Last Updated:December 1 @ 07:49 am

Charen: Did Capitalism Do It?

By Mona Charen

A young Chinese man is under arrest for a rampage killing in Liaoning province. The knife-wielding 17-year-old reportedly killed eight people, including two relatives of his estranged girlfriend, and wounded five others.

Terrible story. But Agence France-Presse, in an account widely circulated by Yahoo and other news outlets, knew just whom to blame: capitalism. AFP explained, "Violent crime has been on the rise in China in recent decades as the nation's economy has boomed and the gap between rich and poor has expanded at an alarming rate.

Experts say the increase in assaults shows that China is paying the price for focusing on more than 30 years of economic growth while ignoring problems linked to rapid social change."

Where to begin? Do critics of capitalism and economic growth really want to invite a comparison of body counts between pre- and post-1978 China? That was the year that Deng Xiaoping began the turn away from communism and toward free-market principles in the world's most populous prison.

Here's the way to begin thinking about poverty in China. Between 1958 and 1961, an estimated 30 million Chinese died of starvation. It wasn't a natural disaster, but an entirely political death toll. Mao Zedong had forcibly collectivized agriculture and then imposed farming practices that defied experience and logic. He insisted that "in company grain grows fast; seeds are happiest when growing together." China's farms were accordingly obliged to sow seeds at five to 10 times the normal distribution -- resulting in widespread crop failures.

There were other state dictates that contributed to the catastrophe; they exterminated the sparrows, which resulted in an explosion of the number of parasites; they increased flooding by contributing to soil erosion; they distorted the ecosystem by focusing on one big cereal crop at the expense of other land uses, including the raising of livestock. As "The Black Book of Communism" recounts, " ... the somewhat surreal slogan for the year 1958 ... was 'Live frugally in a year of plenty.'" Many peasants were too weak from starvation to harvest what modest crops were produced, leading the national press to "begin to sing the praises of a daily nap, and medical professors came out to explain the particular physiology of the Chinese, for whom fat and proteins were an unnecessary luxury." Reports of cannibalism were widespread.

Even after the Great Famine had subsided, an estimated 65 percent of the Chinese population lived below the poverty line. This was not American-style poverty, with food stamps, housing allowances, welfare benefits and Medicaid. This was living on less than $1.25 per day. This was stunted growth from malnutrition and early death and disfigurement from disease. It was high infant and maternal mortality. It was reduced life expectancy. Even today, the Chinese acknowledge that 6.5 million children under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth, meaning two or more standard deviations below the World Health Organization's standards for median height by age.

After the Chinese introduced free market reforms in the late 1970s, the nation experienced the largest and fastest decline in poverty in world history. While 65 percent had been impoverished before 1978, only 4 percent lived below the poverty line by 2007. A certain skepticism is always necessary when dealing with official statistics from the Chinese government, but even if the 4 percent figure is inaccurate, the evidence of Chinese growth is obvious and undeniable. And contra AFP, one of the first consequences of increased prosperity was a reduction in inequality in China. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty because the state abandoned its control of economic activity and permitted freer exchange of goods and services.

China remains a rigid dictatorship. But the Chinese experience with economic liberalization, like that of India, which abandoned socialist policies in the early 1990s (though its government had never been totalitarian), mirrors that of other nations that embraced free markets: West Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Chile and Israel, among many others. Free markets are not just associated with wealth; they are also indispensable to it.

AFP concluded its story by noting that "Studies have described a rise in the prevalence of mental disorders in China, some of them linked to stress as the pace of life becomes faster and socialist support systems falter." There is sheer preposterous propaganda. What "study" could possibly prove that stress regarding "the pace of life" and the decline of "socialist support systems" (whatever they are) had increased mental illness?

Western intellectuals, very much including the press, are still in love with socialism -- even its communist variant. Wonder if anyone in China would agree to go back to the good old days.


To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at


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  1. csbridgComment by csbridg
    August 3, 2012 @ 11:59 am

    Wow, looks like from 1958 to 1961 the Chinese govenrment had about as much common sense as our current regime. This kind of absurdity does not happen by accident. These politicians could/can not be that ignorant and rise to the positions that they held/hold. China wanted to control the population and it was a well thought out plan. So what about all the seemingly lack of common sense decisions being made by Obama? I really don’t believe he (or maybe his puppeteers) are as ignorant as they appear.

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  2. CharlieComment by vietnamvet
    August 3, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    The 17 year-old Chinese knife wielder went on his rampage because Sarah Palin put crosshair symbols on her political website two years ago.

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  3. joelinpdxComment by joelinpdx
    August 3, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

    Remember, knives don’t kill people, people kill people.

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  4. ClarkCComment by ClarkC
    August 4, 2012 @ 3:39 am

    Why is capitalism to blame? Shouldn’t we blame it all on the knife? Perhaps capitalism and the knife could share the majority of the blame, with a token reference to the killer’s responsibility as well.

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  5. godsgirlComment by godsgirl
    August 4, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    Quit killing your baby women, China. Every country needs them. In the interim, outlaw knives.

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  6. CharieComment by Charie
    August 4, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

    I think they should outlaw chopsticks, too, godsgirl. Those things are deadly when sharpened to a point. LOL

    I’ve read that because of the imbalance of men to women in China, men are having to look outside the country for wives. Pretty soon China will have changed the basic demographics of their country because of their limit on children. Besides which, since they’re actually using some capitalistic methods and not trying to tell their farmers how to farm they’re on their way to abundances of food which negates their supposed need to limit their number of children born.

    Check out France, for instance. Their people are not reproducing themselves in enough numbers. Now their country is full of Muslims and their mores and culture being what it is, the Muslims are reproducing rapidly. Soon it will not be a French France.

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