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The Common Cents for Misguided Ideological Passions

China’s rise to economic dominance illustrates the power of the free market over socialism.

It has been said that if you’re in your twenties and you’re not liberal, you don’t have a heart, but if you’re in your thirties and you’re not conservative, you don’t have a brain. Now, to be sure, the glaring hypocrisy of liberals on social issues – abortion and illegal immigration being foremost on the ever-growing list – belies the first part of the saying; the notion that the left is more compassionate, or has more heart, than its “deplorable,” right-leaning adversaries. Nevertheless, at a certain point, one must concede that perhaps the left’s leviathan stranglehold on American institutions is irreversible and has thus irretrievably manipulated the passions and prejudices of an untold number of young people.

The hope for a sustained conservative revival doesn’t rest in changing hearts, though. It rests in changing brains. Ideologically confused and robbed of any palpable sense of patriotism by insidious institutional forces, American youth will make a right turn once forced to confront the economic impossibilities the “dark side” espouses. Regardless of the level of one’s fervor for social issues, numbers, unlike government and media, never lie. Faced with the choice between maintaining the courage of their grossly wayward convictions, or having more money in adulthood, they will surely choose the latter. They will choose economic conservatism over economic liberalism. They will choose the market economy over government-run everything. They will, perhaps for the first time in their young lives, exhibit a modicum of common sense.

China’s Meteoric Rise

Henry Kissinger gives historical evidence for such a perspective in his compelling 2011 discourse On China. An eminent authority on 20th century Chinese history and the architect of the Sino-American rapprochement that began during the 1970s, Kissinger offers persuasive arguments on many components of China’s recent evolution. His take on the dramatic economic metamorphosis the formerly isolated nation has undergone over the last few decades most effectively captures the stark dichotomy between a socialist and free market economy.

To understand and fully appreciate China’s economic transformation, Kissinger argues, one must first understand the abject backwardness from which the nation has rebounded. Under the tyrannical rule of Mao Zedong from 1949-1976, China was torn apart in every sense of the word. Mao ruthlessly stripped his country of its rich history, one steeped in a pride for self-reliance and the pragmatism of Confucian wisdom.

Politically and socially, Mao put his people through constant revolution in order to maintain an ironclad grip on absolute power. Not unlike the United States of today, Mao’s government galvanized young people to feverishly embrace ideological lunacy. Students nationwide, most notably during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, were deputized to snuff out every hint of dissent. Even if they had fomented the courage to do so, never was there a moment during Mao’s reign where his opponents could have organized formidable resistance and perhaps taken back their country. Indeed, Mao’s chief rival and biggest military threat, Chiang Kai-Shek, had been exiled to Taiwan, along with his Nationalist cadres, during the Chinese Civil War of the 1940s.

Economically, Mao employed his statist powers to devastating effect. His collectivist agrarian initiative during the 1950s, the Great Leap Forward, wrought nationwide starvation and resulted in the deaths of 20 million people. From a purely numerical perspective, the aggregate death toll under Mao, estimated to be north of 70 million, makes Josef Stalin’s storied totalitarian regime look mild.

Mao Zedong

Mao passed in 1976, but his unflinching commitment to domestic socialism did not. Unsurprisingly, then, the early stages of China’s recovery from the tyrant’s 27-year reign, principally defined by efforts to establish heightened cooperation with the United States, were riddled with setbacks. Kissinger maintains that China seemed to straddle a paradox, all at once wanting the benefits of close ties with the West while also proving to be arrested by the extreme sense of self-determination and insularity that has defined its broader history. Chinese self-reliance in the post-Mao era, Kissinger writes, was largely predicated on the commitment to keeping the ideological framework of a socialist regime firmly intact. Domestically, the Chinese government after Mao continued to practice veritable totalitarianism.

Yet while the ideological dogmas of Maoism remained the driving force behind China’s social and political policies, the nation under Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, experienced the fledgling effects of a free market economic agenda. Far from inclined to jettison ideological purity, Deng nonetheless recognized the need for both the restoration of the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and the imperative of foreign investment, namely from the United States. According to Kissinger, Deng committed to “[giving the Chinese people] a stake in what they produced, [prioritizing] consumer goods over heavy industry and [making] the Communist party less [economically] intrusive.”

The effects of China’s turn from a socialist economy to the free market have been nothing short of remarkable. Even by 1984, only eight years removed from Mao, “the income of Chinese peasants [had] doubled, and the private sector, driven by individual economic incentives, [had risen] to constitute nearly 50 percent of the gross industrial output in an economy that had been ordered almost entirely by government fiat.”

Deng’s successors have built upon his novel designs for the Chinese economy, resulting in a sustained surge. Kissinger writes, “the China of today – with the world’s second-largest economy and largest volume of foreign exchange reserves, and with multiple cities boasting skyscrapers taller than the Empire State Building – is a testimonial [to a commitment] to Deng’s vision, tenacity and common sense.”

Free Market is the Way

These excerpts are but a few in a large body of evidence Kissinger offers to substantiate his claims. China, often viewed exclusively through the prism of its socialist domestic policies, has experienced meteoric economic ascendancy due in no small part to its embrace of the free market.

Social conservatives should remain unapologetic and unrelenting in their effort to correct morally bankrupt young liberals. However, the example of China is illustrative of the need to first speak in terms of dollars and cents. Once youth realize that a free market equals independence and prosperity, and a fixed, government-run economy portends a systemic tyranny, their petulant ideological crusade will lose steam. Preaching free-market capitalism is the approach that offers the best hope for sustaining the nation’s conservative pulse, and perhaps it’s not unreasonable to think that while the hearts of twenty-somethings may be twisted beyond repair, their brains are not too far gone.

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