A tale of two freedoms: Politics and economics in China and the US

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In recent years, many in the West have questioned whether China has developed a new regime model, one that boasts considerable economic prosperity absent political freedom. The coronavirus pandemic provides evidence to the contrary, exemplifying how political and economic freedom are complementary and interdependent. The virus that originated in Wuhan thrived because of a lack of political freedom — and now freedom in the U.S. will answer it. 

The Chinese Communist Party’s abuses are well-documented. Over the past few months, the CCP has silenced whistleblowers, suppressed information, destroyed evidence and lied to its people and the world. Most startling, a recent report indicated that if China had acted three weeks earlier, 95 percent of coronavirus cases could have been prevented. We do not yet know how many lives will be lost or the extent of the economic impact. But we do know that such injustices would not have been possible in a society that protects freedom of speech and the press. Lack of political freedom gave rise to not only a global humanitarian crisis but an economic one. 

Some note that China’s totalitarianism has been an advantage in managing the virus, citing the CCP’s ability to build two hospitals in Wuhan in 10 days. However, the quality of these hospitals is questionable, as are the infection and death rates reported by the CCP. The CCP also has been willing to utilize draconian measures, such as welding people into their own homes, allegedly leaving them to die, that other nations rightly find too abhorrent to deploy.   

The CCP’s techniques of intimidation will be an obstacle to China’s recovery. I have spent months in Hong Kong and have interacted with many students from the mainland. Their fear is striking. They are always on guard — hesitant to voice opinions, deferential to authority figures, reserved in their natures. Their suspiciousness extends most notably to those from other countries, but also tragically to their fellow citizens. One never knows who has family members in the Party and what will be reported.  

A casualty of the CCP is thus the entrepreneurial character that drives economic prosperity. Entrepreneurs are brave and adventurous. They think outside the box, question authority, and forge new modes and orders. Such a spirit does not thrive in authoritarian regimes. 

Indeed, a significant source of China’s technologies are not developed but seized from foreign businesses. Last year, one in five North-American based corporations reported Chinese theft of their intellectual property. In contrast, eight of the top 10 most innovative companies in the world are in the United States. 

The enterprising spirit of Americans, fostered by political freedom, will be an advantage in fighting the virus. That spirit traces its origins to the western frontier but found permanency in the American character, as was the intention of the Founding Fathers. 

George Washington in particular believed that Americans’ frontier spirit would have a renewing effect on the national character. It would cultivate unity and continually encourage Americans to rededicate themselves to the principles of republican government. On the frontier, life was dangerous; it was you, your family and your neighbors against nature. There, citizens learned to combine resources and sacrifice for the sake of their communities and the common good. 

Away from the luxury of a city and markets, frontiersmen also were innovative in obtaining their needs and wants. Their circumstances promoted self-reliance, and an attachment to the liberty that made self-reliance possible.

Hundreds of years later, that frontier attitude is alive in both our small towns and our cities, a legacy of our common Founding. As children of the frontier, Americans combine gritty determination, a “don’t tread on me” instinct, and an innovative mind. The sense of obligation towards one’s neighbors disseminated and persisted, consistently making America the most generous nation in the world

We have seen many examples of American generosity and ingenuity over the past several weeks. Distilleries have switched from making alcohol to manufacturing hand sanitizer. The owner of a tee shirt company is producing much-needed masks. And our scientists have been so swift in testing a vaccine that China accused us of possessing a sample of the virus long in advance. Our natural enterprising spirit has awakened to combat this latest threat. 

We have seen the components of innovation, determination and love of our own manifest themselves. When this crisis has passed, the U.S. undoubtedly will revisit its relations with China, during which the “don’t tread on me” attitude could soon come to the forefront.

Brenda M. Hafera is the director of international and continuing education programs at The Fund for American Studies, a member of The Matthew J. Ryan Society of Villanova University, and was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Follow her on Twitter @bmhafera.

Tags Chinese Communist Party Coronavirus COVID-19 Economic freedom Wuhan

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