by Milo Clark
(Swans - January 15, 2007) Viewed from historical perspectives, the England of Adam Smith and Charles Dickens has some strategic relationships with nineteenth century America that, in turn, share some features with 21st century PRChina.
Late 18th Century England was aroar with industrial revolution, rupture of the commons, and the often horrific transitions from a rural to urbanizing society. Giant brick monoliths full of steam-powered looms and backbreaking labor for untold hours of their bleak days made up life for too many children and even more adults. And, never forget, this life was seen as better than staying on farms as tenants even when that was left as an alternative. The day of the peasant or serf was ending. . . for some. Factory replaces land for the poor. And now McDonald's is the new factory.
Empires were needed to send raw materials. Cotton came from India and returned as saris. Silk came from China and returned as opium. We may want to note this difference.
However viewed, the nascent industrial revolution remade the world. A power shift from clergy, royalty, and military moved capitalists to the fore. The ground was laid for empires to expand and then crumble and consume themselves in excesses. World War One, 1914-1918, capped this process and left Europe in shambles. And to work its way to World War Two.
In the 19th century, the emergent United States of America sat on vast supplies of critical commodities, not the least of which was wood. No vast and far-flung empire needed. It was all right here. Forests toppled to feed the furnaces and smelters, steam engines and railroads that served the next stage of industrial expansion. Europe's castoffs swarmed across the Atlantic to create the people base for great and basic industries that undercut the now aging factories of England and Europe.
Cheap labor, abundant supplies of raw materials, and efficient transportation beat out European competitors and, in process, provided better living in comparison.
Entrepreneurs propelled by raw energies and brute force pushed themselves to the front to emerge as philanthropists. They endowed libraries, museums, opera companies, and symphonies; put their names on universities and grand architecture.
Never, neither in old Europe or new America, was or is alleviation of poverty a primary function of philanthropy. Great wealth continues to be built on the backs of lesser beings.
Chou en Lai (Zhou Enlai), Mao's urbane right hand, is often quoted as responding to a question about the impact of the French Revolution by saying it is too early to tell.
The Chinese behemoth, the sleeping giant of sleeping giants, is breaking loose from the bonds of recent centuries. Mao's versions of Marxist-Leninism took control in 1949, decrying the preceding 109 years as ignominy, massive humiliation. Mao believed that the only path of change was purest destruction and behaved accordingly.
Nearly sixty years later, does PRChina display similar strategic factors seen in the emergence of industrial revolution in England and, a beat slower, in Europe, which then crossed the Atlantic to a wide-open America? Is PRChina the new wide-open?
In the Western world, occident, developing moved to developed, forests crashed, earth spewed forth minerals, oil emerged as the propellant to economies, and the cusp is now upon us. Is it America's time to wear out? Will once-Communists now Capitalists-with-a-vengeance prove Leopold Kohr prescient?
What are some of the critical strategic factors common to these historical processes? There is a cultural-social factor. The closing of the commons in England was certainly one. Yet, a loosening of the iron hand of clergy, royalty, and military was also needed. Expansion of empire contributed strongly by creating resource bases crying for exploitation. Decisions to save adding value by manufacture for home country and keeping colonies as suppliers of raw materials and commodities is another. Colonies served also to consume the manufactured products from England and Europe. The westward expansion in America performed a similar function of providing consumers. Growing understanding of financial multipliers forms one more critical variable. Larger and more efficient means of ocean and land transportation based on steam engines, metallurgical sophistication, and engineering perspectives shortened time and lowered costs. Box-breaking mental and physical expansions opened avenues for creative innovations. Skills emerged to meet and then exceed needs.
And now we have PRChina 2007, riding a crest or awaiting tsunami? Like it or not, another grand transition is in process. Zhou Enlai's comment appears more and more relevant. We really don't as yet know the true impact of revolutions. We don't actually know how to define revolution.
After a review of Leopold Kohr, I'll go back to PRChina.
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