For my non-American readers please excuse this burst of patriotism, as it is Independence day
Today I wanted to share a few of the aspects of American life I enjoy more after living in China for four years.
Freedom to Report
In China there is a special vocabulary that has evolved out of the need to define events that have never happened before. Words like: “Gutter oil” (Used oil that has had the garbage strained from it, that is reused in restaurants), “Cancer village” (unusually high rates of cancer caused by pollutants) and Naked officials (gov’t officials who have sent their assets and family overseas so they can escape when their misdeeds surface).
These are words we don’t have in the US, and I think that is largely because of our free press. The ability to report without fear of retaliation puts government oversight ultimately into the hands of the people.
In China even foreign journalists are regularly harassed by local gov’t thugs, and contacts are often imprisoned for telling their story. By silencing these forces, China’s national gov’t is limiting how effective it can be at developing the country in a way that will lead to lasting stability.
I have a feeling a few of my more conservative friends are shouting at me now, but they have no idea what life is really like without clear regulations.
While China’s National government appears very strong, at the local level it is often ignored. That is because China’s gov’t largely relies on local gov’t to enforce its programs, which is pretty ineffective because there is no free press to monitor their actions. So even though China’s gov’t employs millions of officials, regulations are often ignored.
So the next time you eat a strip of bacon without pausing to contemplate the risks of trichinosis, remember that the FDA makes that moment possible. Or if you get injured at the work place you know that your medical bills will be covered by workman’s comp. Or when you drop your child off at school, you know the teacher is not going to abuse them (physically, verbally or sexually). This is gov’t in action.
Good gov’t (not all gov’t) enables citizens to make dozens of transactions and partake in daily activities without worry. While in China we can’t even eat breakfast or brush our teeth without wondering if we’ll end up in the hospital.
Throwing the bums out
This might be the most important freedom we have. When our gov’t officials are corrupt or ineffective at meeting our needs, we know that within a few years, an effective campaign will have them removed from office.
In China some of the party officials who were responsible for monitoring food safety during the melamine tainted milk scandal, that sickened hundreds of thousands of infants, were removed from office. Later they were very quietly reinstated. While the US system of gov’t is not perfect, I can confidently say, that people who cover up the death of infants will not be re-elected.
Perhaps even more important than that, we can openly criticize the gov’t.
I remember the first time I told a co-worker that I thought President Bush was a terrible President. They were shocked. “We could never say these things,” she had said, but she said it with a grin.
I know that there are many people in China who are longing to say these kinds of things, but the gov’t fears that it will “undermine stability”. I think though that it some ways it helps. Just like the Tea-Party today might not be saying things I agree with, but their right to openly express their dissatisfaction with Obama’s policies can lead to important discussions that help us clarify where we want America to be heading.
Someday the Party will realize that these freedoms are necessary for regulating the local gov’ts that are causing them so many headaches.