Monday, May 07, 2007

Hiring Chinese Ball Players

Tibor R. Machan

At times there is near euphoria afoot about China’sgradual entry into the world trade community. Certainly millions ofAmericans must be pleased that millions of Chinese are willing to work forrelatively low wages making sneakers, computer monitors, shirts, shoes andwhatnot.
This euphoria has, however, met with some disappointment.In the business of hiring professional athletes—especially in the field ofbasketball—efforts to hire Chinese players has met up with the reality ofthe official political economy of the People’s Republic of China. It hasbeen found, by scouts, that the Chinese government does not readily permitChinese players to simply hop a plane and leave their native country tostart playing abroad.

When I recently listened to a radio talk show, thosediscussing this hurdle didn’t appear to fully understand what the problemis. Oh, my, how quickly memories fade!

The plain fact of the matter is that in the People’sRepublic of China, which is still officially a socialist countrysupposedly headed toward communism in some indefinite future, human beingsaren’t deemed to be sovereign citizens with rights to their lives, libertyand pursuit of happiness. Not by a long shot. Those living in China are,instead, deemed to belong to the state. So it is strictly speaking onlywith the permission of the state—meaning, of course, the rulers of thecountry, since “the state” is no more than them—that individuals who liveunder the jurisdiction of the Chinese government may leave. The bottomline is that they do not own their own lives, the government does.

Not all that long ago stories of desperate efforts toescape a similar society used to fill some Western newspapers. A good manyEast Germans had tried to scale the Berlin Wall and flee their nativecountry but when they tried, they were often shot and even killed. Whensome naïve Western journalists posed the question to East Germanauthorities why they shoot people trying to come West, one official answerthat was prominent went like this: “These people are thieves. They arestealing the labor of the East German state.” And that is, indeed, theproper socialist reply to the question—under socialism individualindependence or sovereignty is unthinkable because everyone is but a cellin the organism that is society as a whole. Just imagine if your left handtried to leave your body and go it on its own! How ridiculous—the handbelongs to the body! Only a defective one would attempt such a thing andit would have to be repaired and returned to its proper place!

Because the government of China wants to square the circle, namely, havea productive and creative economy while also remaining the ruler of thepeople there, this idea so brazenly embraced in East Germany isn’t thesole guide to forging public policy. However, it will readily raise itsugly head when someone whom the government deems to be very important tothe state, perhaps even irreplaceable, wishes to leave. That would be anathlete or artist or someone other who can make “major contributions tothe society.”

The origins of all this can be found in several different types ofsociety. For example, under many feudal systems the monarch was deemed tobe the owner of the realm and there were no citizens, only subjects, inthe country—people subject to the will of the monarch. A bit of this isstill around in the UK, for example. In Marxism the fact that the mostimportant source of productivity, human labor, is owned collectively, bythe society as a whole, also has the implication that people are owned bythe government.

In the last analysis it is this question, “To whom does a person belonganyway?” that was the ideological basis of the Cold War and still remainssomething of a stickler today in how those of us in the West deal withthose in the People ’s Republic of China. Neither side consistentlyupholds its basic position, of course. So it is going to be interesting tosee just where the adjustments will be more radical. Will China becomemore individualist or will the West turn more collectivist?

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