Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pet food, motorcycles, etc.

The recent food and drug scandals in China--the deadly pet food that has made cable news networks and the fake medications investigated by the NY Times--follow a horrible fake birth formula episode not too long ago.

Less tragic by far is the fake "Suzuki" motorcycle I rode in Shanxi. I was told that there are whole factories in Datong churning out machines like it.

Intellectual property rights is one thing. I still have a hard time believing that Microsoft or Hollywood are LOSING money from pirating--$150 computer programs anyone? Going once... going twice... going... If China can rip off a bit of technology from its foreign investors, too, that's a good thing---a small gift in return for an exploited labor force. Plenty of countries (including the United States) have benefited from others' inventions, besides.

I wouldn't have my old motorcyle any other way.

But these food scandals and drug scandals are different. They reveal a country unable to regulate itself in even the most basic way.

Pei Minxin's idea of China being paralyzed by rent-seeking at every level is compelling. According to Pei, the state feels it has to allow all this in order to ensure that everyone with any power is supportive and with the program. But there seems to be something else at work here, too.

There's a failure to come to grips with what kind of animal a business or corporation really is. From being condemned as parasites, these entities have been raised to the level of heroes.

And it's not just in China. I remember traveling through India and seeing stacks of books by smug American CEOs giving advice about this and that.

China IS beginning to crack down on wild businesses, it seems, dispatching Wu Yi a while ago to head up an effort against bad drugs. But as China and India and Brazil and others rise on the world stage, I hope they will articulate fresh values, not just recycle the First World's first industrial revolution.

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