When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

13 August 2007

Fallows: A Chinese perspective on Karl Rove

Yesterday I spoke with a Chinese-American scholar who I'm not sure at the moment I should name. (I need to check with him, since it was a chat rather than an interview.) Among other things I asked him why the Chinese leadership, skillful in so many ways, did so many other things that were pointless and self-damaging. Clumsy censorship, to take a recent example; or firing off an anti-satellite weapon early this year, which gave Japan, America, South Korea, Russia, and many other countries a whole new reason to wonder about China's military plans.

My friend's answer boiled down to: a Chinese version of the "tragedy of the commons." It was bad for the "brand image" of China when the censors were heavy-handed or annoyed the foreign media. It was bad for the central Communist leadership too. But it was good for the censors in the propaganda ministry. No censor had ever been fired for being too restrictive, so they kept on doing it. The larger interest of the country, even the narrow interests of the regime, took second place.

I thought of that when I heard of Karl Rove's departure. I suspect that historically he will be seen as a "tragedy of the commons" type. Or at least he should.

A Chinese Perspective on Karl Rove (James Fallows, Atlantic Online)

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