Finding anyone who supports the communist Chinese government over the protesters in Hong Kong is difficult. Perhaps, if I asked around North Korea, Cuba, or Venezuela I might have some success, but here in America everyone from President Trump to the seemingly endless list of Democratic Party presidential primary candidates who wish to challenge Trump in the general election have come out in support of the mass of protestors challenging Beijing. Why, when we seem to agree on so little else, do we as Americans come together in unity over this band of underdog protesters? Could it be that we see ourselves in them? To be sure there are parallels between these David vs. Goliath protesters in Hong Kong and American patriots of the American Revolution. Both were colonies of Great Britain. Both challenged superpowers. The core of both of their complaints were, and are, the corruption of representative government. Perhaps, though, the most similar aspect between these two groups of rebels is their unique exceptionalism.
America at its start had deep ties to England. It had to. America needed constant investments of supplies, people and defense for well over a century to survive. Most people in America were from Britain and thought of themselves as citizens of Britain’s empire. The colonists were content. A funny thing happens to two peoples, though, when they are separated by thousands of miles of ocean for the nearly two centuries. They become different peoples. Sure, we still shared the English language; shared the same blood; the same history. Nonetheless, the new world had spawned a new people: Americans. These new people were more resourceful, independent, simple, and rugged than their British counterparts still casted in the class distinctions and nobility of a bygone era. A new people required a new nation and, through revolution, they took it.
This was not the end of British colonialism. Britain continued to spread its empire for another century and a half. One of the many territories it acquired in this period was a little island of farms and fishing villages on the edge of mainland China, an island that, through better management than Britain had shown the American colonies, became a world economic powerhouse. Indeed, the citizens of Hong Kong grew to earn more per capita than either American or British citizens. They too eventually gained their independence from Britain. Thankfully, Britain had finally learned its lesson and no revolution was needed to leave the empire. Unfortunately, for the people of Hong Kong the end of colonialism was not the start of a new era of sovereignty, but a return to a motherland that had taken an authoritarian path. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Hong Kong (like America sharing a common language and history with Britain) shared a common language and history with China. What caused America to become a new people, however, was the vast distance of the Atlantic Ocean; for Hong Kong, butting directly up against its ancestral homeland, it was decidedly something else. What was it? The answer can be found in two words: economic philosophy.
Statists the world over claim the differences between the haves and havenots is resource stealing and oppression, and they’re right, but not in the way that they think. They think that it is industrious producers who get rich, not from providing, very well, something which the masses demand, but from theft and collusion. They claim that you must put them in power to make right this wrong. Here and there around the world, people have listened to their pleas and placed them in power. As time moves along, you can see the countries they control change in ways that reflect true resource stealing and oppression. This point can be illustrated most objectively in lands where people share the same history, culture and language, but, for whatever reason, have split economically between free markets and government planned economies. Examples of these lands should put to rest forever which economic philosophies provide best for its practitioners.
East and West Germany. One language. One History. Two economic systems. One oppressed. One free. One had to build a wall to keep its people from fleeing to the other.
North and South Korea. One language. One History. Two economic systems. One oppressed. One free. After only 50 years apart one country, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, shared the unequal blessings of capitalism while the other shared the equal misery of socialism.
Haiti and Dominican Republic. One language. One History. Two economic systems. One oppressed. One free. Same island with the same resources, but one country allows markets while the other allows only the will of the state.
The difference between these lands and other wealthy and poor countries is the same, their choice of economic philosophy.
Free markets = abundance
Government control = want
Hong Kong and China. One language. One History. Two economic systems. In China the state controlled everything, and even with its bountiful resources, the vast majority of its people lived, until recently, in crushing poverty. Hong Kong, by contrast, had zero natural resources and became one of the most bountiful cities on earth with an extraordinarily high standard of living. Hong Kongers were a new people in need of a new country.
It wasn’t until China relaxed its control of its economy and allowed for freer, more open markets that the standard of living for its people increased dramatically. A funny thing happens, though, when the lives of people are affected by a higher standard of living, they invariably want more control of their own life. I have been waiting decades for the growing middle class in China to rise up and overthrow their authoritarian government. I thought it was happening 30 years ago in the Tiananmen Square protests, alas thousands of students were crushed by a communist party who professes to be for the people. I hoped other protests would rise, but as China relaxed and opened its markets I think the masses of China believed freedom might finally come to their nation without the horror of a bloody revolution. They are wrong. The Communist Party in China has realized freedom and prosperity are a recipe for disaster for statists and are attempting to maintaining the newfound prosperity while getting rid of that pesky freedom part. The first to notice this pushback by the state are, of course, the people of Hong Kong who are much more in tune with the blessings of liberty than are their mainland counterparts. The current protests in Hong Kong are just the beginning. The Chinese State opened the bag of free-markets and it is now too late to stop the tide of liberty that such markets demand. The human desire to be free will not be denied. The dominoes will fall. Taiwan will be next, then the mainland will catch fire too. At that point, the few who control Chinese state will have two choices, give up or crack down. I believe they will crack down. Their reconcile is only possible if mainland China joins Hong Kong’s mentality, for Hong Kongers will die before matching theirs.
Americans now have more in common with people from Hong Kong than their Chinese cousins. We sense this and it’s why partisans of both of our major parties support them.
I worry for all the counterparts of Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin living now in Hong Kong and fighting for their independence and liberty. How many of their caliber might be killed by these communist tyrants? There’s little we can do to help them. We cannot do their fighting for them and I would never ask our government to enforce a trade ban, but I would try to persuade people themselves against buying Chinese goods. Instead, buy from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
I know the leaders of China’s Communist Party will never read this, but I cannot help but offer this plea: Let Hong Kong go. Let Taiwan go. Give up power in all of China. Crushing people under your boot is not power and it will not give you what I sense you want more than anything: the love and admiration of others. Love and admiration cannot be forced, they must be earned. Look at the people of the world who have shunned power voluntarily (e.g. George Washington – Ghandi), they are the ones who have true power over the hearts and minds of others. If you wish to be remembered forever as great men, you must voluntarily walk away from power.
Finally, for those Americans voting in our own country, remember the differences I contrasted in the lands above and think twice before voting for those who would, in the name of the people, profess to be able to control any aspect of a free market or people.