Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Do as We Say

[posted by Callimachus]

Sometimes the view of history that is unfriendly to America is essentially correct. Like here:

As with China and Harry Potter, America was a hotbed of literary piracy; like China's poisonous pet-food makers, American factories turned out adulterated foods and willfully mislabeled products. Indeed, to see China today is to glimpse, in a distant mirror, the 19th-century American economy in all its corner-cutting, fraudulent glory.

The story is aptly illustrated with a daguerrotype of Dickens, who suffered grievous losses of royalties to American publishing pirates. The venom with which early 19th century British authors wrote of America and Americans is partly traceable to this.

So, read in that narrow shaft of light, the point of the Boston Globe article, "China may be a very different country, but in many ways it is a younger version of us," is not wrong. Politically, however, there is a vastly different path for each country. It might be possible for China to bring its business practices into conformity with international standards more rapidly, given the country's degree of centralized control. Which is a perplexing paradox for lovers of liberal democracy.

But the article is a timely reminder to know your history before you point your fingers.