California’s retread governor Jerry Brown traveled to China last week with some 90 of his closest friends. (According to Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, Brown’s party included “mostly special interests . . . willing to pay $10,000 each, plus trans-Pacific airfare.”) The vacation . . . sorry, the “trade and investment mission” included a lot of schmoozing and photo-ops. It also—serendipitously, we are certain—happened around the time of Brown’s 75th birthday.
As has become routine for a certain breed of technocratic liberal, Brown took care to praise China’s autocratic political system while he was there. Anyone who’s ever read a Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times knows the argument: The Chinese, in their infinite wisdom, know how to “get things done”—this in contrast to America, what with pesky annoyances like constitutional checks and balances and democratic accountability. “People here do stuff,” Brown rhapsodized. “They don’t sit around and mope and process and navel-gaze.” Call THE SCRAPBOOK old-fashioned, but it seems to us that while it’s one thing for a newspaper columnist to sing the praises of Communist “efficiency,” it’s rather more unseemly for an elected governor to do the same.
Brown really likes what he saw in China; compared with California, the Chinese are “moving at Mach speed,” he lamented. Then again, just last week, as the governor was junketing through the Middle Kingdom, a front-page story in the Financial Times sounded the alarm on “Out-of-Control [Chinese government] Debt.” The FT reported, “Provinces, cities, counties and villages across China are now estimated to owe between Rmb10tn and Rmb20tn”—that’s $1.6 trillion to $3.2 trillion, or “20-40 percent of the size of the economy.”
So take heart, Governor Brown: In at least one respect, China is following California’s lead—going into debt at Mach speed.