Free Press in China?

Tom Avitabile, Free Press in ChinaI once recommended to an economic expert on China a trailer for an upcoming book. My vision was to have the economist standing on the Great Wall of China, explaining to the camera that seven centuries ago this was the technological achievement of mankind.

Then the economist holds up an iPad, explaining that this is the current technological achievement of mankind. Both from China. Interesting, I thought, that the technological impetus has come around full circle from the Great Wall to the Great iPad.

But when you look deeper, look at all the things they missed.

For example, we have the Bill of Rights. All the greatest (and wealthiest) men of the day had the notion that it was necessary to specifically enumerate the rights that were at the heart of the conflict of England and the Revolution, and they eventually got it down to 10.

Extra credit reading: Look up the original Bill of Rights.

If you go to the National Archives in Washington, DC you can see that there were actually 12 amendments in the original Bill of Rights.

  • The original 1st amendment set out rules for districting the House of Representatives – a scheme that would have made today’s Congress 6,000+ members strong.
  • The original 2nd amendment stated that Congress cannot ratify its own proposed pay raises until after the next Congressional election. This would eventually become the 27th amendment, ratified in 1992.

The elimination of these two amendments cleared the way so that right up there at number one, which the Chinese never considered, was a nasty little thing called Freedom of the Press. (Now as a writer, I think it’s inherently unfair to reveal the Founder’s early draft, after all, they didn’t publish until they had the 10 and if you saw any of my earlier drafts I’d dig a hole and hide.)

Freedom of the Press (along with Speech and Religion) was a founding part of this nation’s psyche, government and culture. Last month that little notion of freedom arose again in a small revolution in South China. Not exactly the Redcoats against the farmers, but a small local newspaper dared to print something close to the truth. This brought upon it a hefty dose of scorn and consternation from the old party apparatchiks of the ruling elite in Beijing.

But then, with the internet and with the world going the way it is, those old Chinese guys in the Politburo must have said to themselves “Hey wait, what’s so bad about this?” or “Hey, maybe if we give them just a little, we can keep a lid on this thing.”

Perhaps they had this old Chinese proverb in mind when they decided to loosen up a bit:

That which doesn’t bend, breaks.

So they bent a little. A seemingly tacit allowance of what would, five years ago, buy you a ticket to the reeducation camp or a bullet in the brain – a bullet your own family would be billed for after your death – Communist Party family values being what they are.

But here is the most tantalizing question of all, if the Chinese Communists were to suffer a come to Jefferson moment and, more unbelievably, grant a Bill of Rights to their billions of subjects which of our 10 would never see the light of a Chinese day?

Send me your answer vis-a-vis the comment section.  I’ll give you my ‘forbidden amendment’ next time.

Tom Avitabile, Free Press in China?

Tom Avitabile

Those who do not learn from the past are destined to….

USA - CIRCA 1970 Landing of the PilgrimsMost people don’t realize that the Bill of Rights is actually the foundation of capitalism, and that capitalism was the remedy for the early socialism that was codified in the Mayflower Compact – which totally didn’t work and nearly wiped out America in it’s first generation. It sounded great in theory but when it got down to the guys in the buckle hats and shoes, it didn’t work because they didn’t work. Nobody did anything. It was the “Let the next guy do it” syndrome and, of course, the next guy was saying the same thing so nothing ever happened. And the Native Americans had to come to the rescue of these “do nothings!”

So in terms of socialism, America can say “Been there, done that.”

William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, quickly found out that when everything was shared -from responsibilities to rewards-  and outcomes were assured, no one, who could do more, did more, because they wouldn’t get more for their extra effort, and people who didn’t do anything still got something, so it quickly devolved down to no one doing anything.

It was truly atrophy of the economic muscle.

Although Socialism feeds our emotional needs and seems less threatening than other forms of government, it lacks certain dynamics of basic Economics which renew and refresh the consumption of resources and labor. In short, human behavior erodes the self-sustainability of Socialism. So as an English Prime Minister once said, “The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” – or corn!  Although, in the early colonial days it wasn’t called ‘Economics’, it was called survival. This flaw in the self-sustaining dynamism was revealed. At the basic level Economics is survival. Today we can no longer appreciate that because our existence has been layered by the advancement of our society till it becomes like the pea under a pile of mattresses. We are so far away from our last meal, so far away from the last shelter, so far from last resort, that we don’t feel it or fear it. We now regard economics as an intellectual endeavor. But when we had a bushel of corn and 500 people, economics suddenly was survival. So the math (economics) of a bushel of corn to feed the 500 people became an economic formula of life and death.

It’s hard in this modern day, when the poorest American enjoys a higher standard of living than 75% of the 7 billion souls on Earth, to even imagine the scarcity of the basics, the essentials, the imperatives that challenged our forefathers. We are so blessed now that we would never, ever, appreciate the subtleties, realities and hardships of the founding of this nation. Yet, the reason for the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, the reason why the Articles of Confederation were totally inadequate and why socialism crushed the spirit, are all etched into those documents with the watermarks of poverty, death, sacrifice and nobility of our early nation. I fear these underlying reasons will never again be fully understood by American’s today who have not been challenged in the basics.  In a way, I see a cycle. One that is coming around, that by losing sight of our founding, we condemn ourselves to return to the conditions which created the tyrannical political environment which fomented revolution in the first place.

The question is, if our economic system falters, by either excessive debt, excessive spending, excessive cutting or excessive taxes, will the average American feel the pain of the founders? Will they seek the same freedoms all over again, strike outgainst tyranny, re-establish the individual as inviolate and fight a war to free themselves? Or will they avoid all that by just dusting off the Bill of Rights and the Constitution they already have and reading them.