- - Tuesday, April 2, 2019


Comparing China’s old left and America’s new left shows irony can span both globe and time. Ironically, they are moving in opposite directions regarding government intervention in their economies. Yet the greater irony is their differing motivations: Based on their history and experience, China’s left is moving to reduce government intervention; while based on their ideology and inexperience, America’s left is demanding increased intervention.

Born from revolution 70 years ago, Communist China has internally struggled over greater and lesser centralized control. The former prevailed until Mao’s death in 1976, with disastrous results — in the economy, the Great Leap Forward, and in society, the Cultural Revolution. Not until Deng Xiaoping’s 1977 ascent did the Communist Party begin to relax its grip in an attempt to reach accommodation with its massive impoverished population’s desire for economic development.

Breaking from Maoist orthodoxy — itself a more radical form of communism — limited capitalism was permitted. While friction remains between increased private autonomy in the economy and continued political monopoly by the party, the former has continued. As a result, unlike its European precursors, China’s communist state has survived because its economy has comparatively thrived.

Thanks to high rates of growth during its developmental stage, China has become the world’s second largest economy, producing wealth unimaginable just a generation ago. The nation now stands at an economic crossroads as it seeks to advance into a more mature level of development. Now in addition to its familiar internal growth demands, it faces external ones from the developed nations it seeks to join. Those external ones are currently embodied in its confrontation/negotiation with President Trump.

Recently, China’s two major annual political gatherings — the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference — tried to address these internal and external pressures, as well as a slowing economy.

Last year’s economy grew 6.6 percent, its slowest rate since 1990. This year’s official target is between 6.5 percent to 6 percent. China’s policy response was to propose a reduction in taxes, regulations and overall government intervention in the private sector.

The VAT and other fees will drop, regulations will be relaxed, and government limitations on foreign investment activities will be reduced.

Considering China’s past practices — and how far it needs to go on all these fronts — ample room exists for caution. Even with these announced reforms, implementing legislation will determine how far they go. However, both the actions and the language clearly indicate a reduction in overall government intervention in the private sector. Even if less than promised or hoped, the results will almost certainly move China further in this direction.

Half a world away, America’s new left is in fact a world removed from such sentiment. The contrast is as stark as the policy gulf between the two “lefts” is wide.

Where China’s communist government is sensitive to economic growth slowing to last year’s 6+ percent rate, America’s self-proclaimed socialists believe America’s 2.9 percent economic growth is unsustainable, and seemingly unnecessary. Their policy responses promise to make it self-fulfilling, too.

Instead of lowering taxes, they are committed to raising them — for starters, on “the rich” and corporations. Rather than reducing regulations, they are all for increasing them — ensconcing them in a massive Green New Deal. In place of reducing government intervention in the private sector, they are for massively raising it — Medicare for All would effectively put the government in charge of the nation’s entire health care system, just as Medicare has for seniors’ health care.

Overall, China’s communist government is seeking to reduce government intervention in the private sector, while America’s new left is seeking to increase it — massively. Even for cynics skeptical China will thoroughly follow through on recent legislative promises, the two lefts’ verbal separation is illuminating. If nothing else, China’s communist government is courting business as a valued partner in the nation’s path to prosperity. America’s new left is at least verbally exiling business as an opponent to the nation’s well-being.

The irony here is as stark as the two lefts’ differences.

China’s Communist Party, facing slowing economic growth — still over twice America’s — feels compelled to aid it by reducing government intervention in the economy. In doing so, they are applying standard capitalist policies, in spite of their governing communist ideology. They are doing so, not just because of prevailing global economic practices, but because of their own historical experience — first, witnessing the terrible price paid for ignoring these policies decades ago, and now having seen the economic miracle they have unleashed.

Back in America, with an economy China desperately wants to overtake, our new left seem bent on deliberately taking it over. Where Communist China sees the private sector as the means to prosperity, America’s left sees the private sector as its enemy.

Where China’s left have allowed historical experience to supersede their communist ideology, America’s left have allowed inexperience to supersede history, in order to advance their ideology. While their proposals remain mercifully untried, they have succeeded in one seemingly impossible task: The have made China’s left look conservative.

• J.T. Young served in the Office of Management and at the Treasury Department.

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