Twofish's Blog

December 5, 2007

Comments on David Brooks

Filed under: academia, china — twofish @ 3:11 am

Some notes:

You are truly a golden child, because you succeed in university as well. You have a number of opportunities. You could get a job at an American multinational, learn capitalist skills and then come back and become an entrepreneur. But you decide to enter government service, which is less risky and gives you chances to get rich (under the table) and serve the nation.

The part that Brooks misses is the trip to the United States in which the Chinese kids gets exposed to forms of education that don’t involve rote learning.  Getting into Chinese undergraduate school involves a lot of rote memorization and passing a test.  However, it’s important to recognize that the reason the system is set up this way is to avoid corruption and to have some objective means of getting people into the social elite.

In one sense, your choice doesn’t matter. Whether you are in business or government, you will be members of the same corpocracy. In the West, there are tensions between government and business elites. In China, these elites are part of the same social web, cooperating for mutual enrichment.

In the United States government and business elites are part of the same social web also.  Yes government and business elites will end up arguing with each other in the United States, but the same happens in China.  There are a lot of good things about the United States, and I think that the US has a much better form of government than China.  But the business, academic, and political elites work largely the same in both the United States and China.

You feel pride in what the corpocracy has achieved and now expect it to lead China’s next stage of modernization — the transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. But in the back of your mind you wonder: Perhaps it’s simply impossible for a top-down memorization-based elite to organize a flexible, innovative information economy, no matter how brilliant its members are.

It’s not impossible.  Singapore has done it.  Whether it can be done on a continent wide scale and whether the Communist Party of China can do that is another question.

I’m not sure what point David Brooks is trying to make.  If it is that a system of memorization limits flexibility of thought, well, yes.  That’s why Chinese end up in American graduate schools.

That’s a thought you don’t like to dwell on in the middle of the night.

I don’t see why.  It may turn out that China is just not very good at this innovation and creativity thing in which case the obvious thing to do is to outsource that sort of stuff to the United States.  But I don’t think this is going to be a problem.  China is experiencing a massive “brain gain” in which people with American experience and ideas are coming back and changing the ways things are done there.

The United States has one big advantage over China that will help it with the “innovation thing” and that is that you just have a larger diversity of people in the United States.  The United States is an immigrant nation whereas China just has too many people living there already to be as throughly diverse as the United States.  You come up with new ideas when you meet different people doing different things and while I can imagine some “international centers” in China, it’s unlikely that the entire country is going to be the meeting place for the world.

I don’t think that people have come to grips with this globalization thing.  People still think in terms of the United States versus China, but that is going to grow as silly as thinking in terms of New Jersey versus Connecticut.  OK, the US might be better at coming up with innovations than China, but Silicon Valley is better at coming up with technological innovations than Sioux City, Iowa.  So what?


1 Comment »

  1. Dont agree on the premise. I think Chinese are not innovative since they live in a society that discourages it. The brain drain isnt the point. Their brains are useless in China for creativity, but their same brains, or any brains, are very creative in the USA. Creativity has something to do with diversity, but it is the system that makes a Chinese in China non-creative year one, and very creative in a USA company in year two.

    Comment by WangLihua — December 31, 2007 @ 10:00 am

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