threatening policies, whether in economics, security, or civil society. After decades of turning the other cheek to Beijing’s abuse of the free world’s open societies, all in order to maintain trade relations that themselves were turning increasingly one-sided, liberal states have begun the process of recalibrating their ties to China.
This is no easy task for America or other states, after nearly a half-century of engagement. How to reduce supply chain vulnerability without crashing current manufacturing models, how to support Taiwan and Hong Kong in the face of Beijing’s aggressive actions, whether to keep admitting hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to American universities, how to keep doing business with Chinese firms while defending rampant theft of intellectual property, the “to do” list goes on and on. The difficulty is a testament to just how thoroughly the post-Mao PRC intertwined itself with free economies and societies around the world, while at the same time resisting much, if not all, pressure to liberalize in turn. Despite decades of optimistic comments from Western leaders, including U.S. presidents, China under current Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping has become an even more repressive and insular state, committed to the Leninist control by the CCP, and steadfastly opposed to liberal notions of free speech and free association. The PRC’s techno-authoritarian surveillance state has taken the world’s leading technologies, many originated in Western research institutes and universities, and twisted them into a comprehensive network of social control. Western businesses, media, universities, and the like have all submitted to Beijing’s pressure, self-censuring and apologizing for remarks critical of the PRC.
The great question facing the free world is how to deal with the PRC in this new era of competition. One answer is provided in a new “handbook” for democracies, published this week by the Halifax International Security Forum (HFX) to coincide with its annual conference. The handbook, entitled “China Vs. Democracy: The Greatest Game,” is a primer on how the PRC threatens the open global society that is the source for most of its own wealth and power (full disclosure: I am the senior advisor for Asia at HFX, and was part of the team that produced the handbook). Divided into chapters that look at the CCP’s oppression inside China, influence campaigns against democracies, the battle over global economic domination, the race for technological supremacy, and the military competition that may determine war or peace, the handbook is one of the first comprehensive attempts to chart the broad China challenge.
As the handbook notes, this is not the competition, or tension, that the liberal world wanted or expected when it opened its doors to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and his reform plans back in the 1970s. Betting on China made sense during the Cold War and in light of what appeared to be legitimate reform inside China. The failure of Washington and its allies to conduct due diligence over the succeeding decades, questioning whether Beijing was living up to its promises and was becoming a cooperative nation upholding international norms, gave the CCP a free hand to build up its global power while eliminating any threats to its continued control. By the end of the Obama administration, the severity of the challenge could no longer be ignored or explained away as the result of a China still attempting to find its way in the world.
Yet, it is in the hands of democracies to deal with the China challenge in a way that not only protects their interests, but also may one day help the people of China. As HFX president Peter Van Praagh, who initiated the project, notes in his introduction:
Working in concert, the world’s democracies have overwhelming advantages that China cannot meet. The challenge is no longer about trying to cooperate with a rising China governed by autocrats. The real China challenge for the world’s democracies is how to cooperate effectively with each other.
Indeed, that theme of the HFX China Handbook — democratic cooperation — is one increasingly echoed by other Western reports and studies on China. Despite the disruptions of 2020, from pandemic to elections, liberal societies and free states remain stronger and yes, more peaceful, than their authoritarian counterparts. Their politics may be messier and often inefficient, but they remain laboratories of innovation and magnets for those fleeing repressive systems. They remain more committed to equality and the long-term improvement of their governing mechanisms than states run by unelected oligarchs. More pertinently, democracies may find a renewed appreciation for the moral worth of their systems by working together to defend common interests, whether economic, social, or security, against a PRC that seeks to subvert liberal norms and make the world safe for autocracy.
Perhaps the most innovative part of the handbook is the “HFX China Principles,” a set of seven pledges to not be complicit in Beijing’s assault on democracy. The Principles include a pledge not to censor or self-censor criticism of China, not to punish those who critique the PRC, not to support Chinese businesses that participate in the oppression of the Chinese people, and not knowingly to patronize businesses that benefit from Chinese slave labor. Public pledges to adhere to the China Principles by governments, multinational corporations, universities, media companies, and ordinary citizens would be a beginning in right-sizing the world’s relations with the PRC, giving hope to those in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and bolstering democratic states in Asia, from the Philippines to Japan. As a form of thinking globally and acting locally, the Principles may give the free world the confidence to begin defending itself against the China challenge.